Portugal has become somewhat of an expat paradise for many people, especially those who are already living in the European Union and hence, could benefit from the easy movement between EU countries. Eternal sunshine, amazing nature, great food, rich culture, and top-notch artist communities – what's there not to like!
Similarly to many others, all of this sounded perfect to me. Coming from a cold Eastern European country, living in a warm and sunny place felt the best choice for both my health and productivity.
So the decision was made – I gave up my rental apartment and went to Portugal with literally everything I own, with no intention of moving back to my home country.
I had never visited Portugal before and I had barely traveled at all, so this life change was anything but regular for me. It was literally like jumping into unknown water. I didn't speak even a word of Portuguese and knew very little about the culture.
As a fan of a frugal lifestyle, I didn't intend on splurging in Portugal and so any expensive hotels or top-notch tourist region's Airbnbs were out of the question for me. Therefore, I chose one of the cheapest Airbnb's I could find on such short notice and booked it for several weeks. My initial plan was to just get to the Airbnb and figure out the rest of life later.
And that's exactly what I did. My first Airbnb was located in the most typical Portuguese village someone could find – Pendilhe, a parish with just about 500 residents. Tiny cobbled streets, picturesque houses, a big royal church, and goat farmers just strolling on the streets – moving from a big city and staying in such a quiet place, it felt a bit surreal.
But I loved every second of that tiny village. Another decision was made: I decided I want to find a more permanent home in a similar small village, away from the urban noise. Even though initially home-hunting wasn't the easiest, I finally stroke jackpot by finding a small house in a similar village, a few hundred kilometers further in the south. It was even smaller than Pendilhe, with just a little over 100 permanent residents.
Having lived in that home now for a while, I've come to know and love the Portuguese culture and way of life even more than I imagined. Though not everything I've noticed applies to the whole country, understandably, the following life lessons are something I've strongly experienced here. In a way, living here has shed some light on some extremely important things in life – things that the rest of the world often seems to forget in the midst of everything but yet, these things are essential for our happiness.
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Life really does move slower
Many people who have researched Portuguese lifestyle and local culture, might have heard how things tend to move slowly here, especially when it comes to official things. That might be true, but what is even more important – people don't run around so hectically.
Life tends to pass quietly and slowly here. You enjoy the sun and beautiful weather, do your errands and don't stress about what's going to happen next – living in the moment makes up a big part of the local life.
People are happy even with fewer material objects – simple joys in life matter
One surprising aspect I learned quite quickly is the sheer lack of the need to have a huge load of possessions. People have rather modest homes and even shopping centers aren't as wild as somewhere else (though, of course, Portugal has an abundance of shopping centers too). Most of the country though seems to be untouched by the consumerism-madness which has rampaged throughout the world.
That's especially true in smaller villages. People work in their farms and grow produce, herd goats or run little bakery shops and cafes, being completely content with everything. Strangely, one of the goat herders I met during my first weeks of stay in Portugal, was one of the happiest and energetic people I've seen. He had a tiny herd of goats but somehow, sitting in the sun and watching his goats was something he thoroughly enjoyed, without even wishing for any material objects.
Simple joys like meeting your friends for a cup of coffee or picking fresh lemons from your lemon tree are things that really matter in life. Fortunately, this is something people in Portugal really value. Instead of spending their money on shopping for pointless knick-knacks, they spend their money on experiences such as music festivals.
As a frugalist, I share that point of view deeply, but seeing how locals appreciate that way of life too, just makes my heart warm.
People take more time to connect with each other
Portugal is known for its strong cafe culture but once you live in Portugal, you understand how strong that really is. Even more importantly, why the locals do it so much.
Many of us are used to grabbing a quick to-go coffee while chatting on social media. Even while social media is strong in Portugal as well, people take time to meet up and spend time at one of the many local cafes.
And when I say many, I really mean it – there's a cafe in literally every village and a whole abundance of them in cities. There's literally a cafe on every corner.
Even in a very tiny village – such as the one I'm residing in – there's a cafe where locals meet up almost daily, just to chat.
People actually take time out of their day – and they do it often – to meet with their friends and spend some time together, just talking and having a good time. In a world that's so heavily dominated by social media, it's rare to see people connecting in real life so strongly and so often. Spending time with your loved ones is an essential part of Portuguese culture, no matter where you live.
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A smile goes a long way
In my home country, just smiling on a street to other people was seen as impolite and frankly, weird. You simply didn't smile to complete strangers, ever.
However, in Portugal, I quickly started smiling pretty much all the time to anyone and it was met with an even warmer smile! Perhaps it's a quirk that seems to happen in the Central Portugal area, but Portuguese people are incredibly friendly and polite. People consider each other all the time – they don't just pass you, but take a moment to smile back.
Gesturing is also a natural part of Portuguese life, but it's something that isn't really practiced in Eastern Europe. In Portugal though, gesturing to each other in the middle of the traffic comes like second nature to people – when passing the crosswalk, coming to a crossing, parking, anywhere else.
Even if you don't speak Portuguese, the locals are more than happy to help you out if you at least show the effort and do it with a smile. We often tend to forget how important a smile and some friendly gestures can be, but in Portugal, it's a daily reminder.
Be kind to one another and appreciate the people around you – that might just be the key to happiness.
This article is a personal story that talks about real-life experiences our readers might have experienced. If you'd like to share a real-life experience, feel free to share your story with us.