Being Portuguese

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It was when I was in London a couple of weeks back that I got to thinking about the ways in which we were becoming “more Portuguese.” I had just bowled into my hotel, smiled, said “Ola, bom dia” loudly to the receptionist, then gone very red when I realised I had spoken in Portuguese instead of English.

It wasn’t the only time I did it during that trip to the UK. In fact, after that initial embarrassing experience, I started to over-think it, and found myself saying “good afternoon” before beginning a checkout transaction in Tesco Express, because I was translating the Portuguese “boa tarde” INTO English in my head before saying it. Saying good afternoon in a London Tesco may be polite, but I was looked at as if I was trying to parody a city gent from the 1930s.

Now, I know people say “when you start thinking in the language that’s when you are fluent.” Well, I am still very very far from fluent. But, in these day-to-day interactions, it has obviously become instinctive, and to such an extent that it feels more natural in some situations speaking Portuguese than speaking English. This realisation made me think about the other ways we are now “being Portuguese.” It must be time for another list post:

Being Portuguese
Being Portuguese

1. 10pm now seems to be a perfectly sensible time to do the weekly grocery shop. Midnight seems like a perfectly sensible time to light the barbecue.

2. If we are due somewhere at 2pm and have still not left the house at 5 past, I don’t really see that as being late, as such. (Although to be honest, my timekeeping has never been particularly good, I just now live somewhere where a lack of punctuality is more ingrained!)

3. If a person dawdles in front of me in a shop queue, I don’t feel an instant blood-pressure rise and begin seething and silently blaming that person for all the problems in my life. I just wait.

4. The same applies when the car in front stops for several minutes to chat to someone they’ve just spotted walking along the road.

5. The other day I saw a sardine recipe which called for the sardines to be gutted, and my horrified reaction was: “WHY would you gut them? How silly.”

Sardines are not usually gutted in Portugal
Sardines are not usually gutted in Portugal

6. Still on a fishy theme, I actually find myself craving bacalhau at least once per week.

7. I now know which days of the week the butcher has lamb, so I don’t end up sulking because I can’t find any on a Tuesday.

8. 27 degrees Celsius is no longer defined as a “hot day.” In fact it is more likely to cause us to remark that “I’m sure it was warmer last year.”

9. I no longer check the weather online every single day. It’s summer, and therefore it will be sunny.

10. Carpets feel weird (that one was my wife´s contribution).

Just another Sunday in Portugal
Just another Sunday in Portugal

Settling in another country is like getting older. When you are about 25, you look back at your 21 year old self and think “I can’t believe how little I knew.” Then you get to 30 and think the same about your 25 year old self. After 20 months of “being Portuguese,” I look back at posts I wrote after just six months in the country and can’t believe I thought I was already settled. It’s all a learning curve, and I feel that even after this long we still have a long way to go. It´s a good job that a fair proportion of it is jolly good fun.

Image credit (Portuguese flag): tiseb

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9 Comments - Write a Comment

  1. My favourite is No 10.. Quality, if somwhat obscure observation. But tells a story in only a few words..

  2. Number three made me laugh. After seven years in London, I’m still getting used to the slow pace of the shopping experience in Lisbon after six months here.

    I’m also getting used to the timekeeping too. If friends arrange to meet up at 10pm, I’ve realised now that you don’t actually turn up at ten!

  3. I vote for No 10.

    Now imagine what we felt, when arriving in NE England and discovered they have carpets on the toillet and bathroom. Actually they have it everywhere….

    Congratulations, I like to “see” you as a Portuguese friend.

  4. Hi Toca – it took us 18 months I think, but we are used to it now!

    Hi CcoR – Thank you as always for your kind good wishes, I will pass on to my wife the popularity of the carpets comment!

  5. · Edit

    You can buy “Rosetta Stone Portuguese” on =)
    My native language is Portuguese and I learned English fluently through immersion. I’m using Rosetta Stone to learn Russian now. Cheers!

  6. · Edit

    Of course Rosetta Stone is expensive, isn’t for everyone and some people don’t like its way of learning (there are a lot of people whom criticize it).

    I learned English fluently through immersion and it’s one of the best tools out there for me. I can’t stand just reading books and never using the language. I learned English through a combination of basic grammar books (30 minutes a day), travelling, listening to music, watching movies and reading books all in English (little translation used and no subtitles) while being a child (I grew up with English and don’t remember when I actually “learned” English… it just comes naturally).

    A tip would be to sit down 30 minutes-1 hour everyday using Rosetta Stone Portuguese and then using what you learned talking to people. If you continue using it everyday you will gain fluency in 1-3 years. Also watch movies and read books in Portuguese (little translation). The easiest way for me to learn a language was by thinking like a native.

    Hope I helped.

  7. Hi Antonia,

    Thank you for your tips. I really ought to be a bit less lazy and put some more effort in. Having said that, i do have an Enid Blyton “Famous Five” book in Portuguese on the bedside table at the moment.

    I have wondered about Rosetta Stone, but was concerned by the fact it is only for Brazillian Portuguese and not European Portuguese….

    Best wishes

  8. Dont come live in here. You might like to visit Portugal,but don’t come to live in here this is a crap of a s****hole its poor, unpolite and disgusting, the economic crisis already caused me cardiac desease and if i cannot make it and go to another country i will end with myself.
    Dont live here. You will be utterly disapointed.

  9. Hi Ana,

    Thank you for your contribution and sorry that you are one of many in Portugal suffering due to the current economic situation. I must say, however, that despite how much harder our own lives have become in the two years since I wrote this post, I would still rather be here than back in England.

    Best wishes,


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