I have loved Portugal for nearly my whole life. I first came here as a little girl for summer holidays with my parents. I can still remember the dry heat of the Portuguese summer, the ice-cream from the beach stalls that was never quite frozen, and the delicious pastries in the cafés. I’ve been coming back to the same city, the same coastline ever since.
The result is that, although I’ve only been actually living in Portugal for over a year, I sort of feel like a local. Take me anywhere in Portugal today and I’ll probably find the place imprinted somewhere in my memory, even though I thought I’d never been there before. I can go to the same ice-cream parlour I went to over 20 years ago and order the same flavour. There are family photos of little me sitting at the top of the farmer’s market steps just like my son does today. No wonder Portugal feels like home.
And then sometimes it is jarringly obvious that I’m not from around here. My Portuguese accent is from Brazil; sometimes I even still have problems understanding the local pronunciation. In the summer, most shop-owners think I’m an English tourist on a week’s holiday. I don’t vote, I’m not up-to-date with Portuguese politics and have no idea what’s on Portuguese TV.
But my most glaring lapse is that I don’t have any Portuguese friends.
It’s not by choice. The local expat community welcomed me with open arms and I simply haven’t had to look elsewhere. In Brazil, you could basically count all the foreigners in the city on one hand. Outside of the big cities, people would look at you funny if you spoke English. Waiters at restaurants would often confuse England with America, London with Miami.
Here, playgroup alone includes mums from Sweden, Germany, the UK and Holland. On Saturdays the organic market is full of French and German people. There are English, American and German schools up and down the coast and nobody blinks an eyelid when you say your child is bilingual.
On the one hand, it’s lovely to be part of such an eclectic international mix of people. In some ways I feel more at ease with other nomads like myself, who know what I’m talking about when I mention living out of boxes or moving every couple of years. But I worry that I’m missing out on the real Portugal. Did I really move here just to buy Waitrose tea at the supermarket and chat about the weather with other Brits?
Of course it’s lovely that I can buy peanut butter and proper English tea bags at the supermarket, but shouldn’t I be experimenting with local ingredients?
At the playground it sometimes feels that there is a bit of a “them and us” mentality between expat and local parents. Of course it’s difficult to mix when you’re not sure if the expats speak Portuguese (many of them don’t). Different attitudes to parenting don’t help: most Portuguese parents look aghast when I let my son splash through puddles without shoes or climb the slide – I in turn can’t believe they take their children to the park in such beautiful clothing (the washing! the ironing!). I wish it weren’t so. I don’t want my son growing up in Portugal but not a part of Portugal.
Since I’ve had no luck sidling up to Portuguese mums in the park, I’m trying to find other ways to connect with my community. A couple of weeks ago I bought a bus pass – what better way to get to know the neighbourhood than via the bus route? Plus, there’s always a friendly pensioner looking to chat about the weather.
Are you an expat or a local in your country? If you’re from abroad do you find it easy to mix with the locals?
This is an original post to World Moms Blog by Julie of Portugal. Photo credit to the author.
Over the past 7 years I have lived in 10 different homes on 2 different continents. To some this will sound like the ultimate adventure, to others it will seem like a nightmare. Even I can’t decide how I feel about it.
At the moment, having lived in temporary accommodation for over six months with a baby under one, it’s feeling more nightmarish than adventurous. My heart aches for a more permanent home, a place to unpack all our boxes and finally set up a room for my baby boy. I’m sick of sitting on someone else’s couch, using the oddly sized cutlery someone else picked out.
It feels like my life is on hold, that I can’t make any real plans until I’m sitting at my own dining room table.
Another part of me knows this is ridiculous. My happiness does not depend on a piece of furniture from IKEA. My baby makes me acutely aware that time is passing every moment and if I don’t enjoy the here and now I’ll suddenly wake up to an 18 year old son and wonder what happened.
And sometimes I can appreciate the adventurous side of it all. When my husband and I look back over the past few years there are so many stories to tell and so many experiences to remember. “Look at where we were last year and where we are now”, we often say. In retrospect our life seems so full. And that can’t be a bad thing.
