welcome to emmas housethought

the state of health: the health of state

Prime Minister Socrates’ resignation yesterday further darkens Portugal’s financial predicament and almost certainly means that the IMF will put the company into receivership. Socrates was sent down because he had no real ideas. No one has any real ideas. The belt-tightening measures he proposed were no more than a blow upon a bruise to middle and working class Portuguese, sacrificing the public sector and raising taxes.


The Portuguese economy is a miserable, disabled slug and the mistakes of government so blatant that even as an outback-ratrace-refugee I experience this disgrace every day. 1. Trying to interest Portuguese businesses in a miniscule investment in the preternaturally healthy expatriot micro-economy is close to futile. 2. There is, not just widespread, but almost complete IVA tax avoidance. 3. The public sector is deep in a bog of bureaucracy, over-regulation, paperwork and delay. Sometimes I wonder if the “system” functions at all. For the expat this is a nuisance, but for the Portuguese it is a gross injustice.

The health department is what hurts me the most. Free health care is a beautiful thing and an endangered idea is this world of rationalisation. The quality of care here is above criticism. But accessing that care is nigh impossible. This is how it goes:

Ring doctor. In meeting. Ring doctor. Doctor overseas. Ring doctor and make appointment in a weeks’ time (this is going in the back door – the alternative might fill the page). Arrive at appointment a half hour early to beat the “queue”. (The first big mistake is this habit for calling everyone for an appointment at the same time: waiting rooms full of sick, humiliated sick and germ swapping sick getting angrier all the time. It costs nothing to give people specific times and to keep a schedule. Elementary. Ask the Germans.)

I wait two and a half hours to see my brilliant doctor who determines I need physiotherapy. Another hour while she works out where to send me, how to send me and to fill in the respective forms I need.

Back to those waiting times: Doctor’s appointment takes 3.5 hours for every person in the waiting room. That’s 35 hours of productive time wasted that I can see at a glance. People take whole days of work just to see a doctor. Huh?

The next day I go to the physiotherapy place and wait half an hour before excellent person explains how my form will be looked at and it will be determined whether or not I should receive services – by what is written on the form. Wait a week. Get a call for an appointment in a month. In a month go to appointment a half hour early and wait two hours before the secretary sees me and says that my form does not have the correct stamp. A fight breaks out between excellent person and new person about the stamp. It exists, but the stamp is in the wrong place on the form. This has to be rectified, but I still get to keep my appointment. Another fight between excellent and other. The form is fine. New person fills out 5 forms and does a little data entry. I am dispatched to another waiting room. I wait with the same people as before, for an hour. People discuss amongst themselves how long they have been waiting, what is the order of the queue, mobile phones ring as anxious spouses wonder when to put the stew on. Cousins, elsewhere in the queue, drop by to swap complaints and there are tears. Small kindnesses are past between us.

It’s my turn! Doctor is kind, tolerates my Portuguese, is attentive, earnest, squeezes my neck for 2 seconds and determines that I qualify for treatment. Unbelievably, we are all waiting to audition for physiotherapy, not to actually receive any. This queue was to sort out the malingerers from the crippled. I mistakenly thought that that was what our family doctor was for.

I’m assured I will be contacted briefly for an appointment time. I’m still waiting.

Did I tell you about the time I waited 18 months to determine whether a lump in my armpit was breast cancer or not? Compare the Australian free healthcare system. My sister is on her way to the post office. Between the house and destination there’s a mobile mammogram truck. She sticks her head in to ask what the drill is and they invite her to come right in and take off her shirt. In 15 minutes she’s back on the street knowing that she’s good to go for another two years.

Just how many Portuguese die while waiting for treatment? Who keeps a record of how much a patients’ illness, and the cost of treatment, escalates while they wait?

I don’t take pleasure in criticising a country in which I am a guest. But sometimes it takes a foreign perspective to see the problems in the wider context: of the damage already done at home or of battles already fought and won. No country is perfect. My point of view comes from love and respect for a Portugal which is not fullfilling its potential. Whose government is failing. Where solutions exist and no politician has the integrity to implement them.

Perhaps at the very core of the Portuguese problem is the disfunctional judicial system. There are laws, but finally, no one is held accountable. While corruption exists, democracy fails.

Anyway, there’s nothing worse than a back-seat critic. Or is there? How about an amateur economist?

1. Sell the $1 billion worth of submarines ordered by the previous Government. Sell them at a loss and still this injection of cash will serve the people in a way tax cuts will not.

2. Decrease IVA to 10% and implement a long term 100% compliance strategy which targets sector by sector starting with lawyers.

3. Halve the size of the public service but invest in state of the art technology and training to get government departments working efficiently and effectively.

4. Raise minimum wages. Raise taxes on cigarettes, imports, luxury vehicles and dare I say, fuel. Raise the tiny fee we pay to see a doctor – we voluntary foreigners – raise it by 3 euros and you won’t be hurting anyone.

5. Invest in radar speed detectors throughout the entire country to both lower the accident rate and raise revenue. This surely would pay for itself and then some. And then some more.

6. Put a Government levy on credit card spending. Stiffen the regulation of banks, limit their rights to charge fees and tax banking sector profits. Reward personal saving.

