Charting a couple's move from London to Portugal, tales, adventures and moving advice


Getting over the fear of speaking Portuguese 2

Posted on May 08, 2017 by Ben Algarve

One of the things that all expats have to deal with when they begin to learn Portuguese in Portugal is getting over the fear of speaking.

Portuguese is particularly alien to the native English, because of the accent and the speed at which Portuguese people talk. Here are a few tips to help you get over your fear and dive head first into communicating with locals.

Get Portuguese lessons in Lisbon

Getting Portuguese lessons is an excellent way of learning the language in a systematic way. Courses at Lusa Language School focus primarily on speaking during the course of lessons, which means students have the opportunity to practice without the pressure of the real-life Portuguese environment, where speed and slang are significant!

Prices are competitive and the school is located right in the centre of the city at Cais do Sodre. Check out their website for intensive and part-time courses, as well as tailored private lessons.

Lisbon language

Learn the menu

A true cliché when you move to another country is that the first thing you will learn is the menu. This is particularly important in Portuguese because of the sheer amount of ‘false friends’ – words that look similar to words in English but have a completely different meaning.

To give a couple of examples, ‘jarro’ in Portuguese means jug, not jar. If you are told to order at the ‘balcão’, the waiter is referring to the counter, not a balcony.

Ask for directions

A great way to practice listening to Portuguese and say some basic phrases is to ask for directions. Even if you know where you are going, it’s a brilliant excuse to engage with a local and try to watch out for new vocabulary in a way which is as natural as possible.

Join language exchanges

Language exchanges can be a great tool for speaking practice, especially if they are combined with formal Portuguese classes. In Lisbon, there are many options for speakers to find language partners, including through services such as Meetup and Lisbon Language Exchange. It’s also a great way to promote cross-cultural learning and allow Portuguese people to learn your native tongue.

Make friends with locals

Probably the most fun way to practice your Portuguese is to make friends with some locals! Pick up a new hobby at a local club or get talking to people while you are out. Portuguese people are very friendly, but your biggest problem will be to get them to stop speaking English.

English proficiency in Portugal is high, which means waiters, shop-owners and the rest are always quick to switch to English to help you. Tell them in advance that you want to practice your Portuguese and you’re good to go!

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Butterflies, buds and bellies – Portugal in spring 7

Posted on March 03, 2014 by Ben Algarve

(Lou) Last week was definitely an interesting one. Both Ben and I have work stacked up in front of us, which is great as we save up for the (ever closer) impending arrival of our little bundle of joy later this year.

Portugal in spring - buds and flowers are everywhere

Portugal in spring – buds and flowers are everywhere

The alternately cloudy, sunny and blustery weather has suited our indoor lifestyle, which has consisted of working all hours and spending time in the kitchen making the most of fresh produce such as orange-fleshed sweet potatoes and flavourful young carrots.

For me, the routine was broken by my regular monthly check up at our local Centro de Saúde (health centre). The day didn’t start too well, when I got in the car and turned the key, only to hear a click and then silence. However, the resulting taxi that I had to get to the Centro de Saúde meant an opportunity to practice my Portuguese, which is something that always pleases me. (The new car battery that we had to purchase later that day wasn’t quite so pleasing.)

On the way to the health centre, I chatted to the taxi driver about the weather, about the traffic and about the health centre’s services for pregnant women. After a few minutes of conversation, he asked me,

“You’re not Portuguese, are you?”

Portugal in spring - pink sky at night

Portugal in spring – pink sky at night

A simple enough question, but nonetheless a landmark in terms of our settling here. He hadn’t asked if I was English, but instead was uncertain as to whether or not I was Portuguese. It might seem the tiniest of distinctions when under scrutiny, but if felt as though I had taken another step towards true integration into Portugal – something which has become increasingly important to me now that we are expecting our first child here.

I shall ignore the fact that two days later the proprietor of a local seafood shop at the market was utterly incapable of understanding my (I thought) perfectly enunciated request for a dressed crab, lest it detract from the above victory.

