Just in case anyone was thinking that everything is all happiness and light over here — including myself — yesterday I had a very small, even trivial reminder of the inconveniences of living in a foreign country.

After working all afternoon, I went to the gym for a quick run, then decided to walk home the long way, via the post office and the grocery store, to take advantage of the beautiful late afternoon sunlight. That plan however was not to be.

As soon as I got to the post office, I realized I didn’t have any coins for the stamp machine, so I went to the cafe in the post office to buy a drink and get change. Simple. I then proceeded to negotiate the stamp machine in the lobby, since I was only trying to send a postcard and didn’t want to wait in line. Um, not so simple. After a few attempts at getting it to select the proper stamp, I finally fed in my euro, collected my change, and waited for my stamp. And kept waiting. No stamp ever arrived.

Somewhat bewildered, thirsty, and starting to overheat after my run, I looked around, unsure of what to do next. Walk away and write off the euro spent? Or try to salvage the situation?

Confidence boosted by my recent successes in Portuguese, I snared one of the employees  as he walked by. In broken Portu-glish, I explained what had happened, and he sighed, told me to wait there, and then disappeared. So I continued to wait, but soon realized that he had gone back behind the counter and was helping people in line. I suspected he had completely blown me off, but still I lurked about, trying to catch his eye or that of another employee. No matter how mournful or lost I looked, not a person would look at me, talk to me, or even hang up the phone to hear my question. Crappy customer service at the post office: apparently something that does transcend international boundaries!

By this point I was starting to despair of my ability to explain the situation anyway, so I left, minus two euros and the stamp I’d come for. I’d spent so much time in the post office by then that it seemed silly to go to the grocery store as well, so I just headed home instead, missing the sunset and disgruntled by this new reminder of my relative helplessness here. When a man on the street almost did the patented Portuguese move of looking elsewhere and then walking straight into you (it happens ALL THE TIME — they really don’t get the concept of personal space here), I gave him a dirty look, thinking, “Buddy, this is one time you wanna look where you’re going!”

And I was doing so well! Just the day before, I’d ordered my entire lunch in Portuguese, without Gabe’s help. Alas. But today is a new day, and I begin my Portuguese lessons again this afternoon, so maybe this whole stamp debacle will just serve as a good reminder of why I need them.

As always — onwards and upwards.

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