Yesterday I made my final trip to see my hairdresser here, which from past experience has always been an epic trip that takes up the better part of an afternoon. (As my cousin points out, I am lucky to have a job where I can take a half day during the week to get my hair done…!)

Lisbon is technically a small city, but it somehow takes an amazingly long time to get around it. So while my hairdresser is actually not that far from where we live distance wise, it’s always a trek. She works about equidistant from three different metro stops, all of which are at least 20 minutes’ walk away. In hopes of finding a way to shave off a little bit of the commute time, I’ve never gone the same way twice. While none of them have actually proven any faster than the others, my attempts have provided me with great entertainment. (Remember the railroad bridge the first time I went? Yeah.)

This time, I decided to take the bus. For Gabe and I, the bus is the Lisboan final frontier. We’ve gone all year without ever really making use of the excellent bus system here, instead relying on the metro and foot to get us where we’re going. But necessity, also known as 85 degree heat, is the mother of invention, so I decided that any method involving more than 10 minutes of walking was not for me.

That left me with the bus, which conveniently ran from just outside Gabe’s uni (where I went to have lunch) to about two blocks away from my hairdresser’s. I was skeptical of my ability to A) catch the right bus and B) get off at the right stop, but since sweat was already running down my face after the short walk down to the bus stop, I decided to stick it out.

One thing we’ve discovered about the Portuguese is that they simply love to help. Whatever it is you’re trying to do, they will always relish the chance to advise you on the best way of doing it. If you’re looking for the best way to cook your bacalhau, they will not only tell you that, but also the best place to buy it, what side dishes they prefer, and what dessert to serve. If you’re going to your grandmother’s house with a stop for bread along the way, they will tell you the fastest route, the best bakery, where to pick up some flowers for dear granny, and the best coffee shop just in case you get tired along the way. Of course if there’s more than one person contributing to the discussion, they can never agree on any of these things, but that’s all right — they also love debating.

So when I wound up at the bus stop with two Portuguese people, a middle-aged man and an older lady, I was not at all surprised when they started to ply me with instructions. All it took was a single glance at the bus map and they were off, telling me which bus to take, where to get off, which stops each bus passed along the way — and oh, that one goes to the airport, it’s not the one you want, but this one would work. They seemingly knew where each and every bus was going, and provided commentary on the effectiveness and validity of each one’s route.

Unfortunately, despite the fact that I had showed the man where I was going on a map, he still didn’t get where I was trying to go. So he told me to take what I knew was the wrong bus, and continued to insist that I just jump on the next one that came, because they all go to Entrecampos and you can walk from there. No, I can take the metro to Entrecampos and walk from there, thank you, I was trying to avoid that walk.

Since I couldn’t explain all of that, I just smiled and nodded my agreement to each of his suggestions, pretending to think each one over and weigh it in my mind — even though I’d made my mind up which bus I was taking hours before. Eventually he said, “I’m not sure if you’re understanding what I’m saying.” Oh, really? That’s perceptive of you!

So I sheepishly admitted that I was American, which shocked both of my would-be helpers, who agreed after much discussion that they had both thought I was Spanish. Spanish! I was overjoyed. After living here for nearly a year, I can finally pass myself off as being vaguely Iberian instead of the obvious English speaker that I really am. Huge success!

I did reach my destination in the end, although as usual I got off too early for fear I would miss my stop. But it was still less walking than if I had taken the metro, and my haircut was also a huge success, which made the whole trip worth it.

My new love affair with the bus system did not withstand the ride home, however. I was thrilled to discover that the same bus line ran from where I’d gotten off all the way back down to Avenida, near where we live. Woohoo! Perfect. Why hadn’t I done this before? I soon realized the reason: rush hour traffic. It took me an hour to get home, and that was after I hopped out of the bus where it had been sitting at a stop light for ten minutes and walked the rest of the way home. Sigh.

Oh well, at least I can say that I conquered the bus system, and was given the ultimate compliment of being mistaken for a Spaniard! All that plus a great haircut — a good day indeed. (Needless to say, a 4 hour round trip from door to door meant I didn’t get anything else done with my day yesterday, but that’s entirely beside the point.)

Haircuts will be so mundane from here on out.

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