Portugal feels very foreign. We have been in many foreign countries but this is the first time we have no frame of reference or foundation of familiarity. The language, the food, the customs, and the landscape are all new. Because of this heightened sense of awareness, we rely heavily on the power of observation.
At the grocery store in Cascais, we watched the women as they did their shopping. Are they touching the produce? Are they using gloves? Is there a scale for customers or does the clerk weigh the goods?
At the flea market in Sintra we watched families shop. Are they bartering or is that insulting? Are they touching or just looking? How is business started and ended? Is anyone speaking English? What gestures do they use for yes and no?
As we entered a church in the heart of Lisbon for Easter mass, so many things were familiar. Children wearing their Easter best, the smell of incense, and standing room only as families crammed into this sacred space. The rhythm of the mass was comforting. The Lord’s Prayer in Portuguese had the same cadence and meditative power. “Peace be with you” connected us to other parishioners even though we were speaking a different language. We understood nothing and everything. The power of observation helped us spend a magical Easter in a catholic country with ease.
We have been wielding this new power for many months in many countries but only just realized how invaluable it has become. We hope we never forget how much can be gained by entering a new store, home, business, relationship, city, country, or culture with thoughtful observation versus posturing or defining words. Words have their own magnificent power but sometimes, we have noticed, they can be diminishing if they are spoken with haste. Enter, observe, question, understand, act with grace – that is our new order.
Click Here to read my International Living article on Provence.