Residents of Portugal from other parts of the world – so what should we call ourselves?

During a recent conversation with Amy Glasser, 65, a retired American who lives in Lagos with her husband Sonny Meehan, 73, also a retired social worker, she made the point that she didn’t want to be called “an expat” but rather considered herself an immigrant. This put ol’Pat into an immediate panic.

For clarity purposes, am I going to have to change my pen name to “Irving, the immigrant”? Besides some minor branding concerns, I did realise that there are also some important distinctions.

When my lovely wife and I taught school in the Bahamas many years ago, our two-year contract included a return ticket. Even though we were very much involved in the local community, that spoke English by the way, with teaching, coaching, theatre and social life, we fitted the definition of expatriate or expat as “someone who resides outside her/his native country on a temporary basis”.

If you look it up (always a good idea), an immigrant is “someone who moves to another country to live permanently”. However, just to be sure, I looked up expat and was informed that it is often a vaguely general term referring to “a person residing in a country other than their native country”.

So, while Glasser is technically correct, since they bought an apartment and have no intention of moving back to Washington State, the “Patster” seems to be able to keep his designation as well, unless it’s not that simple and, of course, it’s not.

I also talked about this issue with Lagos residents Betsy O’Hara, 76, an American who is retired from a career in tourism and marketing, and her husband Clive Atherton, 79, who is a retired UK citizen, after a career in IT.

O’Hara had an interesting perspective since that during a previous marriage, she lived in Germany for 32 years. For a variety of reasons, she reports that she never felt at home or welcomed and remembers being referred to as “an alien” (you can call me Al).

O’Hara notes that the people of Portugal, at least in the Algarve, seem much more friendly and tolerant of people from other parts of the world. Both she and her husband have no problem considering themselves expats even though they too own an apartment and plan to stay.

Atherton made an interesting point when he suggested that there might be a distinction of class or status in the way many of us consider the terms ‘expat’ versus ‘immigrant’, and Wikipedia also implies so. According to the internet’s most referred to source of information, “In common usage, the term often refers to educated professionals, skilled workers, or artists taking positions outside their home country, either independently or sent abroad by their employers.”

So, ordinary working folks who are moving country, legal or not, are often considered immigrants. It did occur to Betsy, Clive and yours truly that you never hear of “illegal expats”. Also, please notice that even Wikipedia doesn’t know where to place retirees in this discussion.

Atherton also finds himself in a somewhat unique and somewhat common situation in which he used to be a citizen of the European Union and now, because of Brexit, is a foreigner.

According to Rui Caetano, 53, a Portuguese who lived in the States for 37 years but now has returned to his homeland and has become an important source of information to the so-called expat community, that is exactly what the Portuguese call us – foreigners or, more precisely, “estrangeiros” (Fred, the foreigner?).

This is a classification that our neighbour German, Dutch or French residents don’t have to concern themselves with, whether owning a second home or their primary residence.

O’Hara mentioned that she read somewhere that being an expat was “a lifestyle choice” and that seemed to me to be a relevant concept which certainly brought many, if not most, of our resident retirees in focus. While some pensioners do feel as if they are escaping some of the negativity, discord, and violence that is currently causing the USA to feel so divided (Glasser certainly feels that way and she’s not alone), they are not technically, nor can they qualify as, refugees.

Even if they could afford to live at a standard, which they had become accustomed to in the States, they chose to come to Portugal because of the cost of living, the lovely weather and the general feeling of safety. They weren’t forced to flee like those huddled at the Mexican/US border (so there’s no danger of having to switch to Ralph, the Refugee).

We’re lucky to have exercised a lifestyle choice. Take Mike Wasinski, 59, and Frank Remiatte, 53, for example. Both took early retirement; Wasinski from teaching and Remiatte, who worked in the insurance industry, and moved to Portimão. After considering Belize because they weren’t sure that they could afford to live in Europe, they were thrilled to discover that Portugal was within their range even with high gasoline prices.

These guys, who are active founding members of Americans Living in the Algarve (ALITA, which now has 1,800 members online), not only were happy with the Algarve weather that was similarly pleasant to San Diego, where they lived before coming here, but they really liked the idea of being able to travel throughout Europe. They’ve already visited Germany and are looking forward to more opportunities now that restrictions are being lifted.

Ol’Pat agrees. Portugal feels like it is on the doorstep of Europe. Even with a two-year hiatus because of the pandemic, my lovely wife and I have visited Barcelona, Marrakesh, London and Amsterdam as well as the Isle of Jersey over the past five years.

Considering the convenience of travel, low-cost flights to the UK and the proximity of Spain, France and Italy and the rest of the continent, Atherton suggested that since we’re from all over the States and the world, we could refer to ourselves as “globetrotters” (Gary, the Globetrotter would be a good name for a blog, if I had one).

Remiatte and Wasinski hope to become dual citizens, since Remiatte’s grandparents were Portuguese. With two passports, their travel options would be virtually limitless. O’Hara and Atherton have also passed the language requirement on their way to becoming citizens of Portugal. While Glasser and Meehan (who also lived in the Netherlands for five years) and, yes, my lovely wife and I aren’t as confident that we’ll ever be able to learn what for us is a difficult language, we too have every intention of staying here in Portugal “for the foreseeable future”.

Especially in the Algarve, because of the extensive British influence and the welcoming nature of the local people, English is generally spoken here, making daily life quite livable (please don’t fire off an angry letter. Of course, every resident should work at learning the language and we’ll do the best we can).

All this means that Pat is not going to change his nom de plume. After all, my column is published in the “Lifestyle” section of the leading English-language newspaper in Portugal, and I feel extremely fortunate to be able to enjoy the expat lifestyle, as a part of a truly global community.

By Pat, the expat
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For the previous 10 years, Pat lived in Panama which used to be rated above Portugal as a top retirement destination (but not any more), where he wrote a column for a tourist publication.