When I was almost five years old, my parents decided to move from the UK to Portugal - specifically, to the Alentejo. Their reasons were probably very similar to those of many others who decided to make the same move: how cheap it was here, how good the climate was, the peace and quiet, and so on.
All these things definitely make life in Portugal enjoyable, but there are other aspects that you discover and appreciate more once you actually live here. For a start, the portuguese are one of the friendliest people I’ve come across; they are welcoming, they will do their best to communicate with you (and love it when you try to answer in portuguese), and most importantly, in my opinion, will never let you leave their house without having something to eat. Offerings of vegetables from the garden, homemade jam or eggs from their own chickens are almost a guarantee, and it’s usually easier to just accept than to argue that no, really, you don’t think you will be able to get through 3kg of tomatoes.
Another thing I think is a huge advantage to living in Portugal (especially if, like my parents, you have young children), is how safe it is here. I read somewhere the other day that Portugal is one of the safest countries in the world, and you can see why. Children playing on the street without supervision is just something that happens; perhaps this is because, in a way, they are being supervised - everyone knows everyone else, especially in small communities; it’s almost like a huge family, and to the portuguese, family comes above everything – so you know that someone will always be keeping an eye on your kids. My parents once told me a story about how, as a baby, my sister was throwing a tantrum and screaming when they were having lunch at a restaurant. The waitress came and picked her up and took her away; at the time, my parents weren’t familiar with the portuguese friendliness (or cuisine), so they were slightly worried that my sister was going to get put on the menu. Fortunately, she didn’t end up in the pot - they just took her away and kept her entertained so my mother could eat! I’m very aware that this sort of safe atmosphere has been something I have benefited from during my whole life, and that shows in day-to-day situations like being allowed to go off and play with friends wherever we liked; later on, I was able to go out at night without my parents worrying. Nowadays, I put my bag down without worrying that it’s not going to be there next time I look and walk home alone at night without feeling afraid – which is a luxury that you don’t have in every country.
Of course, as we have all eventually learnt, life here isn’t all sunshine. The portuguese laid-back attitude can be not-so-great when you actually want to get things done - it’s not for nothing that Alentejanos are said to have three different speed settings: “devagar, devagarinho e parado” (slow, slower and stationary); “tomorrow” means “in 2 weeks, if you’re lucky”. This slow pace seems to go hand-in-hand with an obsession with bureaucracya; the amount of paperwork needed to do basically anything, and the time it takes to process, is ridiculous. To add to this, you can never sort out whatever issue you have in one place – you will likely have to get an authorization from the Câmara, a signature from the Finanças and a sanction from the Pope. Being 19 years old, I don’t exactly have too many issues in this area (yet), but the language my father uses sometimes when he’s dealing with portuguese paperwork gives me a pretty good idea about how frustrating it must be! Unfortunately, documents that are already complicated enough in portuguese can be hard work if you’re not completely comfortable with the language.
A few other things Portugal is lacking in are, for example, public transportation, food choice in supermarkets, respect for animals, proper plumbing , Christmas lights and drivers that know how to use indicators. However, the beaches, the quiet, the cheap wine and winning the Euro 2016 more than make up for it (we’re talking about Portugal, of course football had to come up at some point).
As I was so young when I came to Portugal, I don’t have that many memories of living in the UK that I can compare life here to; however, I know that I will always be grateful for the opportunity I had to grow up where and how I did. When I started school, not speaking a word of portuguese, I was always encouraged to take part in all the activities and my classmates always included me in what they were doing – I think they quite enjoyed trying to teach me portuguese and making fun of my mistakes. I love the weather, I love the food (although I do think Christmas dinners here are appaling in comparison with a roast) and I love how peaceful it is. I don’t think I would go so far as to say that I feel like I’m portuguese, but for all it’s faults, Portugal is undoubtedly my home now.