After the check up with the doctor (all is well) I took advantage of the combination of carless-ness and sunshine to walk home rather than paying for another taxi. As I waddled my way chubbily along, I was treated to the site of buds and catkins on the trees, while butterflies danced through the warm air. Clearly nature has noticed that spring is on the way.

Portugal in spring - pretty white flowers

Portugal in spring – pretty white flowers

Another incident occurred when I popped to our local shop a day or so later. After chatting with the shop owner and another customer for a couple of minutes – they were kindly sharing Portuguese tips for how to deal with labour and giving birth – I realised that I was holding up an English tourist and her daughter, who were queuing behind me while we nattered. I paid for my goods and took my leave.

It was only when I got home that I realised the significance of the occurrence – I used to stand behind the Portuguese ladies chatting in the shop, not understanding their conversation and tapping my foot impatiently, waiting to be served while they talked and laughed. Yet suddenly, I had become one of that group of women happily chatting away in Portuguese and caring nothing for things like speed of service – a far cry from the London-fuelled impatience and lack of linguistic understanding that I used to exhibit when we first lived here.

While these may seem like minor incidents, I am left with the feeling that I have, almost without realising it, become more of a local of late. It’s something that has crept up on me unawares. I’m under no illusions that I still have a long way to go in terms of truly becoming Portuguese. My grammar is poor, I find unnecessary bureaucracy maddening and I haven’t yet dared to buy clams from the man with the bucket who sells them in the car park outside the supermarket. Still, it seems that I’m getting a little bit closer with each day that passes.

Portugal in spring - river path

Portugal in spring – river path

If you would like to know more about our early days in Portugal and how we got to where we are now, please feel free to check out our book:

Moving to Portugal: How a young couple started a new life in the sun – and how you could do the same
US Readers will find it here.

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Portuguese Language Learning – an Update from Lou 10

Posted on September 02, 2013 by Ben Algarve

It seems hard to believe that we are approaching the four year anniversary of our move to Portugal. I can still clearly remember driving to and from work in the weeks before our move, endlessly repeating phrases from my Portuguese language learning CD as I sat in traffic on the A3.

Portuguese language learning - my two essential grammar books

Portuguese language learning – my two essential grammar books

Our language skills have come a long way over the past four years. When I arrived in Portugal I could ask for a beer, count to twenty, order a tosta mixta and point to something and say ‘I would like this please.’ It was a limited selection but, along with a few additional phrases, it served us well in our initial nervous and faltering attempts at conversation.

This week, I’ve had the opportunity to realise just how far my Portuguese language learning has progressed. The lady in our local shop asked me what I did for a living. I was able to tell her and spend the next two minutes chatting about my job. When I left the shop, a car pulled up and asked if there was a supermarket in our village. I gave the driver two options and then directed him clearly to his chosen shop. Later in the week, a customer in the supermarket came up to me while I was queuing and asked if the checkout I was at was about to close. I informed her that it was not.

These three small interactions may not sound like much, but they combined to make me realise how confidently I can now chat to strangers in my second language. I’m still far from fluent and many situations still leave me feeling frustrated when I have to revert to English, but the number of these is gradually reducing.

Portuguese language learning - not perfect, but getting there

Portuguese language learning – not perfect, but getting there

Another triumph in my Portuguese language learning has been my progress with reading. Though I still struggle with hearing and speaking Portuguese at times, my reading skills have advanced enough that I have just finished reading my first ‘proper’ book in Portuguese that I haven’t read previously in English – Alexandre Dumas’s The Three Musketeers.

As an avid reader, it used to make me sad in Portuguese bookshops that my choice was limited to the tiny English language selection. Now, I feel confident in buying Portuguese books and being able to read them. Granted, I read much more slowly in Portuguese than in English, but I’m sure that I’ll get faster as time goes on.

My efforts to learn Portuguese have ranged from CDs in the car, to school exercise books aimed at five year olds, to grammar books in English that explain the intricacies of the language. We took a handful of lessons a year or so ago, but preferred our own methods of learning and didn’t continue with them for more than a couple of months.  I’ve also read progressively more grown up books, going from the Ruca children’s books, to Enid Blyton, to Stephen King, to Alexandre Dumas.