I do wonder how our nomadic lifestyle is affecting our baby boy. He has moved house 3 times in his short life and it is clear that this does not go unnoticed. For the first few weeks post move he is clingy, unsure of himself. Who could blame him? Every reference point bar his parents has been changed.
Since I cannot provide him with a constant physical space to call home, I focus on making this family, this life his home. If our little family is together that should be enough. Or rather, my dream house in the perfect location wouldn’t feel like home without my two boys in it.
And then again I feel guilty about getting stressed about something as futile as the lack of shelf space or not liking the colour of the walls. I might feel displaced in our rented house but that is nothing compared to the thousands of migrant and refugee families who literally have nowhere to call a home. I often wonder how they do cope, how hard it must be to create a space that feels even just a little bit like a home in a refugee camp or when you’re being shipped from country to country hoping someone will take you in.
So I take a big breath. Everything is okay. This unsettled period in our life will soon pass and be turned into stories. And my baby is still so small that just being close to his mummy and daddy is home enough for him.
What does home mean to you? If you’re living abroad how do you make your house feel like home?
This is an original post to World Moms Blog by Julie from Portugal.
Where in the world do you live? And, are you from there?
At the moment I live just outside a small rural village in the Alentejo region of Portugal. I say at the moment, because I have moved across the Atlantic from Brazil to Portugal and back again more times than I can count in the last six years. My background is even more complicated. I was born in a small village just outside Munich in Germany to an English mother and German father, meaning that I consider both England and Germany to be my home countries. As an added twist, my maternal grandmother was also born in Munich but emigrated to England just before WWII…I guess I have a multicultural, nomadic bent in my blood.
What language(s) do you speak?
English is the language I work in and speak to my baby boy, my husband is Brazilian so we also speak Portuguese at home – unfortunately, I now only speak German to relatives from my father’s side of the family. That doesn’t leave much space in my brain for the smattering of French and Spanish I learnt at school, which doesn’t stop me from trying whenever I get the chance!
When did you first become a mother (year/age)?
In July 2014 I gave birth to a beautiful baby boy in the city of Vila Velha, Brazil just a few months shy of my thirtieth birthday. We started trying for a baby about a year beforehand because we felt we would be happy to settle in our apartment by the beach for a while. Of course, life had other plans and we ended up moving to Portugal with a 4-month old baby in our hand luggage.
Are you a stay-at-home mom or do you work?
Both. I stay at home with my baby boy and work from home as a freelance translator. I feel very lucky to be able to do this.
Why do you blog/write?
Because I can! Teachers at school and university were always critical about my writing style, which meant I left higher education feeling that I was a complete failure at writing. That changed when I sat the UK translation diploma and chose Literature as one of my specialties. Passing this exam the first time gave me a super boost of confidence. Just perhaps those teachers at school had been wrong about me? I’m still finding out.
What makes you unique as a mother?
Everything and nothing. I’m a bit of an introvert and being a mother has made it much easier for me to connect to other parents – I feel that no matter our background, beliefs or culture we immediately have something in common. On the flip side, parenting can be quite isolating when you feel other people don’t share the same ideas on how to raise children. That’s why the internet can be such a great resource – when you feel like you’re on your own, you’ll always find a mother with a similar outlook blogging from somewhere in the world.
What do you view as the challenges of raising a child in today’s world?
Giving our kids the freedom to grow. Everywhere I look children seem to be limited in some way. Babies are taught to sit still in strollers. Primary school kids can no longer walk to school. School days are getting longer and more test-oriented. Afternoons are filled by a strict regime of activities. While all of these decisions are made in the best interest of the child, I feel it is limiting their ability to grow naturally both physically and mentally,.
How did you find World Moms Blog?
One of those lazy, rainy pre-baby days where you first click on one link, then on another, then another and suddenly find yourself at World Moms Blog!
These interview questions were answered by Julie from Portugal for World Moms Blog.