Wednesday 9 October 2013

Not so Local

I rented an apartment for my stay in Lisbon because I want to live like a local.  Do as the locals do. Blend in. Be one of them.  

The apartment is a wonderful space on the 4th floor of a building shaped like a triangle.  My bedroom IS triangular.  I’ve never had a triangular shaped bedroom before (who has?), so this is very interesting.  There are 3 French balconies in my triangular bedroom, which is absolutely as European you can get (the balconies, not the triangle).  

“Ah, oui oui. J’aime my French bal-ko-NIE.” (For effect, say that with a French accent.)

French balconies are not balconies at all, but rather doors that open to the inside, with wrought iron, decorative railings to prevent you from falling to your demise. A good idea I say.

My French bal-ko-NIE

My apartment is in a very multi-cultural neighbourood. Much more so (way way more so) than my neighbourhood in multi-cultural Canada. Let me put it this way: My neighbourhood in Lisbon is the United Colours of Benetton. My neighbourhood in Canada is beige.  See the contrast?  

Renting an apartment in the heart of a bustling neighbourhood seems to be the best option to ‘blend in’.  Right? That’s what I thought…except, I don’t.  I thought I looked like a local. I don’t. I thought I spoke like a local. I don’t.  I scream tourist at every turn.

It’s October and 26 Celsius. The locals are wearing long pants. I’m wearing shorts (Tourist!) The locals are wearing long sleeve jackets. I’m wearing t-shirts (Tourist!)
Locals don’t wear caps. I do. (UV ray protection and all, plus it looks really cool. Tourist!)  The locals order coffee (espresso) in the afternoon. I order cappuccino (SO embarrassingly tourist!) The locals eat pastries like there is no such thing as diabetes. Okay, I am too.  It's a local custom. How can I not?

Pastel de nata

Bole de rei (king care)

Locals speak differently than I do.  For thank you, I say, “ObrigadA”  (feminine).
They say, “ObrigadO” (masculine).  Portuguese is my first language. I thought I had this whole ‘feminine/masculine’ thing figured out.  Apparently I don’t.  Is it feminine? Is it masculine? Who knows? Does it matter? Yes, darn it. It does! 

Boarding tram 28, I had a complete lost in translation moment with the driver.  Tram 28 by the way, screams I am a tourist taking this tram to who knows where just because the guide book tells me to, louder than a fog horn off the coast of  Newfoundland. Tram 28 has also been listed as one of the top ten trolley rides in the world by National Geographic.  So when is Lisbon, ride the tram.

Anyway, boarding tram 28, I ask the driver, “Quanto?” (How much)

“2.85” he says.
“I have 3” I say.
“That’s 8.55.”
“What? I am one.”
“You said three.”
“Yes. Three Euros.” I show him the coins in the palm of my hand.
“We’re back to 2.85 then,” he says.

Clearly, I’m not being clear.

Tram 28

At my local pasteleria (the UK has pubs; Portugal has pastelerias), I overhear the following exchange between a customer and the pasteleria owner.

“This coffee (espresso) is burnt,” said the customer handing her tiny cup and saucer to the pasteleria owner.
“Phaw! You don’t know how to appreciate it,” he says as he takes hold of the cup and saucer.
“It’s burnt and I want a new one,” she says.
“Fine. I’ll just use less coffee.”
“I don’t care what you do. I don’t want a burnt coffee.”
He goes off, returning a short while later with another cup.
“Here,” he says. He places the coffee in front of the customer. She sips it.
“That’s much better,” she says.
“Good. I’ll use less coffee when I make yours. It’ll cost me less. But I’m not charging you less.”

See. That’s a local. Me, I would have had the coffee and tipped on the way out.

Living like a local involves more than simply renting an apartment.  It requires, getting out, walking the ‘hood, talking to the people, ordering coffee instead of cappuccino in the afternoon.  So with that in mind, guess what? Coffee time. Oh ya, and a pastry.


  1. entertaining, hilarious and informative as always! i'm willing to bet that the per capita diabetes rate is probably lower than that of ours in North America too!

    1. Hey Kevin,
      That's what I'm here fore--entertainment. I don't know about the per capita rate of diabetes (although it would be interesting to find out). All I can say is, those pastries fly off the shelves. People don't even sit down to eat them. They stand by the counter--coffee in one hand, pastry in the other. Two minutes later, it's all over. I've tried that method of consumption myself, but it's hurried. Plus my feet hurt.