welcome to emmas housethought

cultural differences: a brief guide

Some things that travellers are meant to encounter have always eluded me. “Cultural differences” and “culture shock”, for example, are two concepts that I have never really had a grasp of while on the road.

But now that I am settled and my mind is no longer occupied with train timetables and food poisoning, I have had time to ponder these issues.


I know that many of the comparisons I make on a daily basis are city/country comparisons, rather than being particularly Portuguese/Australian. The problem is with the generalisation. So, permit me instead to illustrate some examples of the more unexpected, curious and/or seriously annoying old life/new life differences I have encountered.

Do not take medications with alcohol

Elsewhere we understand that alcohol interferes with some prescription drugs, and can also exacerbate any side-effects like drowsiness that may occur. But here in my village, this code of practice is taken literally; I.E. you should not use a liquid containing alcohol to swallow your pills.

street plaque

To counter this village logic, I have drawn up my own personal guidelines:

All illegal drugs should to be consumed with alcohol, although ecstasy should only be drunk with a trendy spring water.

👿 All pain medication should be taken with an espresso to bring it on super fast.

😎 Any sedative should be taken with a glass of milk, preferably malted.

😐  Bex powders are of course taken with a cup of tea, followed by a lie-down.

😆 Antidepressants, if taken in the morning, should be drunk with a neat scotch, or if in the evening with a swig of vodka straight from the bottle, for that desperate housewives type of style.

😳 Any heart, circulation, or blood pressure treatments should be quaffed with a glass of red wine.

😕 Antibiotics, logically, with a liquid yoghurt.

😯 Ritalin, lithium, dopamine and anything containing pseudoephedrine should be drunk with a large glass of unnaturally-intense coloured cordial or soft drink.

:mrgreen: Anti-inflammatories, which should never be taken on an empty stomach, should be taken with a smoothie made from chops, potatoes and peas, or whatever you’re eating put into the blender. Mmm. spag bol smoothie, now we’re talking…


In this same “village logic/cultural difference” category one may also include “don’t drink hot things with cold things” (thankyou waitress now get me my coffee and orange juice) and “you can’t toast bread with fruit in it” (thankyou waitress now go toast my merendeira quicksmart thanks).

Being fat and being skinny

Despite the alarming growth of my girth and the persistence of a vulgar muffin top, my neighbours are insisting that I am puny and weak and need fattening up. It’s sweet of them to ignore the disintegration of my used-to-be physique, but really, I’m already rolling down Heartattack Road, and I don’t need a push.

You see, here, if you’re not as big as a house then people take pity on you. They describe fat people as “strong” people. What’s interesting is that their attitude is just as scientifically flawed as our perception of thinness being attractive. We might be starving ourselves to ill health, but they are meanwhile eating their way to heart disease and diabetes…

wookie with flowers


There isn’t even a proper word for “pet” in Portuguese. The best they can do is ‘animal of esteem’ which echoes nicely the dubious attitudes Portuguese have for companion animals. I should say, some, perhaps even many Portuguese do get it – just no one here in my village. Just how many times do the neighbours have to say that I have to keep my dog chained up EVERY HOUR OF EVERY DAY FOR THE REST OF ITS MISERABLE LIFE. Just how many “pet” dogs will the neighbours dump in the forest five minutes after their fun use-by date? How many domestic cats do we need who are hungry, diseased and petrified of human contact? What the hell is the point in having them around? I mean, if they were eating them, it might just make sense…


However, it seems their respect for animal rights is diverted to other species. The goats, sheep and one rooster are permitted to walk the streets like the holy cows of India. Which is all nice and utopian except for the backing soundtrack of the howling dogs, imprisoned for life.

At the café, it’s just incredible how many people are terrified of dogs. And Wookie is not exactly scary. Maybe I should take Mao out when he’s in a bad mood, and then we’ll see.

sheep in the street

Stuff beside the road

Where I come from, if you make a pile of things outside your house, in any way adjacent to the roadside, you are sending a message that this is stuff you no longer want and that the general public is most welcome to come along and take it away.

This is not the case in here in Cú de Judas. A pile of anything anywhere still belongs to someone and will be doggedly protected should you attempt to reclaim it. I have stumbled over this cultural mogul when I was sprung liberating junk from a junk pile, which was unfortunately considered by the other party to be valuable personal property. “If so”, I queried, “why was it not secured?” Why was it not inside out of the rain, for example, or even behind a fence, or why didn’t it have a little handwritten sign saying “my shit – don’t take”? It’s charming, in a way, that Portugal (or Cú de Judas, anyway) is still so innocent that unprotected belongings left for days, weeks or months in full view of passing traffic in an open field, should not be mistaken for abandoned or be considered vulnerable to repossession.


