Where are YOU in your Portuguese journey and the dream life in Portugal many strive for, and growing numbers are lucky to be trying?
You may be reading these words like someone planning a wedding, a pile of bridal magazines on the coffee table, with a somewhat aspirational cut to your jib, enjoying your Portuguese life-to-be vicariously for now.
You might imagine yourself in the scenes you see, taste on your mind’s tongue the flavours others write about, all while creating an ever-lengthening to-do list that will ensure the most stress-free passage to Portugal.
Maybe you are here already? One of the many recently-landed peri- and post-pandemic shapers and movers who are just finding their feet – still searching for or finally furnishing your forever home, creating new routines, and enjoying daily ‘café e pastéis de nata’ in the first days of the rest of your life.
Then, there’s the now-seasoned and occasionally-cynical veterans, with growing years of sun-kissed, and sometimes hard-won, experience. Portugal’s warmth in your bones, it’s light showing on your face, and lines there too that could be laughter- or bureaucracy-induced, probably both.
At whichever of these migratory milestones you find yourself, you are, of course, in some way enchanted or blessed by Portugal. I feel your pleasure, and your pain, whether you are in the wonder of wooing, exhausted yet rosy in the honeymoon period, or in that rarer condition of considering divorce on the darkest and longest of your days here.
Let me put it another way as a somewhat seasoned, only slightly cynical, but definitely a no-longer-Pollyanna Portuguese resident. I know of all the archetypes I speak of, if not from personal experience, then as an observer of more than my fair share of ‘comers’ and ‘goers’, in the front-line as a relocation role model.
Put simply, you’re either at the first ‘what’s what?’ stage; at second base, with a developing case of ‘what now?’; or drifting into ‘what next?’, where all will end up, but about which so little, sadly, is said.
I will put that right today, so that when one day you shout: “By Jove! He was right!” (or your equivalent exclamation, should you not be The Greatest Showman), you will know exactly what to do to address your predicament.
And in all seriousness, I believe that this third stage – the ‘what next?’ – is hugely influential in not only determining your chances of growing old in Portugal but also in informing and inspiring the very quality of your life as you age here.
The first step-stage – the ‘what’s what?’ – though complex and potentially stressful, is actually quite straightforward in the scheme of long-term life abroad.
These are the nuts and bolts of what you need to move from A to B or, in our case, A to P for Portugal.
The what-by-when’s that qualify and enable your move, where a growing number of professionals and service providers await you, the ones who will become your little black book of all the contacts and information you needed for a successful move and settling in.
That done and, believe me, I don’t mean to minimise the strain and stretch it can be, it’s time to relax, adjust and set your sail for the retirement horizon or the new business you are planning here.
Welcome to your new way of life, of living, and the lived experience of all you visualised, and were drawn to, in the process of choosing Portugal and moving here.
If residency is the marriage, this is the ‘honeymoon’. It’s time to consummate all that was once fantasy and is now reality. The moments of presumed joy made manifest. Dreams lived, not in the cold light of day for us incomers, but the warm bright Portuguese sunshine and 300 blue-sky days that we once only read about or heard others speak of.
Before us, in the ‘what now?’ days, lie blank canvases. The hard work of wandering is done, and nests are getting made. Once familiar routines have vapourised, old friends appear smaller in the rear-view mirror, new experiences and friends are calling.
As with all honeymoons, the highs are high and the lows infrequent, made well again quickly by optimism, romance and rose-tinted eyewear. Enjoy it, we should. Let’s ‘make memories’, as people say. Truly, and not from a world-weary place, I do urge you to make the most of these precious and perfect times because they will pass.
They pass not because of anything peculiarly Portuguese. They pass because all times pass and all minds adjust, as our egos, quite rightly, attempt to create safety and ensure survival.
Familiarity, we know, can breed contempt. But we can be mindful to not let that happen too rapidly, assisted and inspired as we are by a land and culture so rich in surprise and delight that can keep dull care at bay, and life-numbing normality at arm’s length.
So, here we are, in the ‘what now?’, our new lives being shaped by our own hands, our ears re-tuning and feet moving to different rhythms, where the quiet call of ‘what next?’ will occasionally whisper from the other side of the pastelaria (café) as you approach what I call ‘Peak Pastel de Nata’.
What was new to the senses is, to some extent, getting normalised and all that glitters, to coin a phrase, is not the gold it once seemed to be.
Good for you, you have raised the bar of the quality of your life. You live among lovely people; you enjoy their delightful food and wine in safety and social ease.
But ‘what next?’
This new, slight unease is not limited to moving from one country to another. This is likely to happen with the realisation of any major life goal, whether it be marriage, a promotion or the acquisition of precious material objects.
It’s natural. It’s annoying, but it IS natural. You might even say a chronic inevitability for us humans. I’d like to say it isn’t so and feel free to rail against my assertion here, because I understand. I know the ‘what next?’.
I share this not to burst bubbles. I speak of this to help you in the likely, quiet and anti-climactic moments of “what was I thinking?” and “is this it?”
It is now when travel will not only broaden the mind but also search the soul – a good thing, not bad, in my view. Better embraced than denied or avoided, a threshold that can bring pressure great enough to destroy dreams and wreck relationships, yet one that can carve character and lift you higher on your journey, to Portugal, and as an evolving human being or spirit.
Didn’t a wise person once say, “without vision, the people perish”? Expats, migrants, foreigners are people too, who I will stick my neck out and say, are happiest and most fulfilled when they have purpose, focus or a desire to serve.
The concept of retirement, the mindset of “I’ve done my bit”, though attractive, can be unhelpful when looked at from this angle. Research into this suggests that when people retire mentally, physically or in career terms, they can enter into a fatal downward spiral with meaning and purpose absent in their lives. You’ll know if this is the case for you, or you may have observed it in others.
Despite its inevitability, there is no need to hurry the ‘what next?’. It will find you. And until it does, eat, drink and be merry in this most conducive of places to do exactly that. When ‘what next?’ knocks on your door, you might say: “Munson said you would visit” – and embrace fully this most likely of probabilities on your migratory hero’s journey.
Seek then the community of like minds, opt for allies who only want the best for you, engage mentors who will challenge, encourage and celebrate your successes beyond the tougher times. ‘What next?’ can have us turning on ourselves, or blaming the country that we once loved when ‘what now?’ felt so full of promise.
So, don’t let this third stage of mindful migration lead you into doubt, despondency or depression. The long-awaited climax of the 40-year plan (AKA retirement) goes against our human nature in so many ways.
The most fulfilled migrants, in my experience, are the ones who get to ‘what now?’ and transform it into a tangible and inspiring ‘what next?’ before, dare I say it, ‘WTF?’ gets a chance to set in!
Find out ‘what’s what?’ and get yourself to Portugal. Enjoy all that you have worked so hard to create for yourself in the subsequent ‘what now?’. Eat those pastéis de nata, feel the Portuguese sun on your face, gorge on her culinary glory and have your soul enriched with vitamins no doctor ever prescribed.
But, please, don’t let your ‘honeymoon period’ turn into a metaphorical ‘relationship from hell’. Believe me when I say, Portugal doesn’t change. It’s YOU that changes. And when you are called to aspire rather than retire, take that opportunity to be a merry migrant, an extraordinary expat, embracing the next level of your wonderful gift of life – in a new land ready to receive the best you have to give it.