7. Devise a nationwide campaign to promote “made in Portugal”. Restore the Portuguese pride in their country and bring them back to their grass roots local economy and away from the corporatisation of the EU.

Rant over. Goodbye Socrates. Never has there been a Prime Minister so cute or with a more appropriate name. I only pray there’s a Plato to follow you.


  1. Chris March 25, 2011 3:20 am Reply

    This is an EXCELLENT piece! As a foreigner living in Portugal, it’s great to see this all be so well articulated. The issues and problems you have raised and discussed are extremely valid and are the same ones I find frustrating and baffling on a daily basis. The government should hire you as a consultant and implement your suggestions; it would be a hell of a lot better than what they have been doing up until now! I can only agree with everything you have said.

    You summed it all up perfectly:
    “Sometimes I wonder if the “system” functions at all. For the expat this is a nuisance, but for the Portuguese it is a gross injustice….There are laws, but finally, no one is held accountable. While corruption exists, democracy fails.”

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  2. Emma March 25, 2011 3:31 am Reply

    Great post, Emma. For the life of me I cannot understand why people still want to live in this country, but at the same time I can’t condemn those of us that do.
    The general lack of respect that the Portuguese have for their own country (non-payment of IVA, general sense of entitlement without putting out), the systems that wear us all down & the high death tolls on the roads would surely lead me to pack up my bags and hit the tarmac. But I don’t, I stay, to battle it out with my guy at the Finanças & to eat cake. é vida…

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  3. Marcelli March 25, 2011 4:00 am Reply

    Emma, What a system. Wow. However, I have to relate the frustrations here in the states. First of all, we have a for profit health care system. Lousy, because each insurance company answers to Wall Street for profits. So how do you think they look at us as patients? Liabilities.

    No pre-existing conditions and if you develop a “condition” that might cost them money oh no no no. They can drop your coverage. Then the money goes to lawyers so they can defend you. This is allowed by the crazies in this country.

    Our healthcare system functions but barely. The insurance companies run our doctors, hospitals, pharmaceutical companies. Hell, we can’t even import a cheaper drug because of big Pharma. Look at the state of Arizona here in the states, where they justify letting people die because of their politics. Which of course is money.

    Even President OBama, who tried to improve it a little, was painted as a God forbid, a Socialist. The lawmakers here are only interested in social issues. The war on women is abominable.

    Here, doctor’s have to get you in and out quickly and most of the time addressing your issues with drugs. No real evaluating a patient because they don’t have time. They need to make their money. But even saying getting you in and out quickly, is at least an hour wait and sometimes longer. I wouldn’t even mind the wait, if I was getting good healthcare, for what it costs me.

    Oh but they tells us we have the best health care in the world. They being the lawmakers who are bought and sold by the insurance and pharmaceutical companies.

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  4. Rodrigo March 25, 2011 4:56 am Reply

    Emigrate to South Africa. We are desperate for crime fighters. We too have spent up to R 63 billion rands (about 6.3 billion Euros) on Submarines, aircraft, destroyers and other garbage that we cannot operate or refuel at times. Funny, I am at present applying for a job in the Navy, yet I am too white. Will be flying to Portugal to see my dad and then to UK in hopes that I get a job to send money home. Our Hospitals are hit and misses. You can get a great one or you can die getting one.
    Portugal must be very careful, for its next downfall is going to be a crime wave and a very cruel one. Forgive my crudeness. Corruption here as secured our crime wave will be here to stay.

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  5. penfold March 25, 2011 5:05 am Reply

    Nicely put Mrs P. However if you’re running for Prime Minister don’t expect Cabril to be an easy vote. We’re suffering under a long and arduous dictatorship over here.

    Colonel Schnitzel is in charge…

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  6. JA March 25, 2011 5:13 am Reply

    What was frightening about your post was how much it could apply to predicaments in other countries. Same bad decisions! As you say no ideas, or perhaps willfully turning their backs on the humane ones. One other thing…please tell me the doctor’s name you went to in Berlin! I’ve never waited less than an hour!! ALthough that’s paradise compared to Portuguese waiting pergatory!:))

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  7. Pedro March 25, 2011 5:24 am Reply

    Hi Emma,
    This is the first time I am replying to a blog post. Ever.
    My wife is an avid reader. She’s an American, I am Portuguese, we live in Canada and after 11 years we are now returning to Portugal permanently. I love my country. I am also ashamed of my country.
    Everything you said reflects quite well the state of things. A foreigner has been able to pick up and point out the most basic of things that are wrong with our country and offered effective, simple ways to deal with the problems that plague us, to me that is something that merits a reply.
    Several people have agreed with you, I will go no further on that point, I do as well, what you said is true and proven. The real conundrum, the real problem, is how to get the measures you pointed out from lines on a blog to implemented rules and a status quo.
    The portuguese political system is rotten, inside and out, there are no politicians left worthy of trust. At the core of the problem, as you mentioned, is the judicial system.
    Portugal is a great country, the Portuguese a great people, yet we allow this to go on.

    I hope for all our sakes, that the people will open their eyes lest we allow ourselves to continuously be lulled by this shameless private interest political agenda. It is our country, it is our duty to save it. Wake up countrymen. And thank you Emma.

