Most of my day yesterday was perfectly normal and pleasant. I went for a swim in the morning, studied Portuguese for a while, talked to my mom on Skype, then took a different, longer way to class so that I could do a bit of exploring on the way. Class went well, although once we get beyond simple thoughts and opinions in Portuguese, it’s far too easy to lapse back into English. Alas.

As I was walking home through the warm, drowsy sunlight of the late afternoon, I had such a huge sense of well-being, enjoying every new run-down building I came across, really soaking it all in and almost pinching myself as I thought: I really live here!

All this was blown apart, however, by one chance encounter with a pig of a man in the grocery store. I debated whether or not to write anything about it here, but I think it serves as an example of something I haven’t really touched on yet: Portuguese men’s attitude toward women.

This particular man was the worst I’d encountered yet — one of those people who just takes up a lot of room, physically and psychically. As a result, he dominated the entire tiny grocery store that I stop in on my way home from class: talking loudly on his phone, making comments to the guy working there, and taking up as much room as physically possible in each narrow aisle. It seemed that every time I turned a corner, there he was, blocking my way and then forcefully brushing by me, even when there was plenty of room on the other side.

At one point, he pulled this little trick while he was walking behind me, which resulted in the back of his hand oh-so-nonchalantly swiping my backside as he walked by. I’m sure if I’d confronted him he would’ve played the innocent, but it was clearly an intentional accident. As it was I was so astonished that I just turned around and gaped at him as he walked away, outraged and speechless to protest in any language, much less Portuguese. Luckily I was almost done with my shop, so I bundled up my anger along with my lettuce and cucumber and grumbled my way home.

So there went my nice afternoon, which was later redeemed somewhat by walking up to the miradoure above our house with my sweet, respectful, gentlemanly husband and watching the sun set over the city.

My point here is not to prove how European men are pigs. In fact I’m telling this story to illustrate that this idiot was an exception to the norm here in Lisbon — a norm I’ve gotten so accustomed to that I didn’t even realize how much I took it for granted until it was violated.

Don’t get me wrong, men here are definitely more open in their appreciation of women. Time after time, I have seen men on the street openly stare at and evaluate every single woman who walks by, no matter what their shape or description. It’s funny and predictable, but thoroughly harmless.

I have also been the subject of such frank evaluation myself, but have never once felt threatened by it. When I’m with Gabe, men always look away, respectful of another man’s woman. But even when I’m by myself, they leave me alone — unlike other countries I’ve gone to solo, where I’ve had to retreat to my hotel room when I got tired of the comments and stares. Although the men here are far from subtle in their appreciation, they are not disrespectful, and I never feel unsafe.

Until yesterday, that is, when this guy crossed that invisible boundary between appreciation and disrespect. I wasn’t as much angry in my own right as much as I felt that he had violated some unspoken rule of conduct, crossed a line that is for the most part inviolable in this society. Just as I found in Cuba, the appreciation for women’s beauty here is combined with a deep respect for them, an old and almost chivalrous attitude, especially towards married women. So as much as this guy pissed me off, it’s nice to know that this kind of behavior is far from the norm. Thank goodness. But watch out for those skinny supermarket aisles — they’ll get you every time.

Speaking of which, in unrelated and much better news — we were pleasantly surprised last night by the early arrival of our hypermarche delivery, which was scheduled to come between 8 and 10:30 PM. It being Portugal, we were prepared for it to arrive at the later end of that window, but the truck pulled up as we were sitting down to dinner at 7:45! The guys proceeded to carry everything inside in one fell swoop, and left us with a plethora of bags on our floor.

This weekend, serious organizing and nesting awaits me. I can hardly wait.

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