Portuguese language learning - from children's books to classics

Portuguese language learning – from children’s books to classics

The next book on my shelf to tackle is As Pupilas do Senhor Reitor by Júlio Dinis. I bought it a little over a year ago, but the first page made me realise it was too advance for me and it’s been on the bookshelf ever since. I’ll be interested to see whether I find it quite so daunting when I try it again later today.

I am under no illusions – I know I still have a long way to go, but it seems that my far-off dream of one day speaking fluent Portuguese may be getting just a little bit closer.


A quick addition to this post in response to one of the comments – if I had to recommend the course that I found most useful during my early days of learning Portuguese, it would be the double CD/book combo course Teach Yourself Portuguese: Coursebook & 2 CDs:

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How to Speak Portuguese – Lou’s Ten Portuguese Language Cheats 13

Posted on March 21, 2013 by Ben Algarve

Life in Portugal can be tricky enough when you’re trying to negotiate the endless paperwork or identify strange looking cuts of meat in the butcher’s, let alone when you try and work out how to speak Portuguese.

How to speak Portuguese - be prepared to study hard

How to speak Portuguese – be prepared to study hard

The difficulty with learning Portuguese is that what you say and hear doesn’t seem to correspond much with the written language, especially when you live in the Algarve where people have a heavy accent. With accents peppering the words and changing both the sound and the emphasis, Portuguese is a hard language to master. We have been here for nearly 3.5 years now and are still nowhere near fluent, although I do feel that we are learning more every day. In our case it doesn’t help that we both work from home, rather than having jobs where we spend all day with people speaking Portuguese.

If you are moving to Portugal soon or even just holidaying here, here are my top ten (tongue-in-cheek) Portuguese language cheats that will hopefully help you out.

Speak fast

When you are uncertain of what you are saying in another language, it is natural to speak slowly and try to say each word perfectly. If you do this in Portugal, you may well be met with a blank look. Instead, speak as fast as you can, pretending that you are speaking flawless Portuguese. You will have a much better chance of being understood.

Uma imperial

Uma imperial

A beer please!

‘Uma imperial se faz favour.’

This means ‘a small beer please.’ In most bars you will get a lovely, small glass of beer. Given how hot the Portuguese summer is, ordering a succession of small beers means you don’t end up drinking the too-warm second half of a pint. In some touristy areas, even if you ask for an imperial you will be given a pint (‘uma caneca’) anyway, so that the bar can charge you more.

This phrase is often usefully followed by ‘mais uma, se faz favor’ – ‘one more please!’


To say ‘thank you’ in Portuguese, men say ‘obrigado’ and women say ‘obrigada.’ The gender of the person to whom you are speaking does not matter. This is FACT, even though some Portuguese people will try to tell you that’s not how it works.

Can to be this

‘Pode ser isto’ – the literal translation is ‘can to be this,’ but this rather awkward phrase is actually used to mean ‘can I have this,’ so you can use it in shops, cafés, restaurants and anywhere else where you are able to point to the item that you desire.

Pode ser isto - useful for buying all kinds of things

Pode ser isto – useful for buying all kinds of things

If in doubt, smile and nod

When we first moved here, even basic interactions could be a struggle, despite six months of me obsessively playing Portuguese language CDs in the car anytime I drove anywhere before we left England.

There were many times when neighbours, shop assistants and others that I interacted with tried to make pleasant conversation about the weather, football or other random subjects. At first I would freeze in such situations, looking like a rabbit caught in the headlights while my fellow conversationalist painstakingly repeated the sentence in a futile attempt to make me understand. The result was usually an awkward silence while I blushed and felt stupid.

These early struggles allowed me to develop the smile and nod policy. Now when someone speaks to me and I don’t understand them, I don’t panic, I just smile and nod. Astonishingly, 90% of the time this is accepted as an appropriate and satisfactory response on my part. Although I still have no idea what has been said to me, instead of just feeling tongue-tied and stupid, I use my nodding time to replay the sentence in my mind and try to catch the key words that will make it all become clear.