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  8. Fernando Geraldes dos Santos March 25, 2011 5:25 am Reply

    I read with a certain tightness of the heart that my old country continues to be victimized by that some pretense of rectitude that haunted my youth.
    But in those days we just blamed Salaza,r or the colonial wars or both, and that was that.
    I still carry the psychological scars of endless time on endless lines. But as a result of that I’m very proud today of wearing the title among friends of He One Who Never Gets Stuck, when driving into downtown Manhattan, I never getting caught in delays, ever, or my past comes rushing right back and my head explodes, it’s not a hobby, it’s self preservation!
    It’s a very small glory indeed, acquired at an exorbitant price, the cost of time.
    And by the way, my name on FB is Passos Perdidos, that ante-chamber in some official buildings where the citizenry may choose between sitting or pacing, waiting for their appointments to materialize

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    Emma   Reply: March 28th, 2011 at 12:41 am

    A-ha it’s Passos Perdidos! Thanks for commenting 🙂

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  9. Warwick Langan March 25, 2011 5:33 am Reply

    That was an insightful and very well crafted post. Europe has sold its collective soul to the bureaucracy in Brussels, and even more so to the clowns it so regularly elects. All too often its leaders are incapable of balancing their own finances let alone those of a nation.

    But hey, it’s a beautiful country. I sort of know – booked a weeks golfing trip to Portugal, to get hold of some peri-peri chicken and prawns – only to be delivered to a Spanish resort an hour and a half from Porto! Yes it’s true. Anyway, it looked very pleasant from the vantage point of the coach!

    I like the respect you have shown the country. I’m in the UK now after forty years in Africa, and it amazes me how ignorant ‘guests’ are in their observations over here.

    Here’s to happier days ahead…..

    PS: found your site looking for peri-peri sauce recipes. Yours is excellent.

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  10. rick March 25, 2011 6:56 am Reply

    what we need here baby spice, is a’robin hood tax’.or maybe just robin hood? where is russell crowe when you need him?
    if we end up with a plato as the next p.m. it’ll’ve become monty python’s philosopher’s sketch – oh it already has.
    when are they going to start doing joined up thinking?

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  11. Adam March 25, 2011 8:08 am Reply

    Hi Em

    We have a state election tomorrow, here in Sydney, so we’re hearing round the clock the usual criticisms of the health, transport and education systems.

    Your piece is a reminder that this whinging is a necessary part of the political process, to keep a relatively healthy arrangement from getting worse.

    I imagine corruption is the root of the problem. A new PM needs to empower an investigative body that can fight it- and big heads need to roll.

    Why would anyone want to pay tax, if they know it’s only lining a bureaucrat’s pocket? Why would anyone inside the system be honest, if they know everyone else is extorting?

    If the economy tanks totally, perhaps outside “receivers” do need to be appointed, with the power to take down the biggest cheats and strip them of their assets. Put the wind up a few people, and let the voters know real change is coming.

    Good luck Portugal!

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    Emma   Reply: March 28th, 2011 at 12:39 am

    good luck NSW! x
    (and yes indeed, who would want to pay tax (VAT/GST) when it 23% ??!!)

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  12. lhancock March 25, 2011 8:09 am Reply

    I need physio and the waiting time is 4 months here in England!!
    Can hardly move my arm!

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  13. Richard March 25, 2011 10:42 am Reply

    Ah well there goes my dream of living and working in Portugal. Beautiful country and even more so beautiful people – spoiled by bureaucracy and politicians! Excellent article Emma. I just hope the people raise up and don`t become slaves to the IMF & European Central Bank! Austerity measures do nothing for productivity and its the poor and working class who suffer the most as a result of it all. I do love Portugal and hope it prospers in the future. Getting out of the Euro dollar would be the best first step! Just my 2 escudos worth.

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  14. Wendy March 25, 2011 11:20 am Reply

    Wheeeesht woman! You’ve got it easy. If you think Portugal’s bad, try getting treatment in the UK! Family member was rushed into hospital on Christmas Eve. He hasn’t been able to work since. Next month he has an appointment … for a diagnosis.

    As for the economy, well it all rather depends on how you look at it … Stop comparing it to the so-called ‘rich’ nations and what have you got? 70% of energy from renewables, equitable land ownership patterns, traditions of low tech self-sufficiency that are still alive, a population that mostly all still know how to grow their own food, treat each other with kindness and respect, and regard centralised government and bureaucracy as an irrelevance … Whatever else it may or may not be, Portugal is deeply and fundamentally sustainable, hence one of the healthiest and best-placed nations in Europe to lead the way forward.

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    Rodrigo   Reply: March 25th, 2011 at 3:02 pm

    @Wendy, Spot on Wendy. That is why I want to live in Portugal 🙂

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    Emma   Reply: March 25th, 2011 at 11:07 pm

    Yes! Yes! Yes! I think part of my frustration is that you can just see how Portugal might be on the cusp of something truly great, if only it had leadership with vision.

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    Wendy Howard   Reply: March 26th, 2011 at 12:46 am

    The leadership is evolving, but not amongst the ranks of politicians. Just like with the economy, you have to switch to a different perspective to see it. It’s the grassroots movements that are showing the way, as they are in so many countries now … the classic “think global, act local” in operation.

