Thinking about keys being left in front doors started me wondering about some of the other strange traditions around here, and though the following isn’t a tradition as such in that it isn’t old in any way at all, it does portray our neighbours prevailing attitude towards life in general rather tellingly. The fact that they seem oblivious to the darker side of these situations makes me wonder; is it that they are inured to them and just accept, or do they become, (below the surface of course as I’ve never really seen anyone local lose their temper), as annoyed as us foreigners?

Being a foreigner

I say “us foreigners” as, even though I’ve lived here for nearly the same amount of time as I ever lived in the UK, I will never be anything but an “estrangeiro” …. one has to remember that many of our neighbours simply don’t travel at all, (or not very fast anyway which amounts to the same thing sometimes!), and anyone originating from even a few miles away is viewed with suspicion. For instance, Fatima, (our “Dona da casa”), has only twice been to Lisbon, a couple of hours away, and I well remember Julieta, the rather dour owner of our local grocery store, saying she’d never been this side of the lake when she visited us a few years ago; the “other side of the lake” is a mere 8 miles away by road ….. and even less if one hops into a boat. No I’ll never be anything but a foreigner, (I doubt whether the children will be either, or their children after them), so I don’t suppose I’ll ever get to the bottom of what it is they actually think about situations that just wouldn’t happen anywhere else.

Braving the Post Office

Take the Post Office in Santa Clara for example …..
I had to go to there last year. I’m used to having to wait in the queue and usually take a book along with me, but it can be quite an eye opener for the uninitiated. Of course it’s not every time that there’s a queue, but I’m used to taking a book with me whenever I have to go and do anything around here, for sure as nuts is nuts there’ll be a queue somewhere! Anyway, this time around there was; it was only a small one of about five people with a French family, obviously on holiday, in line ahead of me. However, five people in a queue round here can take an awfully long time, so I was quite pleased to have brought something along with me as, sure enough, it took ages. Dona Carla’s mum who was manning the counter is quite slow, even by Alentejano standards and today she was outdoing herself and was showing all and sundry just how slow she could possibly be. Don’t get me wrong, it was all a wonderful bustle behind the counter, it always is, and she’s got all the wonderful gizmos she could ever need, with computers here and electronic scales there, but somehow it always takes an age, and of course it’s never helped if there’s any gossip going around.
Anyway, the four people in front of the French took 45 minutes; no, I’m not exaggerating, I timed it and it was spot on three quarters of an hour. Of course, half expecting it and comfortable with a good book, I was OK, but the French, oooh, they weren’t happy bunnies at all, and quite understandable too, but hey, that’s the Alentejo.
Well, they’d had plenty of time to sort out the right phrase in their tourist book, so when they finally got to the front of the queue, in a delightful french accent and trying their hardest to mask their obvious frustration, they very politely asked for two stamps.
Stamps?” asked Dona Carla’s mum in a completely incredulous tone, “Stamps?” she repeated, “We haven’t got any stamps. No, no, no, you’ll have to go to Odemira if you want stamps”, and with that she turned straight to me with a “Yes, Frank, and how can I help you?” as if the French were no longer standing in front of her …… I felt for them, honestly I did, especially as Odemira‘s a good half an hour away, but I’ve no wish to get on the wrong side of someone so powerful and having waited my turn I could only smile weakly at them and rather sheepishly deal with my business.
After they’d huffed and puffed a bit and left I asked her why she had none. She turned to me and explained, “Well, they come in the post don’t they, and that’s so unreliable nowadays isn’t it …. and anyway, every time we have them here everyone always buys them and then we’ve got none, so what’s the point in getting them in, eh? More trouble than they’re worth if you ask me.”
And everyone in the queue behind me agreed ….