Hello friends. I’ve been meaning to write this for a week or so, but life gets in the way sometimes.
I’d like to start by saying it’s much better now. Not perfect at all, but no major meltdowns and the stress level is starting to become pretty manageable, which is all I could hope for in the first month of living in a new country where you’re just learning the language.
There’s definitely still a ton of friction points. A million paper cuts, and there are days where it feels like I might bleed out, but it’s way better than it was.
I don’t think most of the friction is Lisbon, or even Portugal, just the whole moving-to-a-new-country thing, which I’ve never done before – and also, we haven’t lived in a big city in 7+ years, so that’s another adjustment.
We’re still waiting on our residence cards, but that’s to be expected. We wouldn’t have expected them before a month at least, so that’s fine. It does mean we can’t really leave the country though, since our visa only gives us two entries to Portugal, one of which we burned getting here.
We’re trying our best to make the most out of the cool stuff Lisbon has to offer – and there’s a lot. On Friday, we walked from Alfama to Rato (uphill, both ways, somehow) to see a Frida Kahlo biography immersive art exhibit (and eat some fantastic Japanese food) and it was amazing, and then on Saturday we hung out at the Pride party at Praça do Comércio. We connected with a Portuguese friend we met a year ago, and she introduced us to a few of her friends (who were fantastic and smart and funny and kind), and things are starting to feel normal. A bit.
But that friction.
I’ve mentioned before that I feel like I’m always tired. I thought it was jet lag and timezones, and maybe it was that first week, but now I think it’s something else. “Stress lag” is what I’m calling it, for lack of a better term. Or maybe it’s long COVID, who knows. Lots of variables. But I’m exhausted most of the time, and there’s not enough espresso in the world to make that not be true.
Warning: Everything I’m about to vent is going to sound like entitled, bougie, spoiled brat American shit, because it probably is. I’m sorry. These are paper cuts, so they all sound trivial (because they are), but I’m sharing them with you because you’ll probably feel them too.
It’s hot. Really, really hot. It’s only June and it’s been 95 degrees (35 in celsius) for the past few days. If you’ve done any research on Portugal at all, you’ll have heard that it’s often hotter inside your apartment than it is outside, which is definitely true, but in this case, outside offers no solace either. We are fortunate enough to have one small air conditioner unit in the living room, but it’s no match for this heat. The bedroom feels like a swamp, so we’ve been sleeping in the living room a lot, with one of us on the couch and the other on the recliner. We have fans in every room (FIRST thing you should buy if you move to Portugal BTW) but they can only do so much.
Because we have a cat, we can’t open the windows properly to let air flow through the house, and even if we could, the construction noise would be unbearable.
The animals are still adjusting. Mostly, Qwerty (cat) and Moxie (dog) are okay, but Ripley (very anxious dog found in a box in Mexico) is having a much harder time.
She’s never lived in a city, ever, and people scare her. Where we are in Alfama, huge tour groups frequently pass through, and it kills me to see her visibly shaking from fear. In the past, we’ve taken her to a doggie shrink, tried dioggie prozac, etc. It’s just how she is, but she’s so afraid of what’s outside that just getting her to go to the bathroom is a struggle.
On the upside, Moxie (who we call “good indoor dog”) has all but become a Good Dog. (Yes, I know they’re all good dogs, Brondy.) She used to bark at every imaginable thing outside, and sometimes nothing at all, but here, she’s actually great. Strangers pet her, she defeated sky-dog (balcony dog that barks a lot,) and she seems genuinely happy. She is thriving here more than in SoCal.
Qwerty is a cat, so she’s gonna cat, as cats do, but Ripley seems a lot more of a mess than I had hoped. Not because of Portugal, just because big city with a ton of construction and chaos all day. She’s getting better, but I secretly wonder if it would have been better if I left her with my sister in Arizona. In my head that was never an option. She’s my dog. I adopted her, I am responsible for her. But what if the more responsible thing for her wellbeing would have been to spare her city life?