    The level of corruption in the wealthy elites is now such that we have a fast breeder reactor situation. Go in there with noble intent and contamination is inevitable. (Look what happened to Obama …) You can’t appeal to the regulators because the regulators are in bed with the regulated. The only way to deal with this is to disempower the whole shooting match by sidelining it and making it completely irrelevant.

    This is where Portugal has such an advantage. The very ineptitude of government isn’t a failure, it’s a blazing success. Their inability to successfully emulate the US model means that a) everyone ignores them, and b) they haven’t succeeded in taking their entire populations for complete suckers or turning them into sleepwalking wannabe clones. The relative poverty here means than a large segment of the population have kept their feet on the ground instead of being swept away into some delusional trip-like equivalent of the ‘American Dream’.

    Grassroots leadership is natural, organic, adaptable, empowering … and slowly but surely will evolve into The Age of Self-Government which, ultimately, is the only government a) that works, and b) is necessary. Bring it on!

    (OK … dismantling soap box now … raised beds to build and I need the wood …)

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    Emma   Reply: March 28th, 2011 at 12:32 am

    Keep that box Wendy, we are listening!

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  15. gary March 25, 2011 11:25 am Reply

    Interesting reading about Portuguese experience. Have been there few times and find it a beautiful country. So many similarities to Ireland in character and more lately, the economic crisis. Bad governance, shoddy health system and unaccountable politicians, sounds awfully like Ireland. As early comment said, always the ordinary people who suffer the most, and austerity is just indirect taxation measures levelled onto people for mess up by governments and richer concerns, like the banking situation in Ireland. Keep up the great blog, love reading and foody (cakes, etc..) posts are good!
    Gary (Dublin)

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    Barry O'Callaghan   Reply: March 26th, 2011 at 3:12 am

    @gary, First of all great article Emma. Gary, there are definitely similarities between Ireland and Portugal but as an Irish guy living in Portugal I feel there are marked differences also. The causes for the economic crisis are hugely different – Portugal at least in the modern era has never been a country that fostered a good environment for businesses to thrive. Ireland did, Ireland had become a good country for businesses to operate. The overriding thing that has derailed the Irish Economy is the banking sector, above anything else and the lunacy of the bank debt being foisted on the people of the country. Actually Portugal wouldn’t go too far wrong if it started implementing changes akin to some of the more positive steps (unregulated banks clearly is not one of them!) that Ireland took in the late 80s and early to mid 90s.

    Though one simple solution might save the Portuguese economy imo – for god sake stop closing the country down for business from 12.30 to 3.00

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    gary Brady   Reply: March 26th, 2011 at 11:52 pm

    @Barry O’Callaghan, thanks Barry, interesting comment. Guess Ireland as English speaking country, low corporation tax rate & links with USA put us ahead in the game compared to southern European countries. Guess it looks like Portugal set for some tough changes, hopefully it’ll bring some better times. Alas, once one hears IMF/EU bailouts/packages mentioned, means it’ll be tough times ahead, as if Portugal hasn’t enough of this already. Out of interest, what part are you based in? I’ve been to Porto and Lisboa few times & really like it there. Culture and people are really great.

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    Barry O'Callaghan   Reply: March 27th, 2011 at 3:47 am

    @gary Brady,
    Hi gary, I’m in the Tomar region, about 90 mins North of Lisbon. I genuinely think that austerity measures are not the right way forward, especially in a poor by Western European Standards country like Portugal. Elements of the Portuguese culture and people are indeed great, but I think every country and people need to examine their outlook and indeed culture from time to time, sometimes a people and culture can be even better by either looking at things from elsewhere and adapting it to their country or bringing something new and positive of their own. Portugal has taken some big positive steps such as renewable energy but it can do more. I really think some simple changes in the way businesses operate and in the way government support businesses would make a world of difference to Portugal. tbh I’m not optimistic for the near future at least but I hope I’m wrong.

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  16. Dan March 25, 2011 12:42 pm Reply

    Sounds like France…?

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    Emma   Reply: March 28th, 2011 at 12:35 am

    Oh no! France, Italy, Ireland, England, Canada, USA, Australia sucks for other reasons… maybe New Zealand is the answer?

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  17. lucy March 25, 2011 7:13 pm Reply

    great post Emma, and I love your suggestions. Stick them on a postcard and send them to PSD Sede.
    Don’t be totally sure that horrid Sócrates (and he IS) is gone for good, though. We still have to get through an election… and the sondagens aren’t brilliant.
    Also, Passos is WAY cuter!

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    Emma   Reply: March 28th, 2011 at 12:34 am

    Lucy Pepper! I’m off to do a Passos Perve…

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    sara   Reply: April 4th, 2011 at 8:59 am


    See how it’s done? Emma was accurate but not patronising, she realises she’s a guest in somebody else’s home.


    You’re great and insane, I admire your courage. The very best of luck 🙂

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  18. spike cherrie March 26, 2011 8:04 am Reply

    dear emma,
    the pen is mightier than the sword. i think you’re brilliant.
    to be able to articulate your thoughts in such a way and be able to evoke a reaction from, seemingly, all corners of the earth. well done.
    you have a beautiful mind as well as a beautiful eye.
    emma for pm i say. (and she’s cute).

