As we welcome December, I’m reflecting on what will soon be nine weeks as an immigrant in my new home in Portugal. My midlife move has exceeded all my expectations, and every day I’m in awe of this new reality.
Life here as a solo expat retiree has a different rhythm to it, even as I’m still figuring out my own cadence in a day-to-day routine that works for me. Not only is life different — which I expected — but I’ve noticed I’m becoming different too, in three unexpected ways.
I am not a trusting person. My default setting is to rigorously question motive, intent, and process whenever anyone does anything remotely resembling “nice” for me. I assume there’s a backstory I’m not privy to — or I create one in my head — that’s fueling surface acts of kindness, assistance, or interest. I know. Now’s when you’re all thinking, “How can this peach of a gal still be single?” The number-one most important requirement for any kind of fulfilling relationship, romantic or otherwise, and I don’t have it. I can’t do it, because we all filter our interactions through a sieve of past experiences, and my sieve is caked with muck I’ve let accumulate.
The unexpected — no, shocking — kindness of strangers here in Portugal is causing me to start to believe people can be good for no reason other than pure altruism. I’ve noticed I’m questioning less and accepting more when it comes to good deeds proffered. Part of my questioning is rooted in a belief I’m not worthy of kind generosity. I get that. So maybe I’m not only beginning to believe in the goodness of people, but also in the goodness of me. That’s a double whammy I wasn’t expecting. Trust the goodness of others and trust in my own goodness? It took moving to a foreign country for me to even get close to that, and I didn’t see it coming.
For as long as I can remember, all the way back to elementary school, my mother has remarked on my lack of patience. “You just have no patience, Natalie. You need to learn to be patient.” I was an impatient little girl with no time for slow people, stupid answers, and things that didn’t work as I wanted them to. I grew into an impatient midlife woman with no time for slow people, stupid answers, and things that don’t work as I want them to.
Here in Portugal, things do not move quickly. Folks are relaxed about getting stuff done. Businesses shut down every day from 1-3PM daily for lunch. In my first 8+ weeks here there have been four holidays when business ceased for the day. Taxis and deliveries do not arrive on time. I spent an hour-and-a-half sitting with a gas company employee trying to get the account for my home switched to my name. Yes, 90 minutes — not waiting to be seen, but actively meeting with an employee whose job is to switch accounts. I’ve learned to only plan to get one thing done a day that requires external involvement. Then go home, have a
cup of tea glass of wine, and gaze out at the ocean in gratitude. There is absolutely no choice but to be patient here. Cheers!
Asking for help is something I’ve long struggled with, much like a man stopping to ask for directions (or consult Google Maps or a GPS system) while driving. A lot of it for me is not wanting to bother people. But I also don’t want to risk rejection, look stupid, or worse, vulnerable.
It was one thing to ask my young students to help me as a teaching and learning tool. It’s another to go to an adult and ask them to help me. If it didn’t involve killing a spider, I wasn’t keen on asking for help. When I was packing up my house to move, I got pissy with the man I’d been seeing for nearly a year because he hadn’t offered to help me. He was surprised and annoyed. “What? I didn’t know you needed help! Why didn’t you say anything? I thought you had everything taken care of like you usually do. I didn’t think you wanted help — you’re so independent. I’d be happy to help you any time! You should’ve asked me!” (Yeah…so, there’s another whole article I’ve drafted on the dumb ways we test loved ones. More on that later.)
My first two weeks in Portugal people seemed to come out of the woodwork with offers of assistance. My immense gratitude, need, and relief soon outweighed my discomfort at accepting their proactive offers of help. It was another month, though, before I noticed I’d become significantly better at actually asking people for help — like a ride to town in the rain — before they offered. This independence BS is overrated.
I’m not going to go as far as saying I’m becoming a better version of me. Nah. There’s a lot more stuff I need to work on. Hell, some of my many flaws may have even gotten worse. Oh well. But if you find yourself struggling with being patient, trusting, and vulnerable, maybe getting out of your comfort zone and living in a foreign country could be the reset you need.
** DISCLAIMER **
OK, never mind all the bullshit I wrote above. Since this post was written, my family has been dealing with a health emergency. My mother was hospitalized for possible stroke symptoms. All tests have come back normal for a 90-year-old, though. She is doing well and expected to go home soon, after four days of being an uncooperative patient. This incident proved to me the personal changes I outlined above only apply when I’m dealing with Portuguese people. Some family members — and some other Americans — can still get on my last nerve.
Hats off to my amazing son, who’s dealt with everything I’d normally handle with an impressive level of skill and diplomacy he certainly didn’t inherit from me. I’ve spoken to my mother every day, messaged her doctor, and checked her online medical record for real-time test results three times a day. Her home aide and my sister are there. I am not flying home at this point. I’m a nicer person here in my new home.
One thing that hasn’t changed at all is my goal to NGAF. I highly recommend it and intend to keep practicing it as much as possible.
November’s planned Midlife Expat Learning post on food and shopping will be combined with December’s Christmas in Portugal article for my last MEL post of the year. Thank you for reading!
Midlife Expat Learning Posts
February: Residency visa requirements
March: Finding housing in Portugal
April: Taxes & money in Portugal
May: World Portuguese Language Day
June: Healthcare in Portugal (postponed). See Cutting expenses to move abroad
July: Voting as an expat
August: Visa application timeline and expenses
September/October: Moving, meeting folks, making friends
November/December: Food, shopping, Christmas in Portugal
If you enjoyed this please remember to Share, Like, Follow, Comment, Subscribe. (This is my “call to action” I’m supposed to include in every post. Thanks so much for your support!) ❤
Copyright ©️ 2021-2022 thehotgoddess.com. All rights reserved.