“Tension is who you think you should be. Relaxation is who you are.”Chinese Proverb
I found this gem while researching another Chinese proverb for a book I am working on. And it resonated with me because it laid out how I have felt (for the most part) since I moved to Portugal.
I am (again, for the most part) relaxed. Tuesday I took the train into Tavira to make arrangements for Internet at my new, somewhat permanent digs. Internet providers in Portugal have about the same reputation as Internet providers in the US. That may be a saga for another time.
When I say in a casual way, “I took the train to Tavira” please know that there was nothing casual about it because it was another new learning experience for me. I went to the train station the day before just to suss it out. The charming young man at the window told me that I needed to buy my ticket the day of, how much it would cost (less than €5 roundtrip—such a deal!), and when the trains ran. The next morning, I walked in like a boss, bought my ticket, and sat outside to wait ten minutes for the train which was pretty much on time. The conductor came by with a cheery Bom Dia! and punched my ticket. I was ridiculously happy. Not even going to pretend to be cool about it. My first REAL TRAIN RIDE! I mean, unless the T counts.
I decided to walk from the Tavira train station to the Gran Plaza (less than three kilometers) where I could find all three Internet providers in one location. The walk turned out to be longer than it had to be because I was using Waze, which is designed for cars. I went up and over (of course), instead of just across. Yes, I have found the hills in Tavira. Because I wasn’t on a schedule, the extra walking didn’t cause stress or tension. It may have caused a slight blister.
I went back and forth between the three providers, had a coffee and donut, thought over my options, and went with one that I am pretty sure is a (small) mistake but will do for now. I am relaxed about it. I managed to find my way out of the Gran Plaza (I’m sure there’s an easier entrance and exit which I will find next time) and since I now recognized the area I was in, decided to walk into the main area of town and reward myself with lunch. I’d hate to burn off more calories than I had taken in with a mere coffee and donut. Have to keep my weight up…
A restaurant chose me. Well, the lovely young lady at the hostess stand greeted me as I stopped to read the board listing the Pratos do Dia (plates of the day). Several choices appealed and she offered a menu in English. Most of the restaurants have menus that include several languages: Portuguese, English, German, French, Spanish. The Algarve has the United Nations of menus.
I ordered the piri-piri chicken, always good and for me, always a safe bet. (Talk about presentation!) I opted for the boneless version, sat back with my still water, and looked out over the river, watching people and the occasional car go by. There was a group of Spanish women, sets of mothers and daughters enjoying a lunch filled with much laughter and overtalking, the way people do when they know each other so well.
An English couple was seated at the next table. I am hearing more and more English spoken which means that Portugal is opening up to tourism to some extent. I was hesitant to speak to them—do you speak to someone else who speaks your language in a foreign country just because they speak your language? Is it needy? Is it impolite to initiate conversation? Is it impolite not to? I was back at the seventh grade dance, not knowing how things worked. I minded my own business, enjoying my meal and the day, watching patrons come and go, listening to the maitre d’ greet people as they passed by, inviting them to dine.
I finished my meal, ordered a coffee, and sat back. It was warm, but not too warm. The English woman excused herself and less than a minute later, the man, a corporate type even in casual clothes, spoke to me.
He said, “You look completely comfortable sitting there.” I said, “I feel like a cat, lazy and content.”
We chatted. The woman returned. They were visiting—not their first trip and not their last. He asked the question that continues to stump me: Why did I choose Portugal? It sounds flaky to say I just did. But basically, I just did. It ticked off all my boxes. We passed a pleasant ten minutes and then they went on their way. I caught a taxi back to the train station (I am getting wiser), and rode the train back to my airbnb.
I thought about the man’s opening comment. I am much more relaxed here. My time is my own, for the most part. I work, yes, but because of the time zone difference, I have a lot more leeway in scheduling. I don’t feel the pressure of having to hustle and grind and always be competing.
There are stressors, of course. Not speaking the language is one. Trying to learn the language is another. I decided to take the pressure off myself on that by allowing that it might take more than listening to the lessons once to take in all the information.
It is merely an inconvenience when I can’t quite figure out what it is I am looking at in the grocery store, even with the Google translate app. I may have made a mistake in the internet service I chose. If I did, it’s about a €100 mistake. Not going to wipe me out and easily fixable. If I boarded the train going the wrong way, I would have stopped at the next station and changed direction. (I didn’t. I’m very proud.)
For some reason, everything seems fixable here. I have slowed my roll and I am getting more things done. There’s a lesson in there.
My friend Jay often says about someone he admires, “He is on-center.” It’s his way of summing up that someone knows who they are and is comfortable with it. They are confident and relaxed.
Portugal has given me space. It has given me room to breathe—room that I didn’t know I needed—just by its pace and scale. Slowly, week by week, I am relaxing into being who I am.