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    Emma   Reply: March 28th, 2011 at 12:32 am


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  19. Gustavo March 26, 2011 9:44 am Reply

    Dear Emma,

    -It would be nearly impossible to impose a strict compliance strategy while decreasing the number of public servants, even if working more efficiently.
    -The IVA tax is the main public income source, reducing it to 15% or lower would absolutely decapitalize the public finances while the correspondent increase in consumption would mainly be of imported goods, therefore transfering even more money out of Portugal (people can only buy that much of olive oil, wine, cork, shoes and clothes – the main portuguese made products).
    -Submarines, unfortunatelly, are a defense necessity (not only to keep international agreements but also because one can never assume peace as granted). If Portugal had no submarines, another country would have to patrol portuguese waters, with the inherent loss of sovereignty.

    The problem, as I see it, is that Portugal as been living way above it’s true possibilities, for the last 25 years at least. All the western world is bombarded with the “american way of living” and constantly rising expectations to that standard… absolutely impossible to keep up, now that Asian’s are demanding their share of wealth.

    Things will never be the same again, for all the western countries.

    (If Passos Coelho wins the (tendencially) free health system is in serious risk.)

    Best regards

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  20. Dee Hawa March 27, 2011 7:22 am Reply

    Emma, Brilliant and insightful.
    You really are the full package it would seem!
    And the comments have been so interesting
    especially for me Wendy Howards take on
    Hopefully this will reach a wider audience …

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    Emma   Reply: March 28th, 2011 at 12:30 am

    Hi Dee! Thank you, and I agree… Wendy for PM?

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  21. Vern March 27, 2011 2:41 pm Reply

    Emma, Blowing off steam eh? Well I guess Portugal is like Italy. I have English friends who live permanently in Southern Italy.
    The way to survive is just to join the crowd. My friends in Italy tell me that the only way to use the excellent health scheme is to bribe your way at every turn of the wheel.
    Apparently, in Italy public servants like the legal stamp in the right place too, and when you attend a driving license test you leave a few euro inside an envelope to bribe the instructor, and, voila! You pass the test with flying honours.
    I have also read an excellent book written by an Australian living in Souther Italy who married a local girl and she explained the system of obtaining a passport, just pass a bribe to the public servant and your passport in delivered pronto, otherwise you wait months. This book was hilarious with the way the country operates. Nevertheless, most Italian thrive.
    If you are caught speeding you spend time with the highly decorated police force, and hand over a bribe and once again you are on your way very quickly, without being fined.
    Every facit of life in Italy is helped by bribes, they are not large amounts, just enough for everybody to survive on their lower wages.
    Nevertheless, this Australian loves Italy as he finds the local people wish him good day every time he marches down the street to buy groceries, and invite him to never ending family festivals and events. He now proposes to always live in Italy
    and never wants to return to Australia.
    By his own admission he things Australians are selfish and besotted with work. I must say I think so too as they are so busy leading their own way of life, they don’t have time to stop and spend a few hours chatting.
    When you really travel rough you learn that the way to survive is to live as the locals do, and in most countries in the world bribery is a way of life, otherwise you don’t exist.
    All over the western world people like yourself are deserting the west to seek a more harmonious and slower pace of living.
    Some go to Thailand, Phillipines, in fact anywhere where there is not so much emphasis on more production, bigger profits, work longer hours to accumulate wealth to do what with?
    Enjoy the haphazard life in Portugal, you will live longer Emma.

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    Emma   Reply: March 28th, 2011 at 12:29 am

    Thanks Vern – I’d love to read that book! Remember the name?

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    Vern   Reply: April 20th, 2011 at 3:42 pm

    I am not certain but I think the name of the book is called:
    Head Over Heels by Chris Harrison.
    When you can’t remember the name of the book it’s hard to track down.
    All I know is that the book was well written and all about Southern Italy and with deep searching of the Italian lifestyle.
    His marriage was hilarious with all the relatives popping up.
    His bride did not like Australia and preferred the friendliness of deep south Italy and the maffia.
    Incidentally, in my previous email I mentioned bribes. I should have said tipping as tipping is the way of life outside of Australia.
    When I was last in America I was travelling by train from Seattle to LA when they announced ‘ Happy Hour.” I joined the rush to the carriage set aside and there was a guy touching up the glasses with salt, all ready for Margaritas, the best Margaritas I have ever tasted.
    They were only charging $1 per glass but I noticed on the counter there was a jar stuffed with one dollar bills. The train composed mainly American travellers and every one of them slipped a dollar bill into the jar for the bar tender as well as paying $1 for their drink.
    In America it is the practice to sit down in a bar at a table and wait for the waiter to collect your order for drinks, at the end of the evening you pay the waiter the bill and also give him a tip.
    Even taxi drivers expect tips to carry your bags, and in restaurants after you are served and have dined you ask for the bill and you receive the account. Most customers leave the money on the table with a tip included, rather than look for the waiter and pay direct.
    Whilst travelling in America I met an American guy who was a bar tender and he had worked in Australia as a barman, and told me he thought the pay was terrible, because there was no tips. He admitted the Australian wage was much better. However, in America he said he received up to one hundred dollars per night in tips which made his pay packet far superior.
    In most of Europe people hand over tips and the service is always excellent.
    Hope the book is the right one, let me know!

