Friday, 20 March 2009

A Little Piece of the Old Country

Ok, I'm a bit late in my weekly posting that I've come to get into the routine to (so much for daily postings hahaha :p) but my computer last week decided to go retarded on me in many ways so I spent a lot of time off line running anti-virus and anti-spyware and looking up tech support but I managed to fix it all (I think) by myself! Don't worry though, nothing too exciting has happened during this time since I've been so busy with that crap......but I did have one highlight :)

In the center park of my neighborhood here, there is always some sort of open market or antique sale going on over the weekends. But last week there had been stuff going on during the weekdays, a poetry book sale holding many works of the great Portuguese poet, Fernando Pessoa and also a little bake stand next to it which attracted my interest first of course ;P Not that you can't find plenty of fresh baked goods in the many pastelerias around here but this lady happened to be selling some regional selections from up north that you can find around here. She had two types of Queijadas de Sintra, several sweet breads that looked divine, homemade suspiros (merengues) some good sized bags of Broas and a couple other neat little things. But what made it surreal for me was the lady's mother whom she had brought with here, completely dressed like a little granny from the Old country, sooo cute! It reminded me of some old photos my family has of my great-grandmother out in the little Italian village where my family is from.

Now maybe this is nothing out of the ordinary for the nativos but I just loved this neat little blast from the past and I talked up the lady about her products and how her mother still helps in the fabrication of most of them (even though I watched her aimlessly wander around the park like she was in her own little world :p) and I told her I was American and wrote about Portuguese food and wine and we just had the loveliest little conversation that afternoon. And at the end she gave me a deal on a loaf of bacon chouri├žo bread (meat breads are hard to find!) and a discounted package of Queijadas, she even threw in a little peanut brittle-like bar for free! In return, I had them pose for a photo to remember the occasion, thanked them kindly and went home to enjoy all the goodies I got over the weekend :D

So, nothing too exciting like I said, but something indeed special to me :)

Thursday, 12 March 2009

The Daily Nightmare on the Street.....

Lately, I spend a lot of my weekdays stuck in my apt sitting in front of my computer here with the work I do, so unfortunately I haven't been able to catch a lot of the interesting things that can happen out in the neighborhood. But of course, not day passes here without a chorus of horns honking below to bring me out to see what the racket's all about.

Something that is guaranteed to happen daily around here is a traffic jam, and man is it always noisy!!! I'm sorry to say this but after much observation, I have concluded that Lisbon has some of the worst selfish and careless drivers I've ever seen.....and I'm from the Washington DC area so that's pretty bad! But there are two major factors that seem to have turned so many drivers bad here: 1) There is NEVER enough parking anywhere or at any time, and 2) There is hardly ever any ENFORCEMENT of parking regulations. Put these two together then you have people parking their cars in any little space they can squeeze into, and that includes "ping-ponging" with the cars on either side if necessary! And it never ceases to amaze me where people leave their cars here, sidewalks and crosswalks are a norm (what? people actually use them to walk on?? :p), fields, medians, squares, stairwells.......everywhere!

The worst by far is when people get fed up trying to find a spot or are just too lazy so they double-park, which includes when people stack their cars out on a corner, which always blocks part of the passage through the street and these streets aren't big to begin with. The huge blindspot is also creates for other drivers trying to pass through the intersection has already caused two accidents within a 1 month period at the intersection below my apt, it's crazy. The rule here is that if you double-park, you're supposed to leave a paper with your cell or apt# to contact if you need them to move but of course people only do this maybe 50% of the time and many that do, aren't even around when you call! This leads then to many of my mornings being awakened by someone laying on their horn for 10-20mins at a time because they got double parked and are now late for work, ughhhh, you're not sure whether you want to kill them or the person that blocked their car in the first place! Then there are the delivery trucks that come around from late morning to late afternoon, who obviously have no space to stop and unload or pick-up stuff so they inevitably block traffic flow in the street, which causes another series of honkings and Portuguese drivers love to honk A LOT so you can imagine how annoying it can get VERY quickly. And if you're pedestrian, GOOD LUCK , because many times you're risking your own life trying to cross a street while manueuvering around parked cars and cannot even see if other cars are coming, I've had some close calls myself!