Indeed, even in areas without houses to indicate private property, you should be careful about what you lift from the footpath. I have been told that collecting kindling by the roadside puts me in a suspect moral position. Certainly I now understand that seemingly ancient stacks of tidied branches may be someone far away’s sensitively aging wood pile. Even random arrangements of tree waste might be precious treasure to someone somewhere, and not just nature providing for the freelance hunter-gatherers’ benefit.

So now when I’m feeling nervous and guilty while gathering pine cones, (I don’t actually stop doing it) I just reassure myself with the wise words of a neighbour: stealing to eat isn’t stealing. I presume this includes stealing to cook, to eat, isn’t stealing.


  1. Katharina Keil February 18, 2010 10:31 pm Reply

    Just love the photo of Wookie….gorgeous. And again another great story!

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    Emma   Reply: February 18th, 2010 at 11:11 pm

    leibe kat! danke!

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  2. Celia February 19, 2010 12:45 am Reply

    Great post, Emma!

    Don’t get me started with the pet thing. I was never so heartbroken to see beautiful dogs and cats at the village in September being treated like shit. Here in the States, I have a beagle and 4 cats – all indoor, all spoiled. My Mom (still with her village mentality) often asks me when I’m going to put the cats in the basement and the dog outside to live lol

    On the fat thing. Yes, you’re right about the meat on the bones “concept” (for lack of a better word), BUT if you’re too chunky (as I happen to be), you get asked if you’re not ashamed of being so fat. The nerve! I was actually hurt the first few times, but then I pulled myself up and started answering back… the villagers don’t like that.

    Stay well and enjoy some bolas de Berlin for me 🙂

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  3. Emma Crabtree February 19, 2010 12:52 am Reply

    Fun, made me giggle. This pet thing. So very odd to what I’m used to. I’ve met dogs working on a cattle station in the NT, & have house sat for the most pampered German Shepherd, so I have a wide net of experience to call on here. (Bad use of metaphore, I know, lack of sleep, another story).

    My question is; why bother having a dog if all you’re going to do is chain it up? I get working dogs, hunting dogs, dogs as pets. But dogs on chains, not walked, paid no attention to, kept in pretty crappy conditions… Surely the cost of dog food is enough to deter most people?

    As my mum said when visiting neighbours; the animal yard was a hovel, but their home was immaculate.

    My neighbour has a puppy that needs a new home. Here’s an appeal from the heart; please take this puppy as I can’t bear having another dog chained up next door. V. selfish, guilt ridden, not sure? Can’t take this puppy in myself for lots of reasons. Long post. Apologies xx

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  4. Rodrigo February 19, 2010 5:16 am Reply

    Lets trade countries. Here they treat animals like humans and people like animals. My radio got nicked from my scaffolding by a gentleman under one minute. When my boss retrieved it from the “Sir” he proclaimed to have found it on top of the trash bin.
    Here my Head Chief can copulate at is hearts content and shaft anything that moves. We must pay our growing taxes and listen to copious reems of information regarding the apartheid regime. Funny thing the human animal.
    Give me an olive tree any day 😉

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    Emma   Reply: February 22nd, 2010 at 2:33 am

    when all the crime I can complain about is the 10 yr olds breaking into my house to nick my chocolate… jeez rodrigo, I’ll stop whingeing now…

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  5. Ana February 19, 2010 8:12 am Reply

    seeing dogs chained up is as perturbing as seeing animals wandering around on the streets in danger of being knocked over. the fences are so low they jump over.

    love the picture of the house with the single ‘cabbage tree’. i was in Pombal today and was amazed to see a few ancient houses in the middle of town – amongst the high-rise buildings. one of the houses, the old lady (also ancient) had her washing hanging on the pavement and her buckets from mopping the floor also on the pavement.

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    Emma   Reply: February 22nd, 2010 at 2:28 am

    cute, I love that too, that one litle old house that didn’t get sold to developers… keeping on. In Vila Real once I saw sheep grazing on a patch of grass outside a bank. So Portuguese, just like that determined little Couve da Rua cabbabe.

