Learning to live with ourselves – warts and all!

By DAVID LEWIS [email protected]

David Lewis lives in Praia da Luz with his wife Shirley, and two children, Ollie and Fraser. Having spent more than 25 years in the City of London, he is now Financial Services Manager with the Oceânico Group.

In last month’s article, I mentioned that I have always been one of life’s great optimists. To be frank, I find it a really helpful way to put all the woes of the world (and, boy, are there things to fret about if we choose to do so!) into some sort of reasonable context.

And I don’t think I’m necessarily the only one either. It’s one of the things that I noticed most when we first came to Portugal – problems which, back in the UK,  would require much consternation and hand-wringing, are dealt with here by a simple shrug of the shoulders and the kind of look that our spaniel gives me when he has just chewed up the latest copy of the Algarve Resident.

Attitudes here seem so different. We all talk about the Portuguese having a more laid-back approach to life. What we really mean, of course, is that people here worry a little bit less about problems, and about who is at fault when things go wrong.

The growing blame culture is largely the reason why the UK is careering headlong into the US-style world of expensive litigation and why British children can’t play conkers without a crash helmet and full, flame-retardant body suit. Yet, here in the Algarve, the only protection you have against a 40 foot drop from a cliff-top is good, old-fashioned common sense. And quite rightly so.

The problem in the UK is that, when something goes wrong, we feel obliged to endlessly debate the cause, before turning to the even less appealing practice of finding someone to blame. Don’t get me wrong. I am still proud to be British but I do think there are some aspects of our national personality, which are just a little less attractive and where, I believe, we could learn a lot from our Portuguese hosts.

The problem, in my opinion, is twofold. Firstly, we have largely forgotten to take responsibility for our own actions – it’s so much easier to find someone else to blame than to own up and take the consequences. Secondly, there are some who find it far too easy to form judgments about others – maybe it’s the result of a culture increasingly driven by the sensationalist nature of the tabloids but it’s not very pleasant, nonetheless.

Many of us will have come across individuals in our own lives who have been caught, shall we say, with their trousers down. Bang to rights, made a mistake and got caught out. Rather than admit to it, however, how often do we see those same individuals desperately trying to justify events by blaming everyone but themselves. “It wasn’t my fault!” they cry, before trying to point their finger at innocent parties.

Adding to the problem, of course, we seem to have encouraged a culture of gossip precipitated by those who, if they didn’t have the misfortunes of others to paw over and dissect, would, quite literally, have no lives of their own – quick to seize the latest story before managing, with an almost Roald Dahl-esque imagination, to turn what starts as an unfounded rumour into a bigger event than the Profumo scandal.  

So, what must our Portuguese friends make of all this? I’m not suggesting that, even in Portugal, there are not some who would respond in exactly the same way. What I fear, however, is that we visitors to a foreign land will import, not just an endearing habit for Marmite and Branston pickle, but a less appealing taste for blame and gossip.

Portugal is a country where life should be so much simpler. If things go wrong, blame yourself first before trying to blame others. Take people at face value; don’t be quite so quick to form judgments and then rush off to tell your friends.

In short, take life a little easier. Relax.  Not only will you enjoy life more, but people may just like you a little better too.