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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
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
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
I am grateful to Paul Rees for allowing me to quote passages from past
issues of his 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.