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    Isabel   Reply: February 22nd, 2010 at 9:19 am

    @Emma, I once saw a man with a cow grazing in the patch of grassy land between the two double lanes in the A1, a couple of kilometers before Porto. One wouldn’t want all that nice green erva to go to waste, isn’t it?

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    Emma   Reply: February 25th, 2010 at 8:14 am

    oh so sweet!

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  6. PAULO REIS February 19, 2010 8:40 am Reply

    Culture shock alright , I once saw a women carrying a little dog in her arms while she was walking her little toddler in a dog leech New Town Sydney . Culture shock in Australia is a relaty as well, people going to the docter and supermarkets on there bare foot , children left in car in 40 Gr. heat and more , as far as I now there are no perfect cauntrys or people. Travel australia and you see lot’s of beauty and lots of misery as wel…

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    Emma   Reply: February 22nd, 2010 at 2:24 am

    LOL I love the puppy/toddler thing! Surely you’d get arrested here for that! Send me the photos? The porties often ask me why leave australia, and I think ‘where do I start?’ But everywhere has the good and bad, and personally I think portugal’s “bad” stuff really ain’t that bad at all…

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    PAULO REIS   Reply: February 22nd, 2010 at 10:18 am

    I’m stuck as much as you , love both countries ( Portugal and Australia ) , Australia big and beautiful adventure , Portugal as tradition, history , gastronomy and four seasons … both have good and bad , but both are beter than some …

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    Zolmira   Reply: April 13th, 2010 at 3:39 pm

    Yes I totally agree. I live in Sydney and have done so in Madeira. Im in the middle right now – My heart wants to go back and live in Madeira but my head say NO. I just don’t know what to do anymore.

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  7. Marielys February 20, 2010 4:35 am Reply

    To be honest I dont know what to think of your post. Is it a cry for “please get me out of here”, because they are so alien to me or are you missing your home country? I understand both actually. Whenever I lived abroad ( i lived in many countries, beleive me) I used to have those off days, where everything was so different from my country and oh how can they be like ? that kind of thing.
    About the medication being taken with anything but water .. i never heard that one in Portugal and I lived there myself, maybe its only in Cú de Judas. Only the name of that village makes me laugh :-))) As far as dogs are concerned in Lisbon the lisboetas or alfacinhas love their dogs, you should see them walking or jogging with their dogs along the beach promenade in Estoril/Cascais.
    Here in Brussels you have dog sh.. everywhere, their owners dont train their dogs at all and allow them to do their ‘”number ones” right in front of other people’s homes ( like mine for instance) You see .. here I go complaining again about the belgians 🙂 Ah but I love their food and the fact i can visit Paris, Amsterdam or London in just a few hours time. Cant have everything in life, no country is perfect. C’est la vie!

    Take care++++

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    Emma   Reply: February 22nd, 2010 at 2:16 am

    yeah, tragically I only have to go 5 kms down the road and people start going all fofo about my bad dog… and yes ’tis bliss to live in (relatively) dog shit free zone. Oh lord let us be grateful for less dog shit 🙂

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  8. Dee Hawa February 21, 2010 7:10 am Reply

    That whole dogs on chains thing is super weird. i will NEVER get my head round it, the whole Iberian peninsular seems to be the same. Came home today with my two after ‘walkies’ passed a neighbour who has six on chains living in various oil drums etc.
    barking their heads off, he proudly mentioned that he has acquired two more ‘pure breds’, and how much he ‘likes dogs’.

    My partners theory is they can’t stand the sound of silence in the campo!
    All the children are terrified of dogs, only city types seems to be embracing the small dogs as pets idea which here they refer to as mascots!
    Great post and photos as usual, especially the cabbage plant
    on acid! Take care Dee x

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    Emma   Reply: February 21st, 2010 at 8:34 am

    yep I’m with you dee – super weird. I like the silence theory.

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  9. eliane February 21, 2010 9:07 am Reply

    great lecture on cultural differences! i feel similar at times, having even a more complicated background: german born in chile, raised in brazil now living in ireland… sometimes it’s really funny, sometimes it hurts. most of the time it is just interesting.

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    Emma   Reply: February 22nd, 2010 at 2:10 am

    Wow eliane that’s mixed up. You’re dead right, sometimes funny, sometimes silly, sometimes frustrating but always interesting. Always enriching.