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    Emma   Reply: April 22nd, 2011 at 6:11 am


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    Isabel   Reply: March 29th, 2011 at 12:53 am


    Emma for President, obviously!

    Oh rats, that won’t work, she would have to be born here. So she’ll have to settle for PM, and a good replacement for Zezito she would be, I think.

    But one thing I have to say. I never, ever bribed anybody in Portugal. Granted, I’ve lived most of my adult life abroad and just now came back, but I have a huuuuuge family and I never, ever heard of any of them doing anything of the kind. Also, some of my brothers are in a position that, if things were as described for il Mezzogiorno, would warrant some beer or whisky money here and there. I am positive that I would get a black eye if I suggested anything like that.

    I do have a friend who was in a “governing” position and I still remember my outrage (and my family’s outrage) when I realized he used his service credit card for paying for our lunch, for example, and that he would get nice silverware as presents for Christmas.

    So I presume that, in a way, it is a question of dimension. If we are talking billions of euros (received from Germans for ordering a couple of submarines, for example), I don’t have any personal experience to relate…

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  22. Valerie March 28, 2011 3:52 am Reply

    Emma, thanks for your perspective on the Socrates situation. We are planning a move from Canada to Portugal in the next year or so, having already purchased a home in Central Portugal. We have enjoyed a good standard of living in Canada but are tired of the north american model of consumerism and are looking to live amongst more humble people and be more self-sustaining.

    We are trying to learn as much as we can about our adopted new homeland and spent 5 weeks in our place in December/January this year. Overall, we were pleased with our interactions with local councils and business to sort out utilities and to outfit our house with modern fittings. I was delighted with the number of products ‘made in portugal’ compared to Canada where it is increasingly difficult to purchase anything not made in Asia.

    We also had occasion, unfortunately, to try out the local hospital and at 5am on a Saturday morning, were the only people in the waiting room. Apart from some language difficulties of our own making (yes, we will learn portugese), we received very prompt, inexpensive and satisfactory care.

    We also asked people about the politics of Portugal and found a general acceptance of corruption but mostly people didn’t want to talk politics with us. Hopefully, the Portugese people will rally to fight against the IMF – so much of the ‘crisis’ is manufactured by banks and credit rating companies, it is hard to take it seriously but increasing taxes on poorly paid citizens to pay for manipulated government bond rates is just wrong.

    I am reading a book called “Spirit Level’ comparing the relative inequity between weathiest and poorest across developed and developing countries – Portugal is rated as being quite inequitable – who and where are the wealthy and perhaps one of the answers is to look at redistribution of taxation – maybe a Swedish model?

    Thanks for your postings and everyone’s responses.

    [Reply to comment]

  23. Jaime March 29, 2011 8:02 am Reply

    The answer is the political system and we Portuguese people to take part of it, rather than blaming everything, we have to go and punish our government and politics in the elections day. This is the only way Democracy works…

    [Reply to comment]

    Emma   Reply: March 30th, 2011 at 11:24 pm


    [Reply to comment]

  24. Isabel March 29, 2011 9:39 am Reply

    About tax evasion, I read an interesting article that I couldn’t find right now. The main point is that some countries prefer to give tax breaks (sometimes huge tax breaks) to corporations or wealthy individuals, in which case it is called “tax avoidance” and it is perfectly legal, and others don’t bother and sort of count on a certain percentage of grey economy.

    Interestingly, it seems that it is more the amount and complication of rules that makes taxpayers try to avoid paying tax than the level of taxation proper. Some countries (Portugal is obviously an example) prefer a complicated system that gives more power to an army of civil servants (actually, Portugal doesn’t stand out at all in the number of civil servants, although we all feel there is at least one looking over our shoulder).

    [Reply to comment]

    Emma   Reply: March 30th, 2011 at 11:24 pm

    I don’t think I made it very clear that what I think makes portugal different in regard to tax evasion (which surely is a worldwide phenomenon most particularly with the highest paid individuals and corporations) is that the government provides the incentive to avoid tax by keeping it so ridiculously high – and I mean IVA not income tax. At 23% what right minded person wants to pay it at the shop, and the shopkeeper is happy not to charge it and not declare the income. It’s as though the government is penalising the population for earning a living – just look at the €198 a self employed person is meant to pay each month in social security even when you haven’t earn’t a dime! It utterly kills entrepreneurship.

    [Reply to comment]

    Isabel   Reply: March 31st, 2011 at 3:51 am

    @Emma, You’re quite right. They went for the fastest buck… et après moi le déluge!

    I’ve read somewhere that the rules for self-employment were going to change (again!), hopefully for the better. I think that this malarkey of paying whether you’ve earned or not was going to disappear.

    [Reply to comment]

    Tiago   Reply: June 8th, 2011 at 12:38 am

    @Emma, I’m self employed and the fixed social security tax baffles me. Haven’t they heard about progressive taxation like the rest of the civilized world? I, for one, welcome the IMF measures, since I feel that our national laws were never just or reasonable. It’s going to be rough, but hopefully not only for the average Joe.

