Discover more from Expat in Portugal
Reflections After 739 Days in Portugal
An expat, a tourist, a resident...and no regrets!
New years are a time for reflection. As I reflect on the introduction to last week’s post, I find the pace of our last two years dizzying. (Our friend, Caroline, says we are impulsive. And it would seem she is right.) But further reflection suggests that amidst the frenzy I have learned lessons. Some of which I will share with you today.
The First 100 Days
During your first few months in a new country, you spend a lot of time treading water. Everyday tasks like taking out the trash or doing laundry need to be relearned. You sometimes miss the comforts of “home”. You struggle to learn a new language and are frustrated by what appear to you to be inefficient serial processes. Adding to the frustration is the inability for Portuguese people to tell you exactly how long something will take fearing that letting you know in advance will upset you.
I have spoken with many expats who describe feelings of depression or homesickness during this phase. I don’t recall having those feelings. Instead, I felt like a duck floating on the surface of life while paddling furiously below.
As someone who had become jaded at all things USA I also took some satisfaction in making comparisons: how cheap some things are, how fresh and healthy food can be, how progressive a constitution can be, how differently illegal drug use is dealt with, etc.
The Happy Tourists
Of course for the first 100 days we were in lock down. When lockdown lifted we became the most fortunate tourists. I arranged a tour of Sintra for Denise’s birthday and she and I were literally the only people in Pena Palace. The free “group” walking tours seemed to include only the people we invited. There was never a line to buy tickets at a museum or show, and you could get an Airbnb anytime and anywhere.
We were in the vacation phase.
We had gotten through the hard bits, were vaccinated by a country that we were still “just visiting” and life was grand. It was so perfect in fact that we wondered why we would ever leave. We explored large cities and villages with more sheep than people. Everywhere we went there seemed to be another castle to explore, a door to photograph, delicious food and friendly people.
Of course, no country is perfect. But when you can’t understand the news and only skim the English language newspapers it seems perfect. And while we have a few Portuguese friends, we spend most of our time with fellow immigrants. Most are retired and living comfortably in a country where they can stretch their retirement income a bit further. Even the younger ones, those who still work, have comfortably adapted to a slower pace of life.1
The Happy Residents
I can’t pinpoint the exact month it happened…but I think it took about one year. My mindset started to change. First, I realised the value in experiencing a country without making comparisons.
Second, I stopped being a tourist and became a resident. And while I will never compete for the most patient person on the planet2, Portugal changed me. I don’t get fidgety if a server does not visit my table to take my drink order within 120 seconds. I expect to spend 20 minutes in CTT even though there are only 2 people in line in front of me. And I don't get frustrated when Portuguese people explain the exact same thing 3 or 4 times3 before letting me go. I am an immigrant, not an expat. My goal is to enjoy and in some small way contribute to this country, as it is...not to change it.
Finally, I realize how lucky I am in live in Europe. A few weeks ago, a friend visiting from the US hopped on a plane in Faro and flew to Dublin for a few days for just €20.4 Another friend earlier this year checked off a bucket list item when he flew to Luxembourg and than drove to a WWII cemetary in France to visit the grave site of an uncle he was named after but never met. And while in August we visited Italy and Switzerland, we plan to travel more this year. Our Monday-Wednesday Portuguese classes will allow 4 day weekends to explore5.
Yes, we were lucky to have made the leap when we did. While we sometimes think we should have done it years earlier…we are still young enough and healthy enough to travel, to explore and to learn. So if you are thinking about it, I want to encourage you to take the leap.
Recently, in a much different context, Heather Cox Richardson penned the following words:
One of the curses of history is that we cannot go back and change the course leading to disasters, no matter how much we might wish to. The past has its own terrible inevitability.
But it is never too late to change the future. — Heather Cox Richardson
While she was writing about a dark moment in America’s past, I immediately thought about the people I speak to that say, “I wish…” If I have one wish for you, it is that you don’t wish your life away.
I want to thank everyone that took the time to complete my brief reader survey. I very much appreciate the time and your thoughtful comments. As is my custom, I will share the results with you over the next few posts. Today, in answer to the question how long have you been a subscriber?
And how did you find me?
Now you understand why I appreciate when people share posts on Social Media….
I am reminded of a desk sign a friend had on his desk: “Your poor planning is not my emergency”.
If you doubt this, just ask Denise.
Perhaps they aren’t sure that we understand their efforts to speak English which is always far superior to my Portuguese.
The flight back was a bit more, and of course discount carriers then charge you for a seat. But in total she spent less than €120 to go to another country.
Kayak Explore offers lots of options from Faro: to Paris €48, or Copenhagen €85, or Amsterdam €69. Depart from Sevilla instead and find: €18 to Valencia, €18 to Mallorca, Marrakech for €28, and many, many more.