“These are people who understand the true requirement for happiness; they have the ability to enjoy the smallest pleasures and to share them with others” Cultural Dimensions of Expatriate Life in Portugal ~ Bill Drake
Regular readers of this blog will know that one of the things we love most about Portugal is the Portuguese people. Sometimes you may feel as if you have stepped back fifty years in time, to a land almost forgotten – not always a bad thing!
The kindness and genuine welcome we have been shown here is something special. Maybe it is because we live in a relatively small and unspoilt village, perhaps it is because we have all local Portuguese neighbours (no expat enclave for us thanks!) – or maybe it is in part due to our willingness to meet new people, learn new ways, and try our best to immerse ourselves in a different culture and way of life.
Which is why K is for Kindness in our A to Z of Portugal – with a chance for us to share a few examples of the Portuguese hospitality and small acts of kindness that we have been shown here.
Our kind neighbours
We have been blessed with some wonderful, kind, gentle neighbours who have given us so many lemons and other fruit that we sometimes find ourselves clutching an extremely full carrier bag already crammed full of fruit whilst our neighbour continues to load us up with more lemons! It almost seems such a waste to just use them in a cold jug of water, so we often make home-made lemonade (sssh! Don’t tell anyone how much sugar we add!) I keep promising to look up some new recipes and tarts with lemons or oranges in them – so if anyone out there has any recipes they can recommend – please do share them with us!
Our neighbours last summer reached over the fence and handed us a wooden box full of fresh figs – all laid out on a bed of fig leaves – they were amazingly good and we quickly scoffed the lot! Come Christmas time however we wished we had kept some back as our neighbour then gave us an amazingly yummy fig cake she had made with the now dried figs from the summer. I think there might have been a touch of Medronho in there too!
Even when we first rented a small fisherman’s cottage in the village our old neighbour there used to greet us with home-made traditional marzipan cakes, all laid out on a plate ready to eat – it is obviously a Portuguese tradition to feed up scrawny (and not so scrawny!) English neighbours!
Our current neighbour’s daughter recently graduated from University – they have a quaint custom of wearing ribbons on their gowns which have been decorated by friends and family (we learnt that family have the white ribbon and friends get a very nice dark blue colour!) We were really chuffed when we were asked to decorate a ribbon for her – it was a fun thing to paint too:
Needless to say, whilst I was busy painting the ribbon in the studio, our neighbour called us over and handed us a plate full of steaming hot freshly barbecued sardines for lunch ~ now that’s what I call a fair exchange!
Their generosity even extended to New Year’s Eve one year – I think it might have been our first New Year we spent here – we happily sat on our balcony at midnight watching the local fireworks (we do have a pretty good ringside seat from where we are!) and we were then cajoled to climb the wall and join them next door – we sat learning to play a very ancient family board game whilst being offered plates of food and lots to drink – I think we got home again about 4.30am after a most enjoyable time.
Our neighbours extend all the way down the road too! We had a vague attempt at creating a proper front garden – you know the kind, properly tilled soil, pretty plants all healthy and green with sumptuous flowers … well the reality was a bit of a letdown! We have the worst soil I have ever seen (if you can call it soil!) and a friendly older neighbour (in his 70’s!) took pity on us trying to dig it over with our basic garden tools from the local garden centre and turned up with what can only be described as a machete on a long pole – he proceeded to swing it over his head and turf great lumps out of our soil for us – awesome! He then returned with a very impressive aloe vera plant for us … sadly it lasted about as long as the rest of our plants (about a month!) (we gave up and paved it over!)
Round two of our gardening exploits have been more successful – we resorted to large pots instead (much easier to water and maintain!) and another neighbour turned up to lean over the fence and give us ‘advice’ as we filled them. He disappeared and returned carrying a large bucket full of ‘manure’ and then showed us how to add this to our compost. He also told us off for having terracotta pots and came back with some large plastic ones instead – all completed without him speaking any English at all – he just guffaws at us a lot and then shows us what to do! We wave to him every day as we drive past him sat on a plastic chair outside his house watching the world go by – and every evening when we sit outside eating he walks past and says ‘bom appetite’ to us!
Bill Drake describes this gentle desire to help so well:
“You will quickly find and appreciate the gentleness and genuine concern for others that lie under [an] outward reserve. Portuguese people are not outwardly friendly with those they don’t know well but if you let yourself see past the surface you will discover that they are always looking for ways to make life pleasant for others. Their smile is in their hearts. The Portuguese are helpful and will go out of their way to give you directions, physically take you to a place you cannot find, or spend time looking for an item you cannot find.” Cultural Dimensions of Expatriate Life in Portugal ~ Bill Drake
We have met so many gentle and kind people who seem to go out of their way to help us – two examples spring to mind:
We love our ‘local’ eatery Toc Toc – and especially their caramel mousse dessert! Silvia knows this especially well as I always try to surreptitiously lick the bowl clean (with my finger!) when she’s not looking (and usually get caught!) The wonders of the modern facebook means that they obviously picked up on my birthday last year and at about 9.30pm there was a knock on the door – it was Luis from the restaurant clutching an enormous glass bowl – full of caramel mousse – for me! It was so huge it took us three nights to polish it all off (and believe me I had a very good go at it!) I was so surprised and delighted by such a lovely gesture.
We also have a lovely local shop in the village that sells crafts, vases, gifts, pottery, – well – you name it – Salomé probably sells it! We’ve nicknamed her shop ‘new stock Wednesdays’ as it is always a running joke that if you can’t find something you like she will always tell you she has more stock coming on Wednesday – I have no idea where she puts it all in her little Aladdin’s cave! We bought quite a few things from her when we first bought our house – determined to ‘buy local’ where possible – and on one occasion we bought quite a few small glass and vase items – a large discount was immediately given – and then each item was beautifully and painstakingly wrapped with lovely paper, ribbons and bows – and then she left her shop completely open and unattended and helped us carry it all to our car which was parked on the other side of the village!
Kindness doesn’t just extend to the local shops either. Every time we have needed to use a tradesperson we have tried to ‘stay local’ and also use Portuguese workers if we can. Our painter/decorator Joaquim was a bit of a legend – you can read more about him in our post Portuguese Vs British builders and we have a list of odd jobs and small tasks that have all been completed quickly, efficiently and reasonably. We’ve even had birds’ nests removed from above our boiler (no charge!) and a toilet seat (cracked!) replaced in an hour! Beat that!
Brilliant kindness and support – special mentions!
One of our biggest thanks must go to The Holiday Inn at Armaçao de Péra who have been so supportive of our fledgling art and photography – we are about to embark on our second exhibition at the hotel this year and we just cannot thank them enough for allowing us such a fantastic opportunity.
And our final thanks and mention goes to the fab friends we have found since we have been here – you can find out more about the wonderful Hand family on their blog The Hand Family in Portugal – suffice to say without their friendship, support, company and fantastic ginger cookies life would be a much duller place! We also have other friends that always lend us boxes of toys when we have friends with children come to stay – such a help!