When push comes to shove

By JUNE LOVER features@algarveresident.com

After 35 years in the TV and film industry, June Lover retired to the Algarve in 2006.  Having owned a holiday property here for 12 years she now lives in the hills above Almancil.

The sign on the door said Puxe which, given the inebriated nature of the letter ‘x’ in the Portuguese alphabet, is pronounced Push. So I did. Nothing. I pressed my nose against the glass door and, shielding my eyes from the bright sunlight, peered inside.


Sure enough the lights were on revealing a receptionist perched at a desk cradling a phone precariously between shoulder and chin while filing her nails. I tried again. Still nada.

I was just debating whether or not to put my shoulder to the door and give it a hefty shove when it opened. Outwards. Towards me.  The receptionist, still clutching her phone, towered above me in her six-inch stilettos.  I could almost see my own reflection in her lip gloss. “Can I help you?” she asked, and smiled revealing the most perfect set of teeth I’ve ever seen in my life. In a split second, I knew I hated her. “Your sign’s back to front” I replied with as much dignity as I could muster, and with that I turned on my flip-flops and beat a hasty retreat.  

To be fair, it’s not her fault that Puxe means Pull. Nor is it her fault that I have a total aversion to receptionists who look as though they spend most of their lives in the beauty parlour. Jealousy?  Without a doubt. My denim shorts and faded M&S tee-shirt were no match for her haute couture and I had no desire to engage in conversation with a future Miss World contestant.

The push-me-pull-you incident is only an example of some of the perversities of my new life here in Portugal. Take light switches as a case in point. Am I the only person who still gets confused by the light switches? When they’re off they’re on and vice versa. I’m forever leaving the bathroom lights on when I think I’ve switched them off. This provokes the inevitable “Do you think money grows on trees?” accusation from Sir. “But I didn’t do it on purpose” I wail, adding fuel to the fire as yet another domestic version of World War III breaks out. Pity me.

Even my kitchen appliances work back-to-front.  We’d only been in our new house a couple of weeks before the dishwasher went on the blink. No stranger to domestic appliances I had released all those buttons that say ECO, Half Load, Rinse Only, Gentle Glass Wash, but everything came out as dirty as it was when I’d put it in and I was puzzled to say the least.  

At vast expense, I called in an engineer who promptly pushed in all the aforesaid buttons.  The result was the cleanest, sparkliest glassware, crockery and cutlery you could ever wish for.  Am I missing something here?  When it’s ‘in’ it’s ‘off’, and when it’s ‘out’ it’s… oh forget it!  Even the on/off button lives in a world of its own.

And then there’s driving. I wouldn’t dare suggest that we drive on the wrong side of the road over here.  I’m far too politically correct to fall into that trap.  Suffice to say that we drive on the opposite side of the road, not to mention the opposite side of the car, to that which we have become accustomed.  I’m getting used to it, of course, but goodness knows what will happen if I have to make a trip to the UK and hire a car to get around. Mayhem! I think I should be issued with a Government Warning sign.

My introduction to Portugal was a posh five-star resort where English was the predominant language and I was protected from the outside world by a huge invisible wall of security and luxury. For years I holidayed there in blissful ignorance of signs such as Puxe or Empurre.  Doors slid open automatically as I approached them, and closed equally quietly behind me to protect the sensitively air-conditioned ambience within. As for light switches, they didn’t exist. Illumination did its own thing as sensors detected my every move.  And driving was a doddle!  A one-way road system took care of that. You just drove in the middle of the road. That was, and still is, my speciality. It was paradise.  

Meanwhile, back in the real world, another little anomaly is our Christmas dinner. For some reason, I never associated the turkey with Turkey until I came to Portugal and discovered it’s called a peru!  I found this hugely funny and regaled my long-suffering family every festive season with “D’you know, a turkey’s called a peru in Portugal?”  I even mentioned it to Guida.  “Why do you call a turkey a peru?” I asked with an impish grin.  “What’s so funny about that?” she replied.  “Why do you call a peru a turkey?” Good question. I hadn’t thought of it like that.

Equally amusing to me is that a dog is called a cow.  Well, not a cow exactly, a cão, but it’s pronounced the same. “I’m just taking the cow for a walk” conjures up a bizarre picture.  And just think of the signage.  Beware of the Cow!  No Cows Allowed.  Please Keep Your Cow On A Lead.

Word association plays a large part in my so-called language skills here in Portugal as many of the words bear a strong resemblance to our own.  But it doesn’t always apply, and it was years before I discovered that ananás are not bananas. I only found this out recently when I ordered some in a restaurant one night (goodness knows why, because I’m not really a great fan of bananas) and was served with the most delicious slice of sweet succulent pineapple.  Bananas, as it turns out, are bananas.  I should have stuck to my original instinct.

The calendar also plays havoc with my interpretation.  Dates are often back-to-front.  But there seems to be no consistency in this so I’m left wondering whether 08/06 means 8th of June or 6th of August.  This actually presents me with a serious problem as one of them is my birthday, and if I get it wrong in one of the many form-filling exercises that rule my life over here, then it’s tantamount to extradition.  Adeus Portugal!

You may think I’m not taking this language-thing seriously. Nothing could be further from the truth, believe me.  I do so want to be able to speak Portuguese. It’s just that it’s taking a whole lot longer than I ever imagined and the back-to-front syndrome isn’t helping.  So, when push comes to shove, the only way I can cope with my ineptitude is to laugh it off and just enjoy myself. Which is precisely what I’m doing. Cheers!