When I tell expat friends that we are looking forward to celebrating a local fiesta over Sunday afternoon with masses of beautifully cooked local specialties and home made wine. They are understandably jealous of the gastronomy however its the fact that we will be among thirty Portuguese family and friends that really surprises them.
Often people ask me how we became integrated into the local Portuguese community was it just because we have been here for a while? did we already know people or have family members in the area?
Many people come here to rural central Portugal with the intent of mixing with and making friends with local people and find it more difficult or requiring more effort than they realized and they slowly give up and start relying on the more incestuous but easier local expat network of foreigners.
A friend told me that when he went to the tiny Caribbean island of Montserrat to live and work he was worried about how and if he would fit in. He likens the society and culture of Montserrat to what he has found here in central Portugal and there are some very interesting parallels when he explained his experience there.
He said that the islanders were all related in some degree to each other so they knew everyone in the area. Everyone was friendly and welcoming. That everyone he spoke to for the first time would already know all about him (sound familiar yet ?) I could go on however this is the little gem of advice that he gave me.
He was told by a good friend from the island that he should go to church. Not every week but a few times so that people could associate him with the church community and therefore as a good person. Which of course would quickly break down the barriers.
I would go a little further and say that here in rural Portugal the best way to break down barriers is firstly to slow down the pace of your life a little when interacting with the people in your village (I think of it as changing down a gear).
Instead of saying bom dia (good day) and walking on say bom dia and follow it with a com esta ? How are you. Now here is the the hard part. Wait for the answer before moving on.
Practice a few phrases in Portuguese that will make sense to a local persons personal perspective. How is your potato crop this year?. Or that is a beautiful goat how old is it ? for instance. It matters not if you don’t fully understand the answer you have just demonstrated to the person that you spoke too that you are not the high flying aloof millionaire that they all thought you were.!
Here is a more dangerous question. You could ask who someone. Who they were related too in the village. You could be there all day !
Once you have made even a slight friendship with neighbor that will give people something to position you against in the local area. You are not someones cousin or related to someone in the next village. You are that nice woman Susana who lives next to Donna Maria Lourdes. This is how you will be known until they know your name and were you are from over time.
Portugal has so much more to offer than sun and beautiful countryside why don’t you enjoy it to the maximum.
Part two will be a little more radical so get ready !