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  10. Cristina February 21, 2010 10:40 pm Reply

    You are right about thr pet thing. It’s bad and it is something I don’t agree and I think it’s completely wrong. But I want to ask you something too. If Portugal is that bad, so rubbish as you want to show to the world what on earth are you doing there, or why do you visit it? Did you manage to see how kind the people are for strangers? How they help anyone that needs some help? Can you see how beautiful that country is or were you too busy to find the faults too even think about that. It’s my country and I am very proud of it. If you don’t like … please leave.


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    Emma   Reply: February 22nd, 2010 at 1:50 am

    Hey everyone, not just you cristina, you only have to read through the blog to know that I love portugal. Yes, in other posts I go on about how kind my neighbours have been, how patient and unpretentious the portuguese are and how much I love the place. But it’s ok to make fun of portugal too, otherwise this blog would be just gush gush slop slop how wonderful, how perfect it is here. Like anywhere, it’s not perfect, sometimes it’s ridiculous, sometimes it’s annoying. Of course I see how beautiful the country is – what do you think the photos are doing there? I’m glad this has provoked a few people into defending portugal – I’m on your side! But if you don’t like this post, just keep reading!

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    fernando baena   Reply: March 2nd, 2010 at 5:49 am

    @Cristina, In English to be more ‘in house’. I am Portuguese and I belong to a family that happens to exist before Portugal, I know that it is not our tradition to invite people who belongs also here but came from around the world to get lost or to go away. This is not the Portuguese way, this is the ‘petite bourgeois’ thinking about us, so please let the cool Emma tell us about her vision of our contradictions and medieval behaviors as you are a living example. Yes, we have a beautiful piece of land, a Nation made by the blood of many of our ancestors, that don’t give you the right to send back even your dog, do you have a dog? let Emma excellent blog flow to teach us how wrong we are in too many things. Have you visit any other country without been a tourist? well be aware to go to Australia you can be eaten by a big croc or death by the smallest insect. Have a nice life and let us all have the same. Sorry Emma for that Cristina, you know we have lot’s of Cristina’s but some of them as in all country’s don’t Christal clear reality or humor or even learning. Thanks for your blog and everything.

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    Emma   Reply: March 5th, 2010 at 4:30 am

    Thanks nando 🙂

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    Cristina   Reply: March 8th, 2010 at 11:30 am

    Dear Fernando. In reply to your dear email I have to say you are to small to me to boder to have a proper reply. Emma is a big girl to know to defend herself and you weren’t so close minded you would noticed we got to an understanding. You too have a nice life and don’t interfer with other people’s conversations.

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    Fernando Baena   Reply: March 8th, 2010 at 10:23 pm

    @Cristina, I’m sorry to be stupid enough to be involved in a ‘public’ discussion, or conversation. It’s why we call it WWW, do you get it? since Berckley. The point is that even if you feel free to post anything at all, you have to have that small capacity to ‘listen or read’ the contradictory and in that case you are out of our culture or even any culture at all, I don’t mind if you both live together, what you can say in Internet may be against you or at your side depending of your’s real power of answer (and culture) or your smallest version as human as you showed to the www not only to me. It was not my intention to interrupt your understanding so please forget it, I really don’t belong to your tribe.Cheers

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    Zolmira   Reply: April 13th, 2010 at 3:43 pm

    Read all of Emma’s blogs, then comment. MADEIRA PEOPLE DO NOT CARE FOT THEIR PETS. I have had first hand experience on that. COME ON PORTUGAL, keep up with the rest of the world concerning pets.

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    Ana   Reply: November 15th, 2010 at 6:02 am

    @Zolmira: do you live there [Madeira]? do you know one street ot the whole island? I have family there and they all love their pets, who are treated as part of the family. Please don’t generalise like that.

    @Fernando: I get what you said, but I also get what Cristina said. My family also spreads through a lot of different places, all with their good and bad sides (sometimes it’s even the same thing, it just depends on which side of the bed you wake up in the morning 😛 ). I hope you don’t take this on a negative side, but you don’t need to say “I am Portuguese and I belong to a family that happens to exist before Portugal, I know that it is not our tradition to invite people who belongs also here but came from around the world to get lost or to go away.” – it sounds like you want to say your better then the rest (or at least Cristina) though, by what you wrote afterwards, that doesn’t seem to be really the message [the being better one] you want to pass 🙂 It’s our country too, independently of where we do live now.
    All countries have open-minded people, all countries have people who don’t see one small step away from their reality. Emma for sure is likely to know that – both from australia and from Portugal. And, most important in this case, we all have different humor types – it’s life. And we all survive those differences with dialogue like they did 🙂

    @Emma: keep on enjoying live!

