First of all, don’t worry, this is not a ‘Dear João’ break-up letter. It’s quite the opposite. It looks like things are actually getting a bit serious and it might be time to take our relationship to the ‘next level’. At this time, when we as foreigners, immigrants, are approaching about one in 10 of the country’s total population, it seems like a good time to have ‘the talk’.
If we were breaking up, I would be saying “it’s not you, it’s me”. But the thing is, it is you. After a few years now, I can safely say it’s not infatuation. I have fallen for you.
It’s love. Not a mushy, sentimental kind of love, but more the unconditional kind, based on a growing mutual respect and a shared sense of adventure, that you know so well in your own ocean-going soul. And I hope you won’t think me foolish or impetuous as I share with you my hopes for our future together.
First of all, I want to thank you so much for the warmth, kindness and openness that makes you so attractive and special. We turned up here, often speaking your language very badly (if at all) and the first thing you did was laugh. You laughed with us, not at us, and when we made an effort, you continued to smile while sharing your words of encouragement, or should I say encorajamento?
“Devagar, se faz favor,” we implore, as you compassionately stoop to our rudimentary level and respond to any effort we might make to earnestly communicate in Portuguese. That knowing twinkle in your eye means so much.
As we know, good relationships are all about ‘give and take’, and whilst road tolls and IVA might look like a lot of taking at times, you have given far more than you have asked for. In return for mostly blue-sky, heart-warming days, grandmotherly, soul-nourishing food and a grandfatherly generosity with your cheerful wines, you seem to ask for so little in return – not even thinking, like we do, in our imported, transactional way.
But this can’t continue. Courtship and honeymoons have their place in any marriage, and it’s time we settled down. Albeit whilst raising each other up in a more reciprocal arrangement, where our obvious debt can be addressed, and repaid in kind, long into our future together.
How can we repay you? Let me count some, if not ‘the’, ways …
Specifically, dear Portuguese neighbours and colleagues, your profound courteousness and goodwill never fail to inspire and comfort us. We know that we will never out-gift you materially or culturally, but at least accept our tokens of Marmite and Peanut Butter, for example, as gestures of our intent to at least slightly balance the scales of hospitality.
To the local community associations, centres of cultural happenings and you valiant Bombeiros firefighters, how can we help? Beyond chucking a few coins or notes into a bucket, buying the annually-issued calendar and turning up for events (especially where there’s food, drink and dancing, i.e., most of them!), what else can we do to show we care and love what you do?
To the dear civil servants, thank you for your forbearance and patience as we see your systems pushed to capacity by our very presence, and long-promised pay rises come to little or naught. Know that, as we sometimes seem stressed in your company, it’s more a fear of the unknown or an inability to be understood than any ill will or bad feeling on our part. Perhaps one day you will let us speak of our experiences with you, and maybe even suggest improvements from our customer point of view, that might be win-win all-round.
For you, dear politicians, it looks like it’s been a tough few years, with a hard crowd to please, and cynicism at an all-time high. Know that many of us are delighted to invest in the country you serve, pay the taxes that make your society so relatively functional, and can be a resource to your aspirations rather than a scapegoat for your failings. Who among you will be the first to reach out and harness the gifts we estrangeiros bring in terms not only of money, but also expertise and insight that might add to Portugal’s entrepreneurial and progressive aims?
Portugal, be my Inês, and I will aspire to be your Pedro (apart from the glove-kissing bit).
Remember the words of your great poet Pessoa who said: “We never love anyone. What we love is the idea we have of someone”, and that’s good enough for me. An idea that became a reality, for which I will be eternally grateful.
“Love is a fire that burns unseen, a wound that aches yet isn’t felt,” uttered your legendary Camões, who so beautifully captured the subtle but powerful patriotism of Portugal that is so endearing to the newcomers, who can share in a national pride that stops short of xenophobia.
And let’s guess that that bright star who burned too fast, Florbela, would never have imagined her words being co-opted by new arrivals that might so aptly express their love for her country:
“The love I feel for you
Is so deep and runs so true
That I even love the longing
That I feel because of you.”
Inspired by your historical greats, dear Portugal, as I stand before you, heart in hand, let me, with great respect, add an ode of my own to their enduring works:
There once was a man from UK
Who came to Portugal to stay
He liked what he saw
And wanted some more
Now ‘amo-te’ is all he can say