Having written that post yesterday, I realized that the core problem I’m having is this: due to the language barrier, I can’t even get my minimum quota of human interaction for the day. I can’t joke with the guys at the grocery store like I do at Trader Joe’s, or ask my waitress how her day is going, or ask someone at the gym where she gets her hair done — none of it. All those little things that set people at ease, make them laugh or feel better about themselves — I’d never realized how much it means to me to be able to do that. And now that my ability to do so is gone, I’m very much feeling the lack.

I felt better after talking all this out with Gabe, although still fragile as we went into our separate days. I decided I needed to get out, do something, anything, just to be around people (you know I’m far gone when I actually feel like I need to be around people!) So I went for a walk and found a whole string of cafes outside the nearby train station — including a guy sitting outside working on his laptop. A good sign! Unlike at home, cafes are largely for socializing here, not for working.

I walked up and down the strip til I found one that looked appealing, and chose one where the owner was looking out at me with a kindly, inquiring expression. He greeted me as I came in, and I asked haltingly if he had internet. When he said no and told me where to go, I asked if for now he had black tea. He said no problem, and proceeded to whip me up a lovely spread of teapot, hot milk, and a teacup with an array of candy and sugar spread around the saucer. How civilized.

So I sat outside and drank my tea, reading my Kindle (for work, honestly!) and gradually feeling myself relax as I listened to the music from the cafe and the chatter of the people around me. I also enjoyed watching the little man take care of his regular customers, a lot of whom seemed to be attractive young women — when one girl sat down outside, he greeted her by bringing her an espresso. Clearly a regular.

I quickly figured out why, as he was quick, extremely attentive, and immaculately polite to all his customers. But his crowning glory as a restaurateur came when I at last went in to pay my bill. As I was doing so, he put his hand on my arm and told me that I was very beautiful, and he meant no disrespect, but he just had to tell me that I was lovely. It was said without any malice, and with such old-fashioned deference and clear appreciation, that it absolutely made my day. Between the compliment, his kindness and patience with my limited language skills, and the lovely pot of tea, I was about ready to start crying all over again. Or at least become a regular myself.

Much buoyed by the warm tea and the equally warm compliment, I went about the rest of my afternoon — fighting my way through the grocery store (which is always an adversarial experience), dragging my purchases home, then heading out again to my first Portuguese lesson in almost three weeks. Needless to say, what little I had learned before our recent adventures had largely vacated my mind, and I consistently drew complete blanks as I tried to carry on simple conversation with the teacher and my new classmate, a beautiful young Latvian woman.

The point of highest amusement for me was when we were doing our introductions — in Portuguese, of course. Apparently, the girl said that she was Latvian (the word for which I didn’t understand), and lived in Riga (which I also didn’t recognize, but figured was an area of Lisbon I didn’t know yet, or perhaps another city nearby.) I didn’t want to interrupt her by asking, so I just smiled and nodded, then a few minutes later proceeded to ask her where she lived in Lisbon.

My teacher looked at me like I was crazy, and said, “This is correct, but you can’t ask this because she does not live here. She just said that she lives in Riga.” I had to admit that I had no idea where this was — and to think I majored in politics! Wow I felt dumb. Clearly my brain yet to turn back on again after vacation.

The rest of the lesson was good, and afterwards I went to the gym for a yoga class, where I was greeted by and chatted with various people who work there. Of course even after this day of (admittedly limited) social interaction, I came home feeling much better.

So the lesson to be — very grudgingly — learned here is: even the biggest introvert of them all still needs to talk to people. Sometimes. Very occasionally. Especially when there’s tea and compliments involved.

On a much more cheerful note… although we’ve been seeing Christmas stuff in stores pretty much since we got here in early October, they’re now getting serious about their holiday decorations. Here’s some pictures I took on the way to and from class yesterday of the town prettifying itself for the Christmas season…

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