Deliveries largely suck. Because we don’t have a car and a lot of the stuff we need would be too much to carry, I have been ordering some things from Amazon Spain (which is usually the best option here, since there is no Amazon Portugal, and many local shops don’t deliver.) Since we have a door code, it means that we have to be home all day when a delivery is scheduled, since the delivery folks aren’t just going to leave a box on the street.
This really isn’t different from when we lived in NYC, where instead of a door code we had a front door key that let us into the building, and then our actual apartment keys. But with the work schedule we have to keep (2PM-10PM, to make sure there’s enough crossover with our co-workers) it means that any errands we have to run (groceries, getting pet food/kitty litter, etc) are held up for the whole day, since we have no idea what time they’ll get here and we have to be here to let them in. In NYC, we’d work normal hours, so we’d be at home during normal hours, so deliveries were no biggie. Here, we try to run our errands before work, and the delivery window being 12 hours wide is difficult to plan around.
The boxes usually show up looking like they’ve been through a war zone, but somehow the stuff inside is *usually* okay. Except sometimes it isn’t. I ordered some blush and a toaster oven, and they taped the blush to the top of the toaster oven box, which of course means it was broken when it arrived.
THAT SAID, I can get food (and wine) delivered at 4:30AM via UberEats, which is AMAZING. (And the food is pretty good!) I missed that about living in a city, and even in NYC they wouldn’t deliver wine at 4:30, so absolutely loving that part. (Why wine at 4:30AM, you ask? Because of the aforementioned weird work hours and because I just don’t sleep much anymore.)
I feel like my online purchases have a 50/50 chance of being horrible. I ordered a shower caddy thing for the main bathroom and I would love to meet the sociopath who designed this thing. While the risk of crappy products is generally true for any online ordering, it does feel a bit worse here, since there’s far less selection. Bras that don’t fit, a garbage can that’s way smaller than I thought.
A lot of this is my fault. I guess I messed up the US -> EU bra size conversion, and I’m not great at metric yet, but it’s still frustrating. You plan your day around this delivery (and wait a week for it) and half of what you ordered is either complete garbage, or just not what you expected. (I know, I’m an entitled shit. Other entitled shits might be reading this, so I’m just trying to be honest here.)
Accepting deliveries is even stressful. Our door auto-locks, so I always have to have my keys on me – but I don’t wear jeans, so I have nothing to clip them to. The doorbell rings, the dogs lose their minds and start barking like lunatics, and then I have to scramble to find keys. Unlike in some apartments I’ve had in NYC, we don’t have a super who lives in the building. If I lock myself out of my place, I’m stuck until Brady comes back. (There is a way to set the lock so it doesn’t auto-lock, but then it doesn’t really close properly, and I don’t want the animals to get out.)
Again, not world-ending, just one stressor among many.
Leaks. Our apartment has been plagued by leaks from the upstairs apartment since we got here. Actually, since before we got here. The pizza place downstairs contacted the property owner in March (we hadn’t been in the apartment since November) to report that it was leaking down to them, but we couldn’t do anything about it since we weren’t here. We FedExed a key to the apartment manager (for $150) from the US and the he checked the place out, seemed fine. Once we got here earlier this month, I was woken up at 3AM by the sound of leaking water.
I went upstairs and met the family there (it’s an AirBnB) who were super duper nice, and didn’t know what caused the leak. Blah blah blah, the property owner of the place upstairs found the leak, fixed it, and then a week later, a new leak at 4AM with water pouring out of the ceiling. Turns out when they renovated the building, they only used drywall around water-areas (shower, sink, etc) so the whole thing is a mess. I have a giant hole in my ceiling now and who knows when that will be fixed.
They did isolate the second leak, so at least there’s that. Basically, the AirBnB renters are told “if you use that shower, the apartment will explode” until they can have the problem fixed for good.
Other apartment shit. Our toilet seat and the flusher has been broken since we got here. I might have mentioned it before, but if I die in Portugal, it’s NOT going to be because I slipped off a broken toilet seat and cracked my skull open and bled out on a bidet. And if I do go out that way, please lie and make up something way cooler. Please. Eaten by a shark in Nazare, killed by orcas in the Algarve, whatever you want. Just not that.
