Portugal, I love you | by Maureen Ferguson

The Portuguese people will steal your heart – but they won’t do it with the grand gesture or a sweeping statement. These warm, curious and sweetly shy people reveal their depth, their soulfulness, the very thing that makes them so special, layer by layer.

The first time I visited Portugal, it was as a tourist, and I was smitten. Its art and architecture, food and wine, its history and culture, the beaches, the sunshine – thousands of books, magazine articles and blog posts have been written that sing its praises. They are not wrong. These things abound here. But what makes Portugal unique from any other place I know is impossible to capture on paper.

Let me try.

Now that I live here, I’ve made friends, I have family and I (finally) have the places in my neighborhood that I depend upon — my pharmacy, my tasca, my cafe and my pastelaria. As such, I’ve been able to observe and interact with people here on a deeper level. As an American, these are some of the things that I adore.

Portuguese faces. They say that eyes are the window to the soul. I’m not sure where this saying came from, but it must have been written about the Portuguese. I find the people here to have a gentleness, a sweet shyness at first glance – but their eyes tell a different story.  Their eyes carry within them centuries of sadness and longing, of love and loss, of warmth and connection. There is a whole world written across the Portuguese face and they are able to express a multitude of emotions with one look, one gesture.

Personal space. Maybe it comes from living in a small country, but the Portuguese notion of personal space is virtually non-existent. On the street, in the store and certainly with friends and loved ones, there is a lot of touching. They walk close, they talk close, they want to make sure you understand whatever it is they are trying to say. I’ve seen Portuguese people approach a police officer to ask a question and hold the officer’s arm while they talk. Meu Deus. This would never happen in the States. I’ve totally embraced this way of life. I love the closeness and connectedness that I feel daily. Except in the car – I break out in a cold sweat when I think about the Portuguese and their driving habits.

Pride of place. Sit around a table with Portuguese friends for long enough and eventually someone will say “you know, the Portuguese invented that / discovered that / are responsible for that…” And then even if they have to go back through the millennia, they will explain why, for example, British fish & chips, Jewish challah bread or Japanese tempura are of Portuguese origin. While they are quick to poke fun at themselves, they have a deep love, respect, and knowledge of their history and heritage.

At the table. Which brings me to the Portuguese national sport, and no it’s not futebol. It’s food. These are people who have a passion for talking and a passion for eating and a passion for talking about eating. We spend hours talking about food – the best fish in Algarve, the porco preto from Alentejo, Serra da Estrella cheeses, wine from the Douro, the chestnuts from someone’s grandma’s village. It goes on and on. And in fact, this would be my single best piece of advice for expats who have recently moved to Portugal and are starting to make friends – ask anyone about their favorite foods or the best foods of any region. Even better – ask a group of people. Then sit back and enjoy — the magic is about to begin.

A love of language. The Portuguese are the best English speakers I’ve encountered outside of the United States (and even then…). They have an aptitude for language that I think is hardwired into them from their years as the greatest explorers in the world. They are delighted (and amused) by my shaky Portuguese and always encouraging. It can feel stressful as an expat to try to speak their language, cringing at every mistake. The Portuguese people never make me feel like an outsider, and in fact, often reward me with a sweet use of their own language for example by calling me “menina.” It warms my soul – and reminds me daily how lucky I am to call this beautiful country home, and these beautiful people, friends.

Maureen_Ferguson_Cascais

PS: Maureen Ferguson is an American national, who found the love of her life when she met a Portuguese guy called João in Philadelphia. Since their recent moved to Portugal, Maureen as has been soaking in everything about Portugal. These are her first words about the Portuguese. And what beautiful words they are.

Feature photo credits to Emanuele Siracusa

I dedicate my award winning travel writing and photography to the soul and sense of place of the locations I visit, the people I meet and the food I taste.
  • Rui Oliveira

    Excellent article, it’s heartwarming to see an american capture so well our people. Thank you

  • WannaFight?DamnYou!

    She’s Portuguese, not American. She was born in America by a random act of chance, is all.

    • Amazing comment. Thank you!

    • Maria Connie da Silva

      And they say Portuguese are dumb! Wanna Fight? Damn you are sharp as only a Portuguese can be; great comment!

      • WannaFight?DamnYou!

        As if, we’re second to none. And welcome back. 😊

  • Ana Moiteiro

    Thank you…. proud of …..

    • Thanks Ana

      • Ana Moiteiro

        De nada…. orgulhosa de ser Tuga, orgulhosa de estrangeiros verem o nosso potencial como Povo e País, e orgulhosa do seu/teu Artigo…..

