Strictly speaking, yes I am an expatriate, but I cringe when I am referred to as an “expat” — the colloquial shortened form of the word.  I am not quite sure why this is.  It could be that I do not like to be associated with some of the negative connotations that have come to be associated with several “ex-pat” communities; or if I know consider myself to be a proper European who can live anywhere in Europe — or something else entirely.

Yes, I was born in the UK, raised in the UK, and still have a UK passport.  My coloring and skin type is most definitely English, as is my language.  However, now I have moved here and have little or no intentions of returning to the UK to live I think I am evolving into something else — something more than an expat!

I have deliberately steered clear of anything expat.  I did not come to Portugal to be surrounded by my fellow countrymen. I came here to explore a different culture and to discover a different way of life — maybe to embrace being European — or even become Portuguese.

If we were living in the days of the British Colonies, I suspect I would be talked about in hushed but slightly depressed tones: “such a shame she went native.”   I know I have been  referred to as “Rabiet’s Englishwoman” and “the cat lady ” amongst other things by the locals.  More and more I am greeted in Portuguese and treated as Portuguese.

I am also embracing the culture and behavior of my new country. I soon learnt to walk on the shady side of the street, to take a siesta, have at least six brushes/brooms in the house — to deal with the dust — and most importantly not to expect miracles or even good service, compared to the UK, from any arm of the state bureaucracy or national industries.  I have had to relearn how to accept gifts and genuine kindness — not everyone here has a hidden agenda — I have had to lose my finely tuned English cynicism.

This feeling of acceptance and genuine welcoming into the local community has snowballed over the last couple of months where people have been coming forward to help us move.  We were lent trailers, we have been offered extra land for the orchard, our drainage has been dug — but not yet completed — our bathroom fixed, our pool erected, plants and trees donated, parts collected and, last but not least, “M” who has been helping all the way through, has delivered onions, garlic, tomatoes and potatoes, and our landlord’s mother gifts us with fresh warm bread at regular intervals.

I think this has to be the best reason for refusing to be an expat and to live in a colony of expats!

10 Comments

  1. Quite a lovely article, Nicola! It’s grand that you’re assimilating into your new culture with a full commitment. That’s the only way to do it or you’ll always feel, and be treated, as an outsider.

    That bread is to die for — a thousand times! I want to reach out and grab it! SMILE!

    1. SMILE – I think when you leave somewhere because you want to – and not because you have to – there is always an element of wanting or hoping for something more, something different – or maybe to capture something that you have lost or missed first time around.

      I have been reminded by a few people who have known me since childhood that most of my friends at school lived on farms, and that I spent quite a few of my childhood holidays on farms – and of course I lived in rural areas – they think I am reliving my childhood with added knowledge and enough sense to do it in the sun!

      I would send you some bread if I knew it would get to you in the same condition as it arrived here – remind me of that when they invent the means to do it .

      1. I like the farm life, too — that’s a big part of my family history. One of Janna’s friends just bought a four acre farm in Connecticut. He has a two-acre garden that he loves. He used to live in the City. Now his commute is 2 hours to NYC and 2 hours back, on a train, every single workday. He loves it!

        Yes, that bread looks incredible. Nothing better. I think you told me it was still steaming when it arrived! I’ve never eaten bread that fresh before! Now, if I can’t my bread with the steam, I don’t want it! SMILE!

        1. I think Janna’s friend has it right – if he can make the commute work for him – much easier on a train – then I would think he loves it. He has the commute to wake up, plan get his head into gear – even do some work going in and to finish things off and wind down before he gets home to relax in his garden.

          Yes the bread was still steaming when it arrived – you need to find an artisan bakery and get there early in the morning – or a good bread making machine. I left one in the UK with my daughter that you could set on a timer so it was hot when you woke up in the morning. Not quite as good as our neighbors – but an acceptable substitute.

  2. Very nice article. I can relate a little bit. Living overseas (Spain, Japan and Singapore) we tried to embrace the cultures we were in and assimilate to the local way of doing things. Spain was the easiest. But I always knew my “visits” were temporary so I never completely let go of my Americanism. It wasn’t until we moved to Singapore that “expat” came to have a very negative connotation for me. I think it is so wonderful and amazing you have decided to embark on this new chapter of your life and yes, you are evolving! I agree, why live in a new culture if you are simply going to transport your own into it. And how lucky are you to have fresh bread, fruits and veggies dropped off by friendly “natives” on a regular basis.

    1. I can imagine Spain being similar to here – I fell in love with Ibiza too – but could not afford to live there. They have a strong sense of family values there that I admire and a similar community network to the one that we have here.

      Japan and Singapore – wow – I am not sure how I would cope in either of those locations – heat, humidity, very different cultures and all those people. I can almost understand the need to huddle with those of a similar culture.

      I am looking forward to next year when I become part of the giving experience – hopefully our orchard/garden will be up and running by then.

      1. You will have to take photos of your orchid cultivating duties. orchids are so beautiful – i know your neighbors will appreciate that. japan was a challenge. In Spain I became pretty good with the language, I toted my dictionary around a lot for help, but I learned. In Japan, different story, very different culture,and I never really learned how to look up a word or character in Japanese. it was nice to have a network of fellow Americans to share experiences with. Singapore was easy, it’s an English Speaking country, but is rich in Chinese, Indian and Malay culture. I loved it – except for the awful humidity.

        1. there will be pictures – keeping them in some semblance of order is becoming a problem !

          I can imagine having fellow English speakers in Japan was a necessity – I could not cope with the humidity at all .

  3. Nicola —

    I actually love the CT mini-farm idea. It might be the perfect remedy for our FHA woes. Sure, it would be more of a commute for Janna, but I’m also sure it would be more affordable, and enjoyable, all around in every way. I will have to ask her more about it… her friend does love the train ride. He said the WiFi on the trains is upgraded now and it is reliable and fast. The only snag is her evening teaching at NYU three nights a week. Not sure if there’s a reliable train that would be able to bring her back home fast enough.

    The only problem with a bread machine is I’d be baking all day and all night! I’d go broke for all the electricity!

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.