Of course, this policy is far from fail-safe and it is absolutely not to be used when dealing with government officials, lawyers or anyone else where you could be agreeing to something serious without realising it!

Instantly get rid of excess waiters!

Instantly get rid of excess waiters!

Warding off additional waiters

‘Já pedi’ – this means ‘already asked,’ and is a handy phrase for using in bars or cafés where you have already ordered but you spy a second waiter approaching with a notepad and an eager look in his eye.

Write it down

If you need to deal with officials in Portugal who don’t speak English, it’s often helpful to write down your request and take it with you on a piece of paper. That way if you bungle the pronunciation and they look confused, you can just hand over your pre-written request and – provided your handwriting is neat – be understood.

This approach was essential when we were trying to obtain our atestado document to prove that we lived in our village and had to ask two local residents to sign our form (apparently in the village council’s eyes the rental agreement for our apartment was not sufficient proof that we lived there).

I’ve also successfully used this method the first time I ordered a large takeaway and the first time we had to exchange our empty gas bottle – knowing that my grasp of Portuguese was at the time insufficient for these (now mundane) conversations, I took along my trusty piece of paper, which on both occasions saved the day.

Write it down

Write it down

After-dinner conversation

‘A conta, se faz favor.’

In Portugal you are welcome to sit and relax once you have finished your meal in a restaurant. You can enjoy the company of your friends or family and engage in after-dinner conversation, without the staff desperately trying to get you out of the door so that they can turn the table. This is part of what makes dining in Portugal such a pleasant experience. However, for those ready to pay and leave, it can be a little frustrating. If that’s you, use this phrase, which means ‘the bill, please.’ Of course you could also use the internationally recognised mime of writing on your hand!

Have a glass of wine

It’s astonishing how much more confident a glass of wine can make your attempts to speak Portuguese. After three glasses I’m unfailingly convinced that I’m fluent, much to the dismay of my Portuguese friends.

Confidence in a glass!

Confidence in a glass!

And if all else fails…

‘Desculpe, não entendo.’

If all else fails, you can resort to this phrase, which means ‘I’m sorry, I don’t understand.’
Our efforts to speak Portuguese have been overwhelmingly well received. Even when we get in a muddle and mispronounce things or say something silly, the fact that we have tried always goes down well. Even if you have no plans to work out the full intricacies of how to speak Portuguese, a few choice phrases will ensure you stand out and earn you service with a smile wherever you go.
Boa sorte!

If you want to hear more about our adventures with the Portuguese language, why not check out our book: Moving to Portugal

Image credits: Wikimedia Commons, Flickr

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How to Speak Portuguese 9

Posted on February 27, 2012 by Ben Algarve

We don’t really know how to speak Portuguese properly yet, even though we have been here over two years. Sure, we cope day-to-day and have even managed to read some novels in Portuguese, but our ability to speak and comprehend plateaued after the first year and our progress stalled.

Many people say that you can never properly understand a country and its culture until you can speak the language, so we decided a couple of weeks ago that it was time to arrange proper lessons and finally learn (properly) how to speak Portuguese.

Today we had our first lesson. Our tutor, Andrew, is a local expat who has spent several years intensively learning the language. The fact he is English means he understands the key differences in the two languages, and this gives him the ability to identify the key areas we will find difficult.

I only wish we had started to do this sooner. Within ten minutes of the lesson beginning, I realised that I have been violating the correct pronunciation of words that I have been using confidently for the past two years!

We are taking lessons along with three members of our extended family who live locally. We are all at different levels of existing knowledge, but we quickly decided to all start from the beginning together, when it became clear that even the more confident amongst us had been getting some of the basics wrong.

How to Speak Portuguese

How to Speak Portuguese

Two of our party have already been having classroom based lessons at a local school, but the kind of teaching Andrew delivers already seems to be a better way to learn how to speak Portuguese. Large classes containing mixed nationalities and abilities tend to move at the pace of the slowest learners, and one of our party commented that the ability to ask questions of someone who shares our native language is invaluable in the context of making everything make sense.

