Janet: Too Much Sand For My Truck
Please tell us a little bit about yourself. Who you are, where you come from, when you moved to Portugal, etc.
I’m South African, my husband is American and Portugal is our third expat location together (his fourth). We lived and worked in Russia before and decided towards the end of our time there that we needed a more permanent home somewhere in the world, so a few years ago we decided to take time out to build a home in the Minho (northern Portugal).
When and why did you decide to start blogging about your experiences?
I was already writing, but more serious things. I never considered blogging, mainly because of an overdeveloped sense of privacy due to my husband’s work for a Russian company, but when a friend encouraged me to start writing about Portugal, I thought it was worth exploring the genre. The blog is relatively light-hearted - a sense of humour about your ridiculously weird new life not only keeps things in perspective, but is about the only way you’re going to make it with your mental health (mostly) intact.
Do you have any favorite blog entries of yours?
- About the notion of building a house/”dream house” in a foreign land: “A Machine For Living In”
- Observations about the Portuguese: “Natural-Born Advisers”
- An encounter with a kind stranger: “An Ode To Clara Fernandes”
Tell us about the ways your new life in Portugal differs from that back home. Did you have trouble getting used to the new circumstances? Did you experience culture shock?
I must admit that the phrase “back home” has lost meaning for me! If you consider the fact that we moved from a city (Moscow) with more inhabitants than the whole of Portugal, I reckon that presents a major shock from the get-go. We’re fairly adaptable, but I confess that Portuguese “elastic” time management will always be a tad difficult for us, just like the reluctance to commit, finish a task and take responsibility. On the other, far more positive hand, the friendliness, sense of humour and self-deprecation of the Portuguese people are priceless.
Do you think you were fully prepared for what awaited you in Portugal? If you could, would you change some decisions/preparations you made?
Is one ever fully prepared when you’re taking a geographic, cultural and linguistic leap? I certainly didn’t realize quite how isolated we would be. If you have something like InterNations or another expat organization on your doorstep, it makes the world of difference in how you adjust and integrate. Now that we’re not in a city, “life with the rustics”, as we call it, can be lonely. I think I would have investigated social opportunities more and perhaps tried to force myself to be less reserved about reaching out. Also, getting out every few months is important (sadly, often impossible with a building project).
Every expat knows that expat life comes with some hilarious anecdotes and funny experiences. Care to share one with us?
There’s one about our quest to find a rental home and a somewhat boozy encounter with a sly local… We ended up a little inebriated and with no rental home, but it was certainly an education. I wrote about it here.
Which three tips would you like to give future expats before they embark on their new life in Portugal?
- Start learning the language as soon as you can
- Keep your sense of humour
- “Be forgiving” - one of the best tips an expat here gave me when we arrived. Things won’t happen as fast, as efficiently or as perfectly as you’d like. This is Portugal (it helps that they have good wine…).
How is the expat community in Portugal? Did you have a hard time finding like-minded people or fellow expats?
In the south (Algarve and Lisbon) there is a vibrant expat community. Where we live, the only foreigners are European retirees and a few other nomadic souls. So, if you’re reading this and planning on moving to Portugal, please join us in the north - we need you!
How would you summarize your expat life in Portugal in a single, catchy sentence?
It’s too much sand for my truck. Of course not every single day, but it was the theme for the blog (borrowed from a Portuguese saying), and it has certainly been apt on many occasions.