    [Reply to comment]

  25. Daniel March 31, 2011 12:05 am Reply

    Dear Emma,
    Came across your blog on google and started reading straightaway. And loving it. I googled gay marriage in Portugal and your post turned up! Weird lol Thanks for the brilliant posts and pics! I am Portuguese (live in London) and 3 years ago with my partner Will bought a house to restore in a small village near Mirandela, Tras-os-Montes…we’re nearly there and have had enjoyed fantastic family holidays in Northern Portugal. We can identify lots with your experiences…especially my partner Will who loves the country and its uniqueness.
    Looking forward to hear more on future developments on your house building. I am also looking to have my house old windows restored but its proving challenging…
    All the best! Daniel

    [Reply to comment]

    Emma   Reply: March 31st, 2011 at 1:37 am

    Nice one Daniel. I’ve never been to Tras-os-Montes but it is number one on my list of holidays to take in Portugal. I have read the lonely planet chapter on it so many times I could probably recite it. I’ve been to the edge of the Peneda Geres & Soajo and was really tempted to buy a little granite ruin. It is so gorgeous up there and Tras-Os sounds so curious and charming… good on you! And hope you have the best woodburner in the world for the winter!

    [Reply to comment]

    Daniel   Reply: March 31st, 2011 at 2:36 am

    @Emma, you should visit one day! Plenty to see… Chaves and Braganca are lovely towns. Mirandela hosts the finals of the European Jet Ski Championships and is home to the famous “alheiras” (I would not recommend though, but I am very particular about food…
    A woodburner and an outdoor barbecue are on the list for this year! 😉 The open fire place is nice though… the big stone (or metal) outdoor ovens are perfect to roast meat and making bread but hard work.lol My mum needs to show me!
    Our place is in between the towns of Mirandela and Macedo de Cavaleiros. A 15min drive from Albufeira do Azibo (azibo.org) blue flag lagoon beach with facilities. Never been your way yet, or further down from Guarda…but have heard of Aldeias de Xisto. There is a new a park opening this summer in Vila Real (naturwaterpark.pt)so might be of interest for you if you have friends or relatives with children visiting. But I kind of prefer praias fluviais.
    Take care

    ps: do you plan to rent out rooms after the work is done?

    [Reply to comment]

    Emma   Reply: March 31st, 2011 at 3:42 am

    no, we’ll live there until it sells…

    [Reply to comment]

  26. Matt April 4, 2011 9:02 am Reply

    Hi Emma,

    You have a great website here. I really do understand your frustration, I’m a Portuguese male who’s lived in Canada most my life, and I can tell you without reservations that Portugal needs an update in its public sector.

    I don’t think the idea is so much the level of corruption in Portugal as it is the level of snobbery within the card holding community of self-ordained elites. In Portugal, there is still a large sector of society, those diploma waving bureaucrats who feel that they are entitled to a bigger slice of democracy than the average joe. This goes for Doctors, lawyers, politicians, bankers and any other group of fat elitists who could care less about how their own people are managing.

    I think that the reason for the current state of Portugal’s public bureaucracy is due in part to the large number of it’s youth who immigrated just before and after the Carnation revolution, those who would have made a difference instead took their aspirations elsewhere. For many former fascists, well they just changed their label and continued with business as usual.

    The developments that you, and many of the Portuguese want can only be implemented through a grass-roots movement, and sadly not through a change of the political guard. The demonstrations throughout the country a few weeks back is a good start.

    Right Now, I have all confidence in the young generation, it will be them who will take Portugal forward, but alas it will be done one slow step in front of the other, dragging the older generation of nepotistic bureaucrats along kicking and screaming.

    [Reply to comment]

    Tiago   Reply: June 8th, 2011 at 12:44 am

    @Matt, I agree you. I can’t stand the old school, “velha guarda” way of thought. And this way of thought permeates both public life and our private companies.

    [Reply to comment]

  27. Fraser April 5, 2011 7:53 am Reply

    Dear Emma,
    Thank you for the post and I hear your angst, got to say Im in line with Wendy Howard, perhaps a little further out of line. The government is doing a fantastic job, they couldnt do better its just your point of perspective that is causing the angst.

    The government doesnt work for the people, its not of the people or by the people. Corporations own the government, corporations are bigger than nation states and corporations work for shareholders to maximise profit to shareholders. Democracy is theatre and the nation state died long ago.

    Change your point of perception or suffer angst, oh and plant some spuds too, things are gonna get tough as the corporations are squeezing for more profit in the third quarter.
    Love light and a healthy huerta,

    [Reply to comment]

    Helder Pinheiro   Reply: April 19th, 2011 at 9:58 am

    @Fraser, Right on the spot!
    Problem is that many people don’t believe and/or fail to see the reality!

    Wish more folks where as clear-sighted as You!

    Hopefully it will become an accepted fact soon enough.

    [Reply to comment]

    Aiko   Reply: April 21st, 2011 at 12:39 am

    The old system IS crumbling so expect change for the better..Also the more you expose yourself to the mobile mammogram truck, which is actually like fast food radiation truck, the higher your chances of actually GETTING breast cancer. (Thermography is a non invasive way to check for cancer.)

    [Reply to comment]

    Emma   Reply: April 22nd, 2011 at 6:11 am

    Bullshit. Preventative medicine is a far more effective mechanism for keeping people alive… once every two years would expose you to no more radiation than living within a kilomtre of a mobile phone tower or electricity substation. I’ll risk fast food anyday over being told “we’ll just see if that lump gets any bigger” or having to wait until June for the results of a biopsy like a friend this week has been told.