As I write this, I can already hear my noisy neighbors below, and I'm sure it won't be the last I'll hear today! I know back at home, we all despise the "parking nazis" who ticket for any and everything but after living here, I've come to appreciate what they do, because they actually end up preventing a lot of unecessary accidents and traffic jams which I'm sure has saved lives that are being lost in Lisbon. And of course, my ears wouldn't be ringing by the end of the day from all that %#*(#$)*#$ noise!!! So next time, you get some measly little ticket for parking enforcement, just remember, it could be a hell of a lot worse! The honking here has stopped finally, so time to get back to work before something else happens and the chorus begins again.....yay.

This is the second accident I witnessed from my balcony in late afternoon where two cars hit each other coming in opposite directions. Notice right up the street from them, some idiot decides to stop right in the middle and took 10mins to drop off his kids and meanwhile traffic is building up behind him and people had already started honking of course. I also see another car double parked ahead of that guy. And this isn't even that bad for parking on my street, it's normally a lot worse!

Wednesday, 4 March 2009

Interesting Little Cultural Differences

It is probably assumed that the Portuguese culture is quite different from American culture; being a European culture in general, things go at a much more relaxing pace than the fast-food pace of the American world of course. Like most Americans, I grew up with the impatient tendency of wanting things done now, right away or even yesterday haha, so naturally, I had to adjust a bit when coming here, knowing that I would have to wait a bit for things. However, I don't think any American could ever be prepared enough to realize just how much WAITING you have to do here! And I mean for everything and everyone, but since I have slowly become adjusted to these slower things, waiting is not always bad.

"I have to PAY to piss here?!"
A perfect example is going out for a meal, which what would normally be 30mins-1hr for lunch and 1.5-2hrs for dinner in the US converts to 2hrs for lunch and 3-3.5hrs for dinner here. I normally enjoy these much more leisurely meal periods to begin with, being able to savor my food and wine as well as digest it properly by sitting longer. Though there are also times when meals exceed my patience limit, for example when the server is always nowhere to be seen when you are ready to ask for the check (keep in mind they will never drop the check at a table here, you must always ask for it) or when the company I am with have been sitting and chatting so long after even the drinks are gone and the check paid that I'm thirsty again and my butt is so sore I could scream, but maybe that's just me haha.

But enough about the waiting, there are other cultural differences that are actually quite nice to have and make us Americans seem quite rude! For instance, whenever you enter a building, shop, bus, even an elevator, you greet the people there with either Bom Dia (Good Morning), Boa Tarde (Good Afternoon) or Boa Noite (Good Evening/Night) and you do the same when you leave. This can also apply when just passing people in the street or going through a door at the same time. In many situations, an added Hello and Goodbye are used with the greeting. Now I must say, it has been a rare occasion for me in the US to get on an elevator and have everyone greet me and say farewell when they got off, and if you do something like that there, many times Americans will kind of look at you weird and think you want something from them, how sad is that?! Though I admit, I did feel a bit the same way when I first encountered that here and hadn't realized it was custom, and I also thought at first to be quite annoying to say hello and goodbye to strangers all the time. But now I've come to appreciate such politeness and many times it comes off more friendly than just polite and makes me feel a lot more welcome :)

But to add to this, one thing I still find odd and unnatural here is the custom of saying Com Licen├ža ("Excuse me") when hanging up the phone after talking to a business or after when someone comes to my apartment door, be it my neighbor, servicemen or solicitors. It still makes me want to say "Excuse you for what?" like if they had just bumped into me or something, but what they mean out of politeness is that they are excusing themselves to leave/hang up. Americans only seem to do this when getting up from a table with a group of people to excuse themselves to go to the bathroom or take a call, etc, but it is meant because we are interrupting something. I guess I never thought I was interrupting someone hanging up the phone at the end of a conversation or going back inside my apt, and I will probably always find it strange but hey, it's never bad to be polite! hahaha.

So even though another country's cultural customs can be new and "foreign" and hard to adjust to at times, there are always good things that should be embraced. They have made me realize how much of a "typical American" I could really be, and glad to have my opened my mind just a bit more ;)