I am coming to value my Portuguese lessons more and more, not only for the language skills they teach me, but also as a focus to my day, a reason to get out of the house and a venue for social interaction — even if I’m paying for the privilege. And of course for the (sometimes shocking) cultural differences they reveal to me.

I had class yesterday afternoon, after my usual day spent working at home and then a quick run at the gym. Somehow, a discussion of the vocabulary for different professions led to a somewhat pidgin discussion of feminism, during which my tutor revealed to me that abortion wasn’t legalized here until 2007.

Two years ago. The year I got married.

My mouth literally fell open when she told me this. We take our rights so much for granted in the States that I forget how precious and hard-won they really are. Two years! Holy crap.

We also had a fascinating conversation about feminism under the Portuguese dictatorship, as symbolized by three women who were referred to collectively as “the three Marias.” These women risked speaking out about women’s rights in the incredibly oppressive era of the early 1970s, writing a book called The New Portuguese Letters about women’s role in Portuguese society. Of course being the history geek that I am, and the 1970s being “my” period of study, I was fascinated by this discussion, and hope to get a copy of their book when we’re home next month.

So yesterday’s class was illuminating in many ways, and I even learned some Portuguese to boot. (I never knew there was such a thing as a “defective” verb, even in English!) I walked home in time to catch a last glimpse of the dark red sunset over the hill behind our house, and even timed it so that Gabe and I were both buying groceries on the same street at the same time.

We met in the dairy aisle of the small supermarket that I usually go to on my way home from class, and walked back to our flat together, carrying our bags of groceries through the mild evening, chatting, catching up on our days, and making plans for the next, just like we would at home. (Except at home we’d probably be driving separate cars and talking on our cell phones, so perhaps this is even better!)

So even as I am constantly discovering new (and often surprising) things about my adopted society, at the same time I’m becoming increasingly comfortable with it, and settling further into the daily life we’re creating here. My teacher even went so far as to say that my accent wasn’t atrocious when I was reading aloud in Portuguese — clearly, rapid progress is being made!

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