Within the first lesson we have all already began to learn how to conjugate verbs, which I think is key to learning any language – indeed, it is the way I learned French at school. Once verb conjugation is mastered, you have the ability to look anything up in a dictionary and get your point across – from there, your pace of learning is only held back by how quickly you can increase your vocabulary.

I am very excited to finally be learning how to speak Portuguese properly. I am also excited that I can order my coffee and cake tomorrow with the correct pronunciation – and I have high hopes for a positive reaction from the lady in the local cafe!

Just one lesson in, I can sincerely give a high recommendation for Andrew’s inexpensive and well-structured private lessons. He is based in the East Algarve and travels to us to teach us in the comfort of our own home. If you are in the Algarve and want to learn how to speak Portuguese properly, I would be delighted to provide his contact details.

Here are a couple of learning aids for those keen to pick up the language:

501 Portuguese Verbs (Barron’s 501 Portuguese Verbs)

Rosetta Stone Version 4 TOTALe: Portuguese (Brazil) Level 1, 2 & 3 (Mac/PC)

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Learning Experiences in Portugal 13

Posted on March 08, 2011 by Ben Algarve

Last Saturday, I asked my wife if we had any butter left in the fridge. Her reply was, “we only have butter without salt.”

Now, I’m sure you’re wondering where on earth I’m going with this post, so let me explain. If we still lived in England, her answer would have been, “we only have unsalted.”

Learning Portuguese - Unsalted Butter

Learning Portuguese - Unsalted Butter

In Portuguese though, it’s not called unsalted butter, it’s called “mantiega sem sal.” Butter without salt. My wife was translating Portuguese into English and not the other way round.

This rather dull dairy-related anecdote is actually really huge to us. It’s like the next significant stage in our integration into Portugal. We are finally, if only very rarely, starting to think in Portuguese.

After this happened, we started to weigh up our progress learning Portuguese, as we approach the 18 month point in our Portuguese adventure. My wife recalled that the butter incident wasn’t the first time she had thought in Portuguese – a couple of weeks previously she had been unable to remember the English word for chives, only recalling the Portuguese.

Don’t for one moment think that this means we are approaching fluency, or even competence, in speaking Portuguese. However….it is surprising how much has gone in subconsciously. Sometimes the radio will come on in the morning, I will listen to an advert and think to myself “hang on, I understood that.”

Even stranger was the other day when I found myself singing a tune to myself that I had heard. It was a Portuguese song called “O Que Faz Falta.” It hadn’t really occurred to me that what I was singing was Portuguese. Doesn’t mean I understood what I was singing but still!

Whilst the language learning is progressing, wading through the cross-border bureaucracy is still a hateful nightmare. Never be fooled into thinking that if you live in the European “Union” that all European nations sing from the same hymn sheet.

I appreciate that our exact situation of working in one country and living in another is unusual, but from the reactions we get from official bodies you would think it is the first time anybody has ever done it.

We have just had to force ourselves to sit back and let the situation unfold at its own pace. Back at the start of January we had to send a form to HM Revenue and Customs in the UK. HMRC are so behind that we were told that it would take them six week before they had time to OPEN our letter. At the time, that meant we expected a response in mid-February. When we called back at the end of February we were told their “target date” for opening our letter was now mid-March.

Our Portuguese accountant shrugs a lot and constantly says reassuring things like “it’s not your problem.” Yet somehow it feels like it is! I’m starting to realise that my fondness for a slower pace of life has limits.

Danger: European Red Tape

Danger: European Red Tape

When you have to wait three months for a response to a letter you have to learn patience. On this occasion it is England slowing things down and not Portugal, but the way European freedom of movement and employment law works in practice is a cruel joke, with all of the countries seemingly free to interpret legislation in their own way.

If we were actually trying to claim ANY kind of benefit, I could understand all the delays, but all we are actually trying to do is work hard and pay tax on the money – I can’t believe how hard it is proving to be! If sitting on our butts claiming benefits was our plan, then we hardly would have left England now would we?

