What I miss about the UK and what I would miss about Portugal

Our in-country writer, Ben Taylor, has put together his thoughts on dealing with homesickness – or lack thereof!

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I’ll be honest: I don’t miss much about the UK. I think most long-term expats would say the same. After four years, Portugal is truly home to us, and we’ve adapted to the way things are, both the good and the bad.

When we first started living in Portugal, the things we missed were mainly food-related. We would have random cravings for things like scotch eggs, pork pies and taramasalata. However, everything changed a couple of years ago when a branch of Iceland opened in nearby Albufeira.

For a while, trips to Iceland became a regular fixture in our calendar, and we binged on these unhealthy items, along with lots of frozen cheesecakes and (to our shame) oven-baked Gregg’s sausage rolls. It didn’t take long for the novelty to wear off, and for us to realise that we’re actually quite happy with our Portuguese diet. While we’re still known to pop in on occasion, our trips to Iceland are now far less frequent.

There are two food items we still miss quite badly: all manner of expat-focused restaurants sell “fish and chips,” but there’s no substitute for the real thing, which for us must be served from a soggy bag and ideally eaten on Brighton seafront. We also miss good burgers, something we just can’t seem to find in the Algarve and, as such, a trip to Gourmet Burger Kitchen is usually at the top of our agenda when we travel to London.

When we first moved to Portugal, we travelled back to the UK quite regularly for work, but this all changed when my wife was made redundant. As a result, we haven’t been back as often, and we are starting to miss the occasional trip, if only to experience a busy city for a few days, which always serves to make us appreciate our slow pace of life even more.

We also miss many of our good friends. While we now have a good network of friends here, city friendships are rather different, and immune to the small-town drama and politics that tend to permeate certain relationships in a place where people generally have less to do!

All in all, however, we have nothing to complain about. When it comes to what we would miss if we had to leave Portugal, the list is enormous.

Of course we’d miss the weather. I, personally, would miss the shimmering views of the Atlantic that punctuate every car journey and ride on my moped. I’d miss the buzz of the crickets in the evening, and the unmistakable scent of the summer that lingers in the air for half the year.

I’d miss the markets, the fish and the cheap, tasty wine. I’d miss the long weekend days, the barbecues and the candlelit swims in the family’s pool. I’d especially miss the cheerful smile and “bom dia” from almost everyone I pass when I walk around the local town.

Most of all though, I’d miss simply being in Portugal – the place I now call home. Despite this, there are still times when I feel like a foreigner:


1. In government buildings
Government red tape in Portugal is beyond horrific, and trips to the council office (camara), medical centre (centro do saude), or tax department (financas), are all things to dread.


Apparently, a lot of people who staff these departments can speak English, but we’ve yet to find a government employee willing to. They will, however, shrug a lot, shake their heads violently, and look bewildered at the stream of Portuguese you have rehearsed intensively. This isn’t because you’re an expat – the Portuguese get exactly the same treatment!

2. In supermarkets in winter
Perhaps a slightly strange choice, but even after a long time here I still find myself in disbelief as to how badly supermarkets can be stocked in the off-season period.

Obviously I grew up with UK supermarkets, where it’s rare to find anything truly out of stock, but in the Algarve, where the summer population is far larger than the winter population, it’s not unusual to experience winter days with no fish, no beef or no chicken. Sometimes it’s best to just improvise and not involve a list, as you’ll often hear expats moaning about the need to visit three supermarkets to get everything they need.

3. When people are being friendly
Even though I can now speak basic Portuguese, this sometimes makes me feel more helpless than when I couldn’t speak it at all!

Just the other day, a stranger stopped to chat about my electric bike. I was able to say how fast and far it goes on a battery charge and how long I’d had it for. The individual then proceeded to talk to me for another five minutes and I didn’t understand a word. It made me feel incredibly stupid, and to this day I’m not sure whether I may have arranged to meet him somewhere in the future!

What we must make our peace with is the fact that we ARE immigrants in this country, and that we will always look British. As such, people will frequently address us in English, and until our Portuguese is fluent we’ll in no position to object without looking foolish.

The good news is that learning the language does get easier, and it’s a great feeling when you reach the stage when you can crack a joke in Portuguese and make people laugh in your non-native language. Whether they laugh at me or with me…well, it may be a couple more years until I know for sure…


Further reading for Living In Portugal

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Finding work in Portugal

There are a number of ways that UK expats can fund their lifestyle in Portugal.
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Social life in Portugal

The best way to get settled in Portugal is to find out as much as you can about your new community.
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Heathcare

One of the first things you need to do once you arrive in Portugal is find out where your nearest hospital is.
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Education in Portugal

Are you emigrating to Portugal with school-age children?
 

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