Dishwasher was broken. The lights in the bathroom are so dim, I can barely do my makeup. We have (luckily) tons of storage cabinets but they’re all at ceiling level and we don’t have a ladder. Where do we get a ladder, and how would we get it home?
Our property manager is amazing, and so is the property owner upstairs – both wonderful dudes who are very responsive and speak excellent english. They’re doing their best, the situation just kinda sucks.
Bollards. I’ve mentioned the bollards before, and I hope that once we get our residence cards this will be less of a thing, but since we’re in a historic district, you can’t get onto our street without special access because of the hydraulic bollards. Don’t know what a hydraulic bollard is? It’s this:
It’s a smart way of keeping traffic down in historic areas, but it also means getting in and our (and getting things delivered, like a replacement dishwasher) require an actual phone call to city hall sometimes. These little fuckers will cause a lot more trouble than you think if you live in a historic district.
Language stuff. This one seems obvious, and while a lot of people in Lisbon do speak english, some do not – but more importantly, we really want to learn Portuguese properly. As I’ve mentioned before though, there is a cognitive load that comes with being surrounded by signage and people where you have to run everything through at least one filter, maybe two, before it transforms into your native language. I normally welcome and LOVE this challenge (it’s one of my favorite parts of living abroad), but there are definitely days where I just kinda don’t have it in me. Too much going on at work, whatever it might be. I study every single day, and I love learning languages, but sometimes I just don’t have the spoons.
Vapes. (Yeah yeah, judge all you want. Still better than smoking.) We’re kinda stuck on Blu right now until we find a proper vape shop, and the only place that sells near us is in the train station, which is thankfully very close, but also closes early. Since we have these weird work hours, it can make it tricky to plan for, especially if we have a delivery coming that day. And if all of the other small stressors weren’t enough, you don’t want to see me dealing with them without nicotine. (I hate the Blu 2.0 series. It’s USB-C, which is nice, but it’s like trying to suck the chrome off a trailer hitch and the flavors all taste like boiled ass.)
Weird work hours. This one we planned for, and we did it every time we were here in the past, but now that we live here, it’s proving to be a little harder than we expected. When we were just visiting, we didn’t have proper errands to run. We worked, but we didn’t have the pets with us, we didn’t buy a lot of groceries, etc so we had fewer day-to-day trivial things to do. This one isn’t bugging Brady as much as it’s bugging me, but for 47 years, errands are run after work (or during, if you have that kind of job) not before your day begins.
For me, having the “free time” before work sort of messes with my concept of how my day is shaped. I’m pretty sure I’ll get used to this one, but it’s kinda sucking for now. When I wake up, I expect to go to work, not run errands or laze about and watch movies (like we would after work in the states) so it’s just confusing my brain, I think. It’s as if my brain thinks “oh, we have today off, apparently!” and then the work day begins 6 hours later. I imagine those of you who have worked rotating or night shifts might have experienced something similar.
I know this post has largely been a bitch-fest, and I’m sorry about that. I’m not trying to complain, but rather paint a realistic picture of what lies ahead if you choose to move to Lisbon (or perhaps another city in Portugal or another country). Some of these things may resonate with you, some of them may not. That’s fine. None of these complaints are world-ending, and none of them make me regret the move – but they do add up and it’s important to know what you’re in for. We are mere mortals (for now) and the day-to-day stuff can add up and affect your mental well-being.
With all of the above kvetching, in one month I have already met some of the nicest, smartest and most incredible people of my life here. I wouldn’t change it.
We already have friends who have offered to dog-sit for us, loan us their car, help with paperwork, you name it. Our local shopkeepers speak English but they help us with our Portuguese every single day. The people here are so kind and funny and fun, and while there is toil in this process, there is a light ahead. Our Portuguese will get better. We will find a better apartment. The animals will eventually adjust. We can do this, and we want to do this. This place is incredible, and for all of the complaining, we’re so very grateful to have the opportunity to be here.
Is it hard? Yep. Is it worth it? Yep.
Alison (aka “snipe”)