I’m starting to rant so I’m going to sign off now. To sum up, I now know my first song in Portuguese but still haven’t got to the bottom of my tax situation. It would be kind of useful if it were the other way around.

PS. One thing that has been helping with our language learning is a new “Portuguese Language Lessons” page we recently “liked” on Facebook. If you do the Facebook thing, check it out!

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Portugal – A Review of the Year 1

Posted on November 12, 2010 by Ben Algarve

To conclude my retrospective look at our first exciting year in Portugal, here, as promised in my last posts are our high points and respective low points of our first year in the Algarve.


1. Sharing our new home with friends and family – some of our happiest times here to date have been those we have shared with our visitors. A big thank you, in no particular order, to Richard, Pam, Kat, Rob, Rick, Bill, Mike, Tom, Amy, Hannah, Ben, Dionne, Jacob, Emma, Steve and Nat, and all the other people coming to see us soon.

2. Enjoying all the scenery the Algarve has to offer – and soaking in water from the cold (lake under the waterfall at Pego Do Inferno,) to the warm (Montegordo in August.)

Portugal - eating out in the Algarve

Portugal - eating out in the Algarve

3. Eating and cooking – from fish feasts at the cheap and wonderful Vela 2 in Tavira, to barbecues on the terrace, and tapas over the border in Seville. The gastronomic wonders of this part of the world have lived up to all of our expectations.

4. Meeting people – Portugal has made us very welcome. Various people spring to mind: friendly neighbours in Tavira who put up with our slow Portuguese, a certain bar owner who offered us advice and encouragement during the wobbliest of our early days (you know who you are,) and all the lovely people who provide advice on the forums and here on this blog. There are some very good people in this part of the world. I must also give a special mention to the surly young shop assistant in our local mini mercado, who now greets us with a smile and saves her visible disdain for the tourists 😉

5. Small victories: Finally getting our residency, finally getting our broadband and cable TV, successfully building on our limited Portuguese, and finally getting a smile from the girl in the shop (see above.)


1. Winter 2009. Finding out first hand, by enduring the wettest winter since 1870, that Portugal is a cold country with hot sun, and NOT a tropical paradise. Our first four months in the mouldy disaster that was our house in Tavira are not a period of my life I would be keen to repeat.

2. High Summer. Realising that the Algarve just gets TOO busy in July and August.

Mouldy memories - Portugal 2009

Mouldy memories - Portugal 2009

3. Trips to England. A means to an end, but it would be great to have less of them – they really mess with your routine.

4. Red Tape. Although when you finally get the piece of paper you need it feels like a triumph, getting there can be hellish – and you do end up having a sense of foreboding with regard to your next encounter with officialdom.

5. Meeting people. Figured I would put this in both sections. Most people we have encountered in this past year have been great, but as ever there have been a few exceptions. Cliquey, gossipy types, jobsworths, people who push you out the way in Easyjet’s speedy boarding queue and people from HM Revenue and Customs who can’t read forms properly have all made my shit list over the past twelve months!

So what advice would we offer to those considering chasing their own dream to Portugal or another sunny location?

Do your research, make sure you are sure, then save some money and do it – and when you are going through the hugely stressful last six months before the big move, always remember to soak up every minute of the adventure – you may come to miss the non-stop raw, emotional, scary excitement of changing your life. I’d certainly do it all again 🙂

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Moving to Portugal – A Year On 2

Posted on November 09, 2010 by Ben Algarve

It is now just over a year since we waved goodbye to Old London Town, and got on the plane to Portugal, leaving our old life behind.

Needless to say, the year has been one of the most eventful of our lives, and I’m finding it surprisingly difficult to work out how to summarise our first year in a blog post.

When you move abroad, especially to somewhere you have fallen in love with on holidays, it is surprising when, after a few months, you realise that you haven’t at any point felt that

Boats at Olhao - Moving to Portugal

Boats at Olhao - Moving to Portugal

undiluted happy holiday feeling.