    [Reply to comment]

    Aiko   Reply: April 22nd, 2011 at 6:27 am

    Wow, so much anger here. The mammogram isn’t preventive medicine. Miracles & disasters begin in the hearts and minds.. I wish you the best Emma. Take care.

    [Reply to comment]

    spownall   Reply: April 22nd, 2011 at 6:57 am

    Listen to Dr.Aiko, he/she is obviously qualified. Embrace your lumps and die quitely without making all this fuss 😉


  28. Pedro April 6, 2011 5:20 am Reply

    Dear Emma,

    _short version_

    Let me repeat what was said in the last N comments: brilliant write-up! And I love your hands-on suggestions, you have my vote!! 😀

    _the third party point of view_

    The Portuguese have a long tradition of emigrating (to France, Switzerland, Brazil, Luxembourg, …), and one of the first things we (emigrants) are accused of is claiming that ‘everything is better abroad’. While I agree that this claim is a way of boasting which some or many use as a way to justify their decision of emigrating (and hence of their cleverness), I also understand that emigrating – like travelling – is also an eye opener as it broadens our horizons significantly.
    So while certainly not everything is better abroad, it becomes obvious a while after we leave why some aspects of our society and government are in fact hopelessly broken, just by direct comparison. Simultaneously, other aspects (often overlooked) reveal themselves unique and extraordinary rich.

    _a bit more ranting_

    All that you describe is in my belief the long term buildup of a rather hefty inercia affecting the entire society and government that sucks efficiency out of anything and anyone. Short term personal gratification (cleverness, bragging rights) is favoured by this inercia rather than working towards aligning your own interests with those of your country, society, company, etc… because it is too hard or too daunting or not lucrative to actually start doing things right.
    Start by observing the abuse of unemployment benefit, abuse of healthcare by patients (which as you’ve seen is very inefficiently ‘policed’), lack of interest in public affairs (huge percentage of voting abstention), absolute lack of trust in the government, abuse of the public healthcare system by staff members (mainly doctors), the VAT/IVA avoidance, government corruption often tied to the private sector and now bankruptcy.


    I guess all that’s left is hoping that with the right minds, dedication and hard work things will change and get on track soon and that the Portuguese economy and average quality of life improves steadily over the coming years. That is what I wish.

    Take care,

    [Reply to comment]

  29. Evan Foster April 8, 2011 8:43 am Reply

    If you go back 25 years, Portugal was an unassuming little country, not really involved in the madness tht is the modern day Europe. Perhaps life was better then!

    [Reply to comment]


  30. Pam June 13, 2011 1:40 am Reply

    Just catching up with you blog after actually having a holiday outside of Portugal. Why is it all our friends think that because we live in Portugal now our life in one long holiday. lol

    Your writings are spot on as usual. We belong to a private health centre as we have my elderly mother to think of and the local Centro de Saude is impossibke to infiltrate. I took Mum to our health centre on Friday as their is an excellent doctor who speaks English therefore Mum feels at ease. At 94 she has no intention of learning Portuguese other than. Bom Dia, Obrigado and Feliz Natal. As it was Portugal Day he had the day off and we saw a lady doctor who spoke no English. She asked me why we did not go to our local to our local health centre and I said it was very difficult for foreigners to even get registered. She replied “Not just foreigners, even the Portuguese have the same problems. It is not good.”

    Anyway, we did not get a Plato but how will Peter Rabbit fare do you think?

    [Reply to comment]

    Emma   Reply: June 13th, 2011 at 6:59 am

    peter rabbit will play it safe otherwise the foxes might get him 😉

    [Reply to comment]

    Pam   Reply: June 13th, 2011 at 8:52 am

    @Emma, Love it!!

    [Reply to comment]

  31. Délio Faria May 11, 2012 9:47 pm Reply

    I was going to tell you that we don’t need a foreigner telling us our nation is upside down (because we sure know it), but then you really put some effort in your economy skill, and you really touched the spot.

    Start a party (none of the existing ones are good enough to join and improve, they’re useless), go up for election (i’ll vote for you, that’s for sure), win them, and then don’t diverge 1mm.

    But let me tell you that the last great portugal politician (Sá Carneiro) has died on a plane crash, allegedly it was an accident, but we (common people) have another idea… Call us crazy…

    [Reply to comment]

  32. Brad Majors February 21, 2018 1:37 pm Reply

    Hey, Emma,

    I see you wrote this in 2011. Has the state of healthcare improved in 7 years? Were you writing about the public system in Portugal? Or the private system?


    [Reply to comment]

    Emma   Reply: March 8th, 2018 at 10:59 am

    @Brad Majors, that was the public system… in the deep country you can access specialists via the private system only about once a fortnight so it’s not really viable

    [Reply to comment]

  33. Brad Majors April 17, 2019 3:31 am Reply


    Joss and I are in the Azores now. Been here 3 months today!

    Got FIN #, got residence card, have applied for public health program. Have use a number of private docs for things while waiting.

    Glad you are responding to comments but we sure miss your posts.

    [Reply to comment]

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