September! And I am just about to shake off the heavy rains from spring! Sorry for not posting sooner but this had two reasons: integration & having the feeling of running out of time.
It hasn’t been an easy year. Again. That maybe doesn’t look that way because wow, we bought a crazy amazing house, and damn, we live in Portugal, the country of milk & honey that everybody seems to associate with holiday these days. But this summer (and spring) I felt lost most of the time and the only remedy I found was watching Netflix and staying in bed. I’ve never seen that much series as in the last couple of months. It started with documentaries ‘because that’s useful’, then I watched the better kind of series ‘ the ones for an educated audience’ and ended with television series ‘something light to digest my mood’.
Now, I realize that I was overwhelmed. After six months of living in Portugal, I got my first panic attack ever. And since then, they come and go regularly, always unexpected.
I heard a lot that the first two years are the hardest. This is our third year but we moved to this country on an impulse, without speaking the language, without having a house and without having a plan. So it will probably take a bit longer. I still didn’t find a way to connect or integrate here.
Finally, we bought a house but contractors break their promises, for Desplastic people don’t even bother to reply to emails and it’s really hard to meet with friends, without them cancelling or changing dates. A lot depends on the moment so it’s hard to take action. Planning ahead is more for Northern European countries than for the South- generally speaking.
At such moments, I start to miss my girlfriends to talk to and to ventilate in a bar, a terrace or a dinner in a cosy restaurant in the city centre. Because talking about your emotions with your husband is like euhm, communicating with a Martian. Having a good conversation with one of your BFF’s while drinking cava can feel like a walk on a cloud for days after… In that way my friends are sacred to me.*
In Portugal, strong family ties and traditional (Catholic) values seem to hinder these kinds of conversations and getaways. Children & family are sacred. Friendship is more superficial- generally speaking. Going out with friends is more difficult since the concept of babysitting doesn’t seem to exist. ‘It’s for rich people’ or ‘it’s for people from the city’, I hear often. For the others, it looks like babysitting is going to emotionally harm the child, or it seems to create a deep feeling of guilt to the mother. Also, the scouts are lead by adults with greyish hair in shorts, raised socks, and ties. The first time I saw this, I laughed out loud but here it is unthinkable that a sixteen-year-old stranger guides a six-year-old on Saturdays.
Another difficulty is that most of our problems are often luxury problems for a Portuguese ( the closer to the city, the more these cultural differences disappear, but we live in the countryside). Which means that a conversation about children, relations, money or priorities often ends with a Portuguese point of view and a Belgian point of view. Which is quite logical since one is Portuguese and the other Belgian. This is not about right or wrong, but about me who cannot interpret nor bridge these cultural differences.
Back to Belgium?
Davy is feeling quite pleased here. He actually wanted to move to his beloved Africa. He loves this day to day living. And he’s probably right: why worry about tomorrow? That doesn’t seem to work for me. I often have the feeling that I live in my own ecological, instalike cocoon, together with the 0,1 % of people who try to save the world by making their own soap. Bubbles. So I can tell that I have a problem with (reinventing) myself, rather than with Portuguese mentality! Ironic, since I didn’t show up myself, didn’t take action and postponed things all summer. Quite self-fulfilling. This summer, I thought for the first time, that, if I could choose again, I would choose Belgium. Quite hard to admit, but then again, going back to Belgium would bring up the same problems. When you live abroad you start idealizing your roots. Until you see that in Belgium people hardly do things for free, are very dependent of their cars as well, the roads suck, pollution is everywhere, emails are not read properly and bureaucracy stays absurd. Not to mention crazy rents for houses and the price for a simple coffee.
Zadie Smith wrote in an essay about Brexit that people from my bubble have this tradition to make fun with the underprivileged because they screw themselves by voting against their own interests. ‘But,’ she writes, ‘ Neoliberal middle and higher class screw themselves as well in their golden cage. The money craze has us in its grip.’ This was a big reason to move from North to South (I only doubted to stay because of my friends, my hood, in Belgium). A dinner for two costs 30 euro and the service is not perfect. Coffee costs 70 cents. A manicure five euro. It’s not as good as in Belgium but much better than when I do it myself, so who cares. Portuguese are sweet and take time for you, they are helpful and service is quite honest. In Belgium, everything is overqualified in an attempt to stay ahead of the competition, and Belgians can be quite antsy when they don’t get their way. So no, I would struggle again in Belgium. This is a phase I have to go through and I love the Portuguese (and Belgians). I have to find a way to combine the best of both worlds and accept the differences.
This summer I met some nice people thanks to this blog & Desplastic. People that I feel related to. Some sociologists would say, people who fit my bubble, a mix of environmental hipsters and modern nomads. But it’s just a circle of friends. And it feels great. Thanks to them I take my Bonneville out of the shed, I exercise, cook nice meals and started to plan ahead again. For a couple of weeks, time is not running out of me. That’s Seneca talking: ‘Its not that we have a short time to live, but that we waste a lot of time.’ On bullshit (like watching Netflix & scrolling over a screen). He who spends his time usefully never runs out of time. But okay, let us take this story day by day. That would make my husband a happy man.
*I do have a lot of sweet male friends to talk to, and meet, but after a very nice city trip with seven amazing women, I am in a girlfriend mood.