More than 20 years ago, my husband sold his multi-city newspaper chain for a lot of money. I don’t mean the billion–gazillion kind of Succession money thrown around today. But the success that allows a Midwesterner like himself, who worked so hard for so many years, to slow down and muse: “Where will I live next? What calls to me?”.
His answer was to relocate to New York City in 2000 and buy a townhouse in the vintage neighborhood he always coveted – the West Village. He relished the narrow cobblestone streets lined with classic architecture, imbued with beat poet history and political intrigue, interlaced with countless small quirky indy shops and restaurants.
But it was a brief Big Apple affair. About that time, we met and got serious – and being the small-town, warm-blooded girl I am at heart, coaxed him to consider moving to less cosmopolitan but warmer climes. The upheaval of 9/11 catalyzed his decision to do it.
Now after more than two decades and several moves later, my husband’s nerdy, nostalgic heart was re-awakened last year when we decided to goose our lives with a sharp left turn and move to southern Portugal. We decamped from the states, crossed the "Pond" and landed in the lap of riveting history, unspoiled natural beauty (and warmth!) in this European country that’s slightly smaller than Indiana.
We're not a rarity in doing this – increasing numbers of Americans are finding their way over here attracted to the open arms reception from this country that makes it relatively easy and straightforward to move. In fact, the growing popularity of Portugal with Americans drove a 45% increase in our numbers over the previous year according to government data (2021).
Sure, sunshine is a big draw – with more than 300 days of it per year. But we also got that living in Denver and Tampa. There are many other reasons that are resonating with us and our fellow Americans.
Culture Shock Solace
I’m told I can speak for both of us saying that, remarkably, any culture “shock” we’re experiencing with our move is more culture “solace”.
Everybody wants to feel safe and foremost on our American minds is the gun violence in everyday surroundings – subways, parks, shopping venues and, most appallingly, in our schools. We’re seeing a growing number of families picking-up and moving here to escape the violence.
Gun violence is extremely rare in Portugal, which makes it one of the safest countries in the world (floating between 3rd and 4th place year-to-year). In stark contrast, the U.S. ranks 129 out of 163 countries (just below Azerbaijan, Zimbabwe, and Egypt) according to the 2022 Global Peace Index.
Yet people can “escape” to a lot of places. I’d suggest we don’t want to just “escape” – we want a place where we can thrive. Personally, as a newbie resident, I can say that Portugal offers the ideal “starter materials” for creating a new life infrastructure.
With that in mind, staying (or getting!) healthy is a #1 priority … and it’s so much easier over here. For instance, my private insurance costs a little more than $1k annually. You heard that right! (I had a series of x-rays taken recently and my co-pay cost was, in U.S. dollars, about $5.50.)
And as a registered nutritionist, I’m all about the food. Fish and farmers' markets are ubiquitous… and based on U.S. standards, they’re cheap, including organic produce, which is a staple in my life. Oh yes, you can find fast food joints, but they’re more the exception than the rule.
My Loud Pushy Americanism
My husband is more laid back and low-key than I am (and to think he’s the one who lived in NYC!).
For me, the first few months here, my, um, assertiveness (read: pushy) was trying to force a square peg into a round hole. The Portuguese are polite and respectful, friendly and helpful. But take-a-number and wait-in-line is the order of the day … at banks, at pharmacies, at clinics, at bakeries, at, at, at.
The pay-off is that when I get to the front of the line, service is singularly focused on me generally with smiles and kindness. Prior to that though, there’s no interrupting to ask a quick question, bustling to the front or wangling preferential treatment – as Americans want to do!
There are countless similar “keep your pants on” scenarios that organically nurture a slower pace of living, which have tempered my loud pushy Americanism. Ten months in, I find the corners of that square peg are being rubbed smooth to slide comfortably into the round, safe world of my new Portuguese lifestyle.
Becca Williams and her partner are settling into small town living in Lagos, a seaside town on Portugal’s southern coast. Contact her at AlgarveBecca@gmail.com
Becca Williams is originally from America but is now settling into small town living in Lagos, a seaside town on Portugal’s southern coast. Contact her at AlgarveBecca@gmail.com