All posts by Alan

Learning the Lingo

We’ve been in Portugal for two years now and for most of that time I’ve made learning the lingo a big priority. But it’s not easy. Our first teacher was a delightful Irish church worker, who was also a trained teacher and offers classes to raise money for his church. He was good. However, many of the  twenty plus learners were not. Despite most of them having been in Portugal for over five years we got no further than the present tense of the verb ‘to be’. He had the patience of a saint but we didn’t, so after five or six weeks of squashing into a classroom smaller than our kitchen, we decided to move to fresh fields.

Our second teacher was a Portuguese woman raising money for the local community centre. We were hopeful when we found the class was less than eight and in a decent-sized room where we could clearly see the whiteboard.  However one of the group sent our teacher into despair, with his incessant need to know ‘why’ teacups are feminine and flowers are not. We stuck at it for several months feeling a great solidarity with other students suffering from her put downs, fingers drumming the table with impatience and high pitched rants (particularly directed to the male students) .

I don’t recall ever being so panicked, close to tears, migrainey and nauseaous as during her classes. We lived through dramas of dictionaries being purposefully flung in her direction, people stomping out and respected senior citizens being reduced to tears. Don’t let any of that put you off – it was enjoyable on all counts. Except those. Oh, and comments like “Alan you’re as bad as Graham” was not the way to encourage students, so we gave her the heave-ho and looked for someone with more patience (or Valium). Unfortunately at this stage Alan more-or-less dropped out, although from time to time I do find him secretly using Duolingual to brush up his Portuguese vocabulary.

I found a delightful Portuguese young lady wanting to teach Portuguese. Yolanda is bilingual, having grown up in South Africa and is full of energy and interest in our language acquisition. I can’t praise her highly enough and decided to ask Christine, a French friend, to share classes with me. Christine’s Portuguese is far better than mine on account of her native French being a lot closer to Portuguese than English, added to which she already speaks Spanish and is, in fact, a linguist. I hoped that her language abilities might somehow sweep me along with her to attain higher levels. Well I was ready for the challenge anyway.

A lack of victims to practise on is my main problem. We live in a location where there are many other expats and have little cause to speak to random strangers in public. Even brave attempts at striking up some small talk are usually shattered when the reply is in English or, on the rare occasion when it’s not, the chance of knowing what is said back is slim.

In a bid to get more exposure to listening, I’ve been watching Portuguese TV on Youtube, namely children’s animated stories. I was mightily chuffed when our 3-year-old grandson showed interest in this pastime and Garibalde o balde became our shared friend.

Chef’s Academy is another program I watch. I can’t work out why it’s called this and not something in Portuguese, but there we go. It’s a vaguely familiar format, where a celebrity chef demonstrates three dishes simultaneously whilst the contestants watch on scribbling furiously in their notebooks before having a go themselves and then getting horrendously slated by the judges. What makes it useful as a learning tool is that it is very visual and relatively limited in communication with not much of a plot to follow. What makes it useless is that all I am learning is a wide vocabulary of cooking terminology. Well, it’s a start.

In another attempt to force myself to speak Portuguese I joined Speaky.Com in order to find online language partners. This is easier said than done as 99.9% of those wanting a Portuguese/English exchange are Brazillians apparently on the look-out for a new love interest. However, I have made two friends through it; Pedro who needed IELTS to start a PHD he’d got funding for in London and my dear friend Maria from the Alentejo region. She’s enriched my life enormously, teaching me many things about P and they way people see things here. She and her husband have stayed with us and we’ve had wonderful visits to Sines, met her children, grandchildren, shared her birthday and has become my Portuguese sister.

Weirdly, I feel more comfortable speaking to strangers here than I do in the UK. It’s almost as though there is liberation in not knowing what the hell is going on, which, rather than get anxious about, makes me brave and fearless. I am undoubtedly more sociable and willing to speak to new people in Portuguese than I am in English. Poor unsuspecting buggers. Now what is the word for aubergine…

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A Travel Back in Time

View across Guadiana to Sanlucar, Spain
Church in Querenca
Free camp between Pereiro and Alcoutim

One of the first trips we took in our new (to us) camper van, was to explore the area that borders Spain. Our route took in Loule, Querenca, Cachopo, Martinlongo and Alcoutim where we discovered a zip wire that is ‘The Only Cross-Border Zip line in the World’  and crosses the Guadiana river between Spain and Portugal. It also allows you to travel back in time!

Now ‘Her Outdoors’ has many wonderful traits, quirks and enlightened world  views. But what I really love is her sense of adventure and her ‘try anything’ attitude.  So her suggestion of “can we try the zip wire” came as no surprise. Here’s the result…

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Quinta Views

It’s quite a time since we were able to post any new blogs, due to being busy building a fire pit in the garden and also having a hugely enjoyable family visit from son Glenn, daughter Sam and partner Tony and their son Garak.

Glenn and I had a lot of fun playing with his new toy, a DJI Phantom Quadcopter. We have some rough cut pieces from a test flights we managed to do around our property, when the wind and the baking sun allowed us.

Goodbye Old Friend (the video)

It is with great sadness that we have to say a fond farewell to a dear old friend. Thankfully it was a swift end…

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Goodbye Old Friend

It is with a sad heart that Her Outdoors and I have to say goodbye to a much loved friend. She has been an important part of our lives for what seems a lifetime, but is actually only seven short years. But what a seven years! We’ve travelled together, slept together, upset our neighbours, had many a scrape and had lots of adventures. She gave me my ‘Sundance’ nickname (I’d gone 60 years without one before meeting her!). She even helped us move to Portugal.

