john-clare books


This is Portugal
          by John Clare

The big problem with any assessment of a country is that it looks different depending on where you are standing. It was Cecil Rhodes who said that being English meant that you had won first prize in the lottery of life. He pretty well owned an entire country, and lived in the nineteenth century when Britain effectively ruled the world. A quarter of the planet was ruled from Westminster, and anyone not on the list had to take their chances. We are talking about power, wealth, modernity, even sport. You have a look at the results for the 1908 Olympics to see what I mean.

Now read some of the reports of life below stairs at that time, and life lived in the slums of the great cities. The standard of living, life expectancy, health, just about everything you could choose to measure, was so far below any decent standard it is difficult to believe that those people lived in the richest country on the planet.

Now look at Portugal. Those of you reading this book will no doubt be relatively well off, well fed, well educated, with a comfortable pension, living in good accommodation and with few, if any, worries.

Unfortunately, just like the rich in Britain over a hundred years ago, you will be enjoying your life at the expense of those beneath you who are supporting the system. More to the point, you will be living off a life generally spent somewhere else, and supported by an income that probably has nothing to do with Portugal at all. If you are indeed lucky you will not even see or be aware of the things I talk about in the body of this book.

With luck you will get on with your neighbours. If you are very rich you won’t even need to be aware of them. Most of you will have foreign neighbours, and few will have Portuguese jobs.

I have lived and worked alongside Portuguese people ever since I came here. You can take it from me, they are an unhappy lot.
A great deal of my material comes from people who are Portuguese or who have lived and worked here. I have not spoken to tourists or foreigners. If I had I would be trotting out the same stuff that has just crossed my desk: “Twelve reasons to like Portugal”. Every single one of those reasons is aimed at a foreigner. If you aimed those comments at the average Portuguese person they would not know what you are talking about.

This book is not here to repeat those twelve reasons, but to show the average person either living here, or, more importantly, thinking of living here, what life is like for the locals. It is also an attempt to show how things work, because in so many instances things don’t work the way they do in Northern Europe. I don’t criticise these differences. I simply point them out, and suggest the foreign national should adjust their expectations and attitudes if they want to negotiate life easily here.

As with any country there are wonderful folk, absolute blighters, clever cultured people, and downright idiots making up the local population. That’s life.

But two things stand out. The first is that there is a substantial group of people here who are still part of the peasantry. They think and act differently from those who have spent a long time in school surrounded by new thought, books, a global world, and all that implies. You have to be careful and make allowances for the way these people behave.
Secondly, there is a wide divide between state and the community. You may not have noticed that if you live cocooned in a tourist ghetto. For average Portuguese people though, it is a basic fact of life, and for the most part, they feel powerless to do anything about it.

I quite deliberately uncover that division, and if I have a dislike for things Portuguese it is not for the Portuguese people but for the way the state is run. I have nothing but love and sympathy for the people who suffer under the crooked rule from Lisbon.

I am grateful to Paul Rees for allowing me to quote from his local newspaper. If this source of information is new to you I suggest you subscribe. You will certainly find it interesting and disturbing.

Finally, let me say I have tried to be honest. If you don’t like what you read, please don’t shoot the messenger.