Over our five years living in Portugal, we've seen a lot of hype and disinformation spread about the country.
For us and many others, it's a great place to live. But too many people get caught up in all the hype and the hoopla: How many different international media and magazines have already decreed that Portugal is the top place to be ... to visit ... to live ... to retire?
With well over 100,000 members, the largest Facebook group for expats and immigrants in Portugal is Moving to Portugal. More than 250 people seek to join this group every day!
Truth be told, Portugal is being oversold.
I suspect that many professionals who can't find appropriate work (and pay) in the country are pumping up the rhetoric and joining the bandwagon of those selling Portugal. Grocers specialising in food products generally hard to find are shipping them to your doorstep in Portugal. Therapists are dealing with post-expatric syndrome and a host of other unsettling behaviors. Lawyers are catering to the big slice of business that comprises the market of people needing NIFs, bank accounts, and houses. Property agencies are a dime a dozen. Relocation experts promise to facilitate the transition. Packed tighter than sardines in a tin are webinars, blogs, vlogs, and YouTube channels catering to expats, immigrants, and foreigners. We have countless scores of people and groups teaching Portuguese in a variety of formats. Others are arranging round-trip scouting trips to the destination(s) of client interest(s), as well as charter flights bringing people and their pets to Portugal. Customized trips and tours are at your disposal, as are money lenders and currency brokers. Portugal itself is subsidizing numerous public relations undertakings that lure people -- as tourists, travelers, and residents -- to its land of the fado and saudade.
Still, there's a point to be realistic and not conjure up expectations of cobble stone streets with porto flowing freely. It just doesn't work that way.
"The sales gimmick of Portugal having the best beaches in Europe, the warm weather, low cost of living, and hospitable people was charming and very appealing. However, as reality set in, I discovered a different picture--more of a western country being operated as a third world country, or an eastern bloc bureaucratic central system," one critic said.
Like everywhere these days, Portugal - and the European Union - has its share of liberals and alt-righters. There are robberies, both burglaries and advantage-taking. Not everyone is nice--some people are downright nasty. Fuel is more expensive here, at least three times its cost in the USA. It gets bone-chilling cold all over the country, a different type of cold that we've not experienced elsewhere. There's mold and bugs and flies and creepy crawlers. And lots of houses that continue to be inhabited since they were built (and hardly upgraded) in the 1930s, 40s, and 50s. Yes, there are some people who have different attitudes about domestic pets than we do. We cringe when we hear of their abuse and abandonment. They may cringe when they see us treating our dogs and cats as children, rather than pets. But increasingly, I see Portuguese people walking their dogs on leads, picking up after them, buying specialty foods at upscale pet shops, and taking their "familiars" to the vet to be diagnosed, treated, and inoculated.
My friend João (don't we all have at least one?), whom I respect immensely, responded to a litany of complaints about living in Portugal with these words:
"We describe things as we are, not as they are. As objective as one can be, the overall joy of living in one place cannot be calculated from some parameters on a bullet list. I must say that as a former expat myself, what some considered negative points were truly the things that made me happy. Take into consideration that the grass is always greener ... and there will always be people (seeking to) overrate their products--countries included."
One of the questions asked of would-be members to the largest Facebook group for expats, immigrants, and others interested in moving to Portugal is "What do you like most about Portugal?" By far, the majority of those answering say "Everything!"
Give me a break, please. Most of them have yet to set foot in the country, but they already know that they like everything about Portugal. Yeah, right.
A friend, Rudi, posted this on her Facebook feed today: "I love my little village. I spent this morning emailing and calling four companies to ask if they could send me an invoice for work they had done at my place and materials they had delivered. After four texts from me, the wood guy finally did send me an invoice for wood he delivered the first week of October. I don't think I ever before had to beg to pay my bills.”
That's the paradox of Portugal.
For some reason, I'm reminded of these lyrics from Joni Mitchell's Big Yellow Taxi: "They paved paradise, put up a parking lot."
Those who come to Portugal because they've been sold on it being paradise are in for some surprises and reality checks. Just what is "paradise," anyway? One person's paradise may put another in the doldrums.
For us, it's living in peace--safely and securely. It's having a diverse group of multi-lingual friends who enjoy being together. It's marveling at the splendors of the world within driving distance. It's integrating to the culture rather than making it subordinate to ours.
We experience that in Portugal.
"At the end it's a wonderful country to experience but it's not paradise," commented Jon Collier in a post. "That's a place you create in your heart."
Bruce Joffe is publisher and creative director of Portugal Living Magazine, the "thoughtful magazine for people everywhere with Portugal on their minds." To read the current issue and subscribe -- free of charge! -- please visit https://portugallivingmagazine.com/our-current-issue/