If holidaying somewhere you adore could be likened to the electric, lustful feelings of the start of a relationship, going to live there is rather more akin to the deep rooted contentment gained through a happy marriage.

This is no bad thing, and there have been plenty of wonderful moments along the way that have lived up our initial hopes.

One day a couple of weeks ago, my wife and I were both frantically busy with work and within seconds of closing our laptops were both leaning over the kitchen sink – I was shelling prawns while she scaled sardines, ready for some guests coming over for a midweek dinner. We were both stressed. It wasn’t until I remembered we were preparing cheap and fresh seafood within seconds of finishing work, rather than fighting through the crowds on the way to a tube station, that it occurred to me that we were in fact living the dream we waited for.

This does go some way to illustrating my point. When you go to live somewhere, real life moves there with you. When you are on holiday, real life is put into a state of suspended animation until you get home and pick up the big pile of bills on the doormat. We ARE living our dream, but those bills still arrive on a daily basis, and wherever you live you can have weeks that suck and leave you thinking you need a HOLIDAY – even if the beach is ten minutes away.

Our one year Portugal anniversary has caused us to look back at the last year, and we do feel we have made substantial progress in integrating here, even if sometimes this progress happens so slowly you don’t notice it at the time.

Speaking Portuguese is an example of this. Now when we go into shops, restaurants, garages, we speak Portuguese without it occurring to us that we ARE speaking Portuguese. We didn’t actually realise this until some relatives pointed it out after observing us in a supermarket, and it was a very rewarding feeling. Even more pleasing was when I picked up a Portuguese cooking magazine the other day and realised that there were entire paragraphs I could understand. Compared to my wife I thought I had been decidedly slack when it came to learning the language, so I am encouraged by how much does seem to go in without you noticing.

Sunset over the Algarve near Barrill Beach

Sunset over the Algarve near Barrill Beach

Another pleasing change which started to occur after about six months was that we stopped having those wobbly days or weeks when we questioned our decision to move. These are now few and far between and affirm our decision.

I figured the best way to look retrospectively over our first year would be to list five of the year’s high points, and five corresponding lows…stay tuned for my review of the first year, coming on Friday.

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Old Habits……Die Hard 6

Posted on September 06, 2010 by Ben Algarve

We had a bit of an unsettled week here in Portugal last week, followed by a very enjoyable weekend.

As any long term readers of the blog will know, every now and then we get “wobbly days” with regard to being here – something that most expats we speak to can relate to. We had a few last week.

Learning Portuguese - we are trying!

Learning Portuguese – we are trying!

We have made a real effort to learn some Portuguese. Maybe it is just because it was the end of the tourist season, but despite how well we pronounced things, practically everyone we interacted with last week insisted on speaking back to us in slow, condescending English.

This language based game usually entertains us. We call it “the fight.” We speak Portuguese, the Portuguese person speaks English and everyone sticks to their guns until eventually one party gives in. If we end the conversation speaking Portuguese it is a victory for us. If we give in and speak English then we lose.

I say it usually entertains us. Last week it happened so much it was frustrating. It made us think that even years down the line we are still going to be seen by strangers as stupid English people, which doesn’t seem fair when we are making an effort to learn the language.

We had one triumph last week though, when speaking Portuguese with a local lawyer. He complimented us on our Portuguese and was very surprised we had only been here ten months, even asking whether we had previously lived in Brazil or Spain.

He then said something that gets to the heart of the whole issue: “geralmente o Inglês, não tente aprender,” which means “generally the English do not try to learn.”

So, basically, we will continue to be tarred with the stupid brush because of the “two large beers please,” crowd who come here on holiday and don’t even attempt a “bom dia “ or “obrigada.” Irritating to say the least.

Anyway, after an annoying week we had a very pleasant weekend with lots of cooking and sunshine and a Saturday on Montegordo beach with some great waves – the best kind that knock you over if you don’t pay attention.