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  11. Isabel February 21, 2010 11:47 pm Reply

    Very cool, that arch? Where is it?

    I think you should open a post about Portuguese phobias. You’ve got a start there:

    Having a good appetite/being fat = being healthy (after all, the main symptom of “espinhela caída” is “fastio”, and only an “endireita” will be able to fix you)

    Swallow a pill with a gulp of something mildly alcoholic = no no

    And then:

    Not taking off your coat when coming inside will make you catch your death when you go outside again;

    Idem, having a warm shower after you’ve eaten a meal;

    Idem, washing your hair when menstruating;

    Idem having a glass of orange juice before a couple of hours have passed after your last glass of milk (or cup of coffe, by the way)

    Idem, having a glass of cold milk, for that matter;

    Idem, having a glass of cold water after a meal.

    I’m sure I will find others.

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    Emma   Reply: February 22nd, 2010 at 1:37 am

    oh good – someone understands the ‘gulp of alcohol’ thing… and there’s swimming in cold water (what, so you can only swim in the bath, then?), drinking coffee without food, putting olives in olive oil (tell that to the greeks), drinking tea only when you’re sick…
    Anyway the cute arch is in Constançia, on a failed quest for the pastelaria for doces conventuais… anyone know where they are hiding in Constançia?

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  12. J February 22, 2010 1:00 pm Reply

    I’m thinking about moving to portugal with my 2 Kelpie’s and will need some space for them to run freely around so I feel comfortable they won’t playfully pull apart the fluffiest Portugese farm animal they can find.

    I have dreams of itty itty woolie bits scattered across my non-english speaking neighbours yard.

    Given that I’m an avid surfer and can’t stand the dry… where does one look for a new home in Portugal? Can I find something with 1 or more of the following goodnesses?

    – kelpie friendly
    – surf within a comfortable drive every day
    – rich green / frequent rain
    – some historical coastal or village charm

    It’s fairly hard to get a feel for this sort of thing from here so any thoughts would be much appreciated 🙂

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  13. Dee Hawa February 28, 2010 5:38 am Reply

    your obvious affection nay love for Portugal and the Portuguese
    shines through your blog in my mind… I have noticed though that ‘self deprecating sense of humour’ is lacking in Spain and also Turkey where I lived for a while in my twenties. Could that apply to Portugal? Hope not, nowt like a wry observation, all in the best possible taste of course!

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  14. Rob and Mandy March 1, 2010 6:57 pm Reply

    Greetings from Cyprus,Great blog and superb photo’s



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    Emma   Reply: March 5th, 2010 at 4:33 am

    greetings fellow escape artists!

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  15. Anna March 4, 2010 6:00 pm Reply

    The comments about your weight are so Portuguese.Portuguese don’t think it’s rude like we do in western countries to talk about one’s weight,to them it’s just conversation.
    If your too skinny they say you’ll waste away to nothing but if your too fat they comment on that too & say “oh your too young to be fat,you should lose weight”. I’ve been fat & thin 7 either way you cop it.The thing I do do is just smile.

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  16. Vera January 6, 2011 5:54 am Reply

    I’m sorry but I came across this blog and as a Portuguese I must say I feel offended. Emma, you cannot generalise that way, specially when you are (or were) living in a village. You know villages are basically inhabited by old people who still live in a different era. I live in Porto and I’ve visited the capital – Lisbon – many times and other cities (Have you?) and I can assure you that, according to my travelling experience, WE are one of the most welcoming and nice peoples in the world. Obviously, there are always bad things to point out but that happens everywhere and it also happens with people, right? Depending on the person’s perspective you can be considered super cool or a total moron, am I right?

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    Emma   Reply: January 12th, 2011 at 3:06 am

    Vera, you are right. I write with considerable irony and sarcasm, which is fortunately mostly taken by readers as humour, and I am surprised (and happy) that I don’t get any comments like yours, because, yes, some of what I write is offensive. If you continue reading the blog you’ll see that I really do love the country and people (why else stay here?) and I respect it. But I am also honest, and every place has its faults and its stupidities and if I were to be polite about everything then this blog would be boring and no one would read it. I have been to the cities many, many times (and more than 250 other cities of the world) and I do make a point that my village is special in comparison to the rest of Portugal. This post is about cultural differences: indeed humour is one of those differences. Thanks for taking the time to comment and I appreciate you coming forward to defend this great beautiful, diverse and slightly crazy country.

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