Chefchouan Campsite, Morrocco

We have travelled  much with her. She’s taken us far and wide, since our first meeting in a very cold and wintery Wales in 2010. She’s been with us from the Western Highlands of Scotland to the most southwesterly point of Europe. even to Africa. And what adventures she’s seen and caused – besieged by drug dealers, getting lost many times, encounters with the police, getting stuck in tight places and the unforgettable bomb scare outside the Ministry of Justice in Seville, Spain.

She’s taken us to many interesting places; the French Alps, Italian Lakes, Scottish Highlands, Edinburgh Festival, Moroccan Souks, Slovenia, the Alhambra in Granada, the Palaces in Sintra. We’ve been skiing and even enjoyed a couple of music festivals with her.

The French Alps
Shelagh, Sundance & Natalie’s kids

She’s also been very kind to friends and family. She’s picked them up at the airport, housed them when our house was full, been there at family picnics, gone shopping. She’s provided excitement for Shelagh (sadly departed and much missed mother of ‘Her Outdoors’) and weekend trips for language students and Australian friends. She’s transported timber for sheds and patios, furniture, motorbikes not to mention what seems like thousands of plants.

Bomb Scare, Ministry of Justice, Seville

It’s not all been fun though. She was instrumental in causing the bomb scare in Seville and she’s let us down a few times. She stranded us on a remote beach in Portugal when we had to get assistance. There was that incident on the Moroccan motorway that caused some damage… the penalty charge for the Dartford crossing… and her annual checkups and charges. There was also that expensive ‘accident’ at Sainsbury’s, not to mention the latest encounter in Portuguese  car wash which ultimately caused the fatality…

We are going to miss you Sundance, our beloved motorhome. RIP (Rust in peace.)

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‘Her Outdoors’ and I decided to buy a house in Portugal for two main reasons, the weather and the lovely people. How we went about buying our house is detailed in a previous blog as is the weather.

The weather of course is changeable, (not as much as in the UK!) but what of the people? We have always found the Portuguese as gentle, hospitable and lovely, but what makes them so? Is it their family values? Their respect for older people? Is it their humbleness, or is it their undemanding nature and acceptance of less than the best? If so, perhaps they should learn to be as revolting as the French (who, I believe, have a healthy disrespect of royalty, politicians, Americans, foreign wines, etc etc …), as demanding as the Germans or as noisy as the Spanish. Or maybe not!

French ‘Royal’ treatment…

The Portuguese are certainly accepting. They accept poor service (there is a restaurant in Quarteira that seems to specialise in poor/rude service!), queuing (unless you are old or pregnant), and bureaucracy (ever been to the Camara?). They do also seem to accept inefficiency. One estate agency still had our house up for sale six months after we bought it. (We had people knocking on our door asking if they could look round.) When buying our house, the lawyer missed, or overlooked, the fact that not all of our property was legal (it is now!). They also ‘lost’ our money for a few days by putting it in a different account!

There are opposing views about the work ethic of the Portuguese, they are either ‘hard working and inventive’ or ‘lazy and lack imagination’. (The first stereotype is usually attributed to the Portuguese, the second to Brazilians!) Perhaps a factor here is that in Portugal, the family is central to the Portuguese way of life, and takes precedence over all other relationships, including business. Employing family members is seen as the normal thing to do, as it makes sense to surround yourself with the people you know and trust the most. Perhaps having family members in a business is what promotes a more relaxed climate as there isn’t the ‘competitive’ element you normally find within organisations.

I do wonder though, whether the more relaxed attitude prevalent in Portugal is because they live in a different time warp continuum? “I’ll be there this afternoon,” means I might get there some time this week”. “I’ll send it in an hour” means “I’ll send it after my siesta…maybe, … if I actually remember to”.

It has taken ten months to get plans drawn up for an extension and we now have to wait for Camara approval before we start building. The N125 so called “road of death”, which runs across the Algarve, was thought to be named due to the high number of accidents, but it’s actually because the various councils involved are killing time while they re-build it! Oh, and before I forget, the local Post Office sometimes closes ten minutes before it says it does.

What is generally agreed though, is that the Portuguese are lovely people. One thing I like about the Portuguese is how I’m addressed these days. Usually it is ‘Senor Alan’. Recently though I was called ‘Sir Alan’. Not sure whether that is because I look like the guy who’ Lords’ it over Amstrad and who was looking for an apprentice. Or maybe it’s just because I’m so sweet (it’s a pun, not a claim). At this point I was going to make a reference to the US version of “The Apprentice” but I can’t possibly Trump Lord Sugar.

Sir Alan and another geezer…

Another thing I really like is the Portuguese attitude to pedestrians and their use of zebra crossings. Here in Portugal it appears to be the custom that if drivers see pedestrians approaching then they stop to let them cross. Amazing or what! Even when the pedestrians are a few yards (or metres) from the crossing! Compare that to the UK, where the rule is that unless the pedestrian has a foot on the road, then you hit the accelerator hard; heaven forbid that they should be allowed to get that first foot on the crossing and ‘claim’ their right to cross the road. *

*Disclaimer: “The Author” cannot be held responsible for anyone who accepts any of the viewpoints expressed in that last paragraph and consequently gets knocked down by a driver that has failed to read this blog.