We followed this with a Chinese meal which has become a treat now due to the nearest good Chinese being 10 miles away – see Chinese Restaurants in Montegordo over at Food and Wine Portugal for details!

We then had one of those Sundays that just feels perfect. A lie in, Sunday papers in the sunshine, followed by roast chicken and ‘Friends” DVDs. This was exactly the kind of Sunday we

Chinese in Montegordo

Chinese in Montegordo

used to have when we lived in London and we hadn’t realised how much we missed it.

In the ten months we have been here we have been charging towards the beach every Sunday or exploring some new part of the local area. We failed to realise that our perfect Sunday had been born of extensive research into what we actually wanted to do.

As we were living in a new country, our brains tricked us into thinking we should do something new on a Sunday, when there was in fact nothing wrong with what we always used to do. True, we now have sunshine and access to a pool, which can be incorporated into our Sunday routine, but other than that we plan to revert to what our Sundays always used to be like. No more rushing around – it is not what Sundays are for!

So, having discussed one old habit we are reinstating, I guess I have to address another habit… up smoking. Last week was partially successful.

My electronic cigarette turned out to give me migraines, leading to a small relapse. However, I am now down to just three cigarettes per day, which is a huge improvement. I am still rather annoyed with myself but I have managed to reduce my consumption by 86% which isn’t bad at all.

I am awaiting a book from Amazon called Stop Smoking, Stay Cool: A Dedicated Smoker’s Guide to Not Smoking

This book has worked for several people who have not responded well to some of the more popular giving up smoking methods and appeals to me as someone who doesn’t particularly like being told what to do. Hopefully it will arrive this week – I will let you know how I get on.

Have a good week 🙂

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Portugal Red Tape Rant 13

Posted on May 27, 2010 by Ben Algarve

I had very much hoped to call this next post “Chilling Like a Resident.” Unfortunately, despite a tour of four different government offices yesterday, it was not to be – we still don’t have our residency.

The two major problems here, as I see them, are firstly that European law changes all the time and therefore the rules change, and secondly that Portuguese officials appear to all be individually free to interpret the law however they see fit.

Computer Says "No."

Computer Says "No."

Yesterday was truly soul destroying and included the “Loja De Cidade” (citizen shop,) the city council, the SEF (basically the borders and foreigners police,) and our local village hall, who really put the nail in the coffin of the day when they said we had to find two Portuguese voters from our own tiny village to sign one of our forms.

We don’t even know two Portuguese people in the village yet – we know plenty in Tavira, but, no, that won’t do. The best plan we came up with yesterday was to ask the nice ladies in the laundrette to vouch for us!

The really annoying thing though, is that I have extensively researched the process for residency on all the relevant sites, including that of the European Union itself, and the fact is that as EU citizens we have right of residency anyway. The problems are caused by the fact that officials here all seem to have their own way of doing things. For example the residency application form for EU citizens they have online wasn’t even the same as the one given to me by the city council!

Adding to the frustration, research on the expat forums shows that many people have managed to get their residency at different town halls with no problems at all and in very quick time – there is just no consistency.

When we were doing our initial research about our move to Portugal, everyone highlighted the red tape as one of the big negatives. Until you are in the situation, and negotiating it with highly questionable Portuguese language skills, it is hard to describe how stressed and helpless it makes you feel.

I deliberately waited over night before I typed this post as I didn’t want to get all ranty, but re-living the situation does make me angry again. The billions of pounds that have been poured into the EU seem to have not resulted in there being a coherent approach to people moving between countries – there are as many hurdles and hoops as there would be if we were trying to move somewhere outside the European “Union.” It already feels galling to need an accountant in both countries as the paperwork is too complicated for one mere mortal to get their head around.

Anyway, we have made a decision. Someone on a forum has recommended a document agency to us. We are basically going to pay someone to sort it all out for us. Days and nights of research have got us nowhere, so rather than relying on the “what you know,” we are going to try the “who you know.” It seems to be the way things work around here.

Some people may be interested to read my forum thread on this – it shows the wide range of theories and experiences people have!

Residency – Aaaargh! Link to Expats Portugal

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