This is the epilogueof my stint in Portugal. Wayne and I are headed back to the US tomorrow. It was three years ago that I quit my job and we began making preparations to move to Portugal. A great adventure, friends either said “wow, I wish I could do that” or “why are you doing that?” Please read back through our blogposts if you want to know about our time here, but, this post is about our exit, and the emotions attached to it.
Disclaimer #1: After some previous posts, I’ve had responses of people wanting to know why I’m leaving Portugal – like there must be some dark secret of something wrong with the place. We arrived here with the mindset of trying it to see if we liked it. There’s nothing wrong with Portugal. There’s so much that’s brilliant with Portugal, and there’s some stuff screwed up about Portugal. Just remember, every place has its mixture, no matter where you go.
Disclaimer #2: Many expats, some Americans, have moved here before me, have been here many years, and will stay til they die. They are definitely pioneers. I say, kudos, it worked out for them. Some Americans, yet to make the move, are asking multitudes of questions that seem like they want reassurances that this will be the place for them. I say, go with your heart, you’ll find out. This is not a post about suggestions or advice, it is only my little story of my experience.
When we arrived in Setúbal on October 1, 2016, very few people here spoke English – the tourist centers and a few restaurants. We were an oddity – Americans in Setúbal. We were interviewed by Casa da Baia as the only Americans in the town. People often mistook us for French, only because it was obvious we weren’t portuguêse and those were pretty much the only other foreigners in town. In short, we were the darlings. Many folks we met thought were adorable with our feeble, awkward attempts to speak the language and that we were not European yet still living in this town. We walked up, out and about, just thrilled to be exploring this new town and new country. We enrolled in Portuguese language lessons for 3 hours a week. We found a fabulous apartment after our initial 6 mo lease was up and settled in to life near our lap pool, our language lessons and our favorite park.
What I began to miss was an ease of chatting. I joined a local needle craft group. I attended the local Qi Gong classes. We tried to provide community service several ways. We joined the municipal pool. All these experiences were conducted in Portuguese. We even taught a 10-week ballroom dance course em portuguêse. They were great for learning the language, but, I couldn’t just chat as I like to. I simply wanted to tell a checkout clerk that I liked her blouse. I merely wanted to joke a little with a waiter. I also missed the ease of complaining or researching what I needed to know with stores and businesses. Lack of the local language is limiting.
Then we were blind-sided by the coldness of the buildings during our second winter. If you look at the temperature averages for the winters here, they seem not so bad. We had no preparation for the cold of the concrete buildings which had no central heat. It was usually less cold outside than in our home during the second winter. I observed our neighbors wearing knit caps and jacket inside their homes. It was tough to do my creative work, because my studio was just too f’ing cold. When I can’t create, I go into a dark place.
After two years, Wayne and I decided that we would return to the US. The reasons for us were simple. Life every day was just harder than we wanted it to be and we had no “village” to have fun with. Between the language challenges and the cultural differences, any task took a full day to accomplish and a full day to recover from the stress and effort. Although we have a few lovely, generous Portuguese friends, and can speak more Portuguese than I ever would have dreamed of when starting lessons, there was still no sense of ease as one has with buddies.
Here’s the rub. We visited the US in autumn of 2018 to scout out places to live. Upon our return, we were committed to returning to the US and focused on dispensing with the kitchen machines and furniture which we had bought 2 years before. Satisfied with the decision. Ready to move back and reclaim a community. I decided to attend a meetup I noticed online for expats in Setúbal. I admit my motivations were purely mercenary. Maybe someone there would take all this stuff off our hands.
We met some great folks who not only took the furniture and machines, but, the apartment off our hands. The ironic part of the story is that we wish they had been here 2 years ago. We will miss them dearly. What is also happening is a tsunami of Americans not only coming to Portugal, but also coming to Setúbal. Many of the Portuguese folks who did not speak English when we arrived have since learned and now speak it. There is a regular English-speaking meetup group. There’s a women’s group that goes on regular outings. There is a supportive community developing that I dreamed of when we first arrived. Kinda like how Chinatowns and Little Italys developed in the US.
This is where I feel like a pioneer. I came to explore and discover, did my best to create a life here until I no longer had the stamina, breaking a path for others to follow with a bit more ease. Don’t get me wrong, I’m no saint. I certainly didn’t move to Portugal for the benefit of anyone but myself and my husband. It’s just a bittersweet glance over my shoulder that what I deeply longed for when we first arrived is now blossoming as I leave.
What’s that you say? If it’s becoming what you want, why don’t you just stay? My answer is, I’m just done. We arrived too soon – it’s too little too late- it’s just time for me to go. I know that I will always have a huge welcoming committee whenever I decide to come back to visit. There are many happy, glorious memories for us here and a big warm spot in our hearts. I learned so much about myself and perspectives of other cultures. I enthusiastically recommend for anyone that can, to live in a country that uses a different language than yours…for at least a year.
I move to my next community where I will have my creative space, happy hour gal chats, community contributions, and my ocean. Whether deserved or not, I will enjoy feeling that we helped to clear a path, we were respectful of the culture and the language, we made it somewhat easier for others to find their bliss, as we now find ours.
Foi um prazer grande meus amigos e Portugal. Beijinhos. Até logo.