  • Maria

    Maureen, what a beautiful article you have in here! “shy” “shy”! You’re so very welcome in our little garden planted by the sea!:)

  • João Perdigão

    intelligent, wise, sensitive woman! there’s a song for your story. Teena Marie – Portuguese love

  • Pedro Canelas

    You are already invited to visit us in Cascais and taste your Pastelaria. Thanks so mutch

  • paulovsky

    As a Portuguese living abroad, this is a heart warming article. About the language issue, specially English, one of the reasons is because in Portugal we have contact with foreign languages through TV, where movies and TV shows are (almost) never dubbed. Also English is taught since grammar school.

    • Thanks Paulo. Glad you liked the piece

    • Ana Raquel Vilela

      so true…. I believe is the only truly acculturation that portuguese TV does to portuguese people. My personal opinion is that portuguese tv is really bad, sensationalist and terrible.

      • paulovsky

        that’s a whole different discussion! 🙂

  • Kevin Mullins

    Maureen nailed it! Like her, I immigrated TO Portugal FROM the U.S. and obtained Portuguese citizenship. Love this country and her people.

    • Thanks Kevin. Its good to read such heartwarming words

    • Ana Raquel Vilela

      I’m really happy you guys made it! I feel touched you are happy in Portugal! It’s in fact a great place to be if you don’t have financial problems … I’m portuguese and expat in switzerland and although this country is known for beauty and wealth … social and culturally are years behind Portugal and most of European countries.. :/

  • David Southwell

    Saudades. I too once lived there for 14 years. I long to visit again. Great article and right on point.

    • David Southwell

      I will have life long friends despite the distance

  • Maria Custódio

    What a beautiful article! <3 Obrigado and welcome Maureen!

  • Ana Raquel Vilela

    I’m so happy you found your love and loving place to be happy together – I’m joyful that’s in Portugal! I’m portuguese and an expat… makes me wanna cry really. I love my country <3 I had an experience in Philly too, I did a museum internship in Penn Museum sponsored by portuguese government 🙂

  • Richard Furtado

    I’m English with a Portuguese wife. We moved to Portugal from London (at my suggestion) and have been living here for 30 years. Ever since we moved here this has been home, and it feels more like it every time I come back from a trip abroad.
    Our children were 3 years and 1 year old when we moved and for twenty years we secretly wondered whether they would think we’d done the wrong thing, but when we plucked up the courage to ask, the answer was a resounding “No way. We are glad to have been brought up here.”
    Which leads to another important point about life in Portugal. Kids are part of life. You can take them with you everywhere. The idea of leaving the kids at home to eat out at a restaurant, for example, is absolutely alien. And in a reputedly machista society, even the most macho of my wife’s male cousins have always taken pleasure in talking to and playing with the kids.
    Thank you, Portugal.

    • Hello Richard. What an amazing story, Thank you very much for sharing. Yes, I hadn’t thought about that. Its true that kids are a part of everyday life and everyone embraces them. Happy that you found happiness in Portugal

  • Debora Ramos

    wow. I am genuinely touched by all this love for Portugal. I am living in England but I do miss my country and often question myself whether to go back or to stay which is a hard choice when we have young children. Make no mistake England is my living home, Portugal is my soul… Yes we are very emotional and we have o fear to show how we feel. I would even dare to say that it is actually almost impossible for a Portuguese to hide our emotions. The food, Oh My God. There is no portuguese in this all world that is not proud about our food.So varied, so healthy, so tasty. I could talk about it for hours. My work colleagues must be fed up… And yes we are explorers we travel and we adapt to most places without ever forgetting our history and culture. Because of all these factors we have wonderful poets and writers. And also agree with Richard Furtado about the kids. We go nowhere without them. Thank you for all Portuguese lovers for these touching text and comments 🙂

  • Tracey K. Conner

    Beautifully written. After my couple visits I agree on all counts! I too love Portugal, her people, culture, and food! …. Well maybe not the pig ears …

    P.S. a the owner of two beautiful Cão da Serra da Estrela, please correct the one word. 🙂

  • Mariana

    I just think it’s awesome that you used a picture of Sr. Delfim and his wife for this post. Because they are one of the most amazing couples I’ve come across. Also, Tasca do Sr. Delfim in Arcos de Valdevez (where this picture was taken) is such an amazing place. I’ve went there one day to visit, and Sr. Delfim delight us with is concertina playing, while is wife light up the fireplace and put there some chestnuts for us. <3

  • Ron Stanford

    I live in both Toronto and Portugal. Portugal is by far the better of the two! A wonderfully honest and warming appraisal of all things Portuguese!

  • Janica Ribeiro

    Maureen Ferguson thank you! Never had anyone described us so well, I am almost in tears ( yes, soulful, emphatic , nostalgic) you have made my day. I wish you every happiness in my Portugalzinho, life is not complete without an inho!