An Ambassador in Portugal

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I absolutely love getting foreigners’ perspectives on Portugal (for better or worse!). So when I saw an article written by Alex Ellis, former British Ambassador to Portugal, at the end of his time there, I had to share his views on this blog. In it, he lists 10 things he hopes will never change about Portugal. Alex Ellis captures Portuguese society extremely well here, so this list is, in my opinion, highly insightful if you’re interested in Portuguese society. Number 8 is very interesting!

  1. The inter-generational connection. Portugal is a country where young and old talk, normally within a family context. The status of Grandparent is held in high regard in Portuguese society – and rightly so. Portuguese people respect the young and the old, and everyone benefits from it.
  2. The central role of food in daily life. Lunch matters: not a quickly-eaten, badly-digested sandwich, but soup, a hot meal, etc. all eaten at a table with other people. Here too, the family relationship is bolstered.
  3. The variety of scenery. I don’t know any other country where it’s possible to see so much in a single day: from the grandiose Douro River to the beauty of the Alentejo plains, passing through the plateaus and mountain-ranges of the Beira Interior.
  4. The tolerance. I’ve never lived in a country that accepted foreigners so well. It is no coincidence that Portugal is considered one of the countries most open to immigrants in an international study conducted by MIPEX.
  5. Coffee and the cafés. The locations are simple, inviting and pleasant; the drink is a small daily pleasure, especially when accompanied by a warm pastel de nata.
  6. The innocence. It’s difficult to describe this concept in a few words without appearing patronizing, but in my first weekend in Portugal, I witnessed a typical street party (festa popular) in Vila Real where teenagers were dancing traditional dances with a joy and freedom that has, at its root, a certain innocence.
  7. A profound spirit of independence. Looking at the Iberian map, it may seem strange that Portugal continues to be an independent country – but this is not by chance. Inside every Portuguese person is a profoundly autonomous and independent spirit.
  8. The women. The Defense Attaché at the embassy 15 years ago gave me some precious advice: “Young man, if u want something done right in this country, give that task to a woman.” I agreed with him so much that I married a Portuguese woman.
  9. Curiosity and knowledge of the world. The influence from abroad is evident here in the food, the arts, the names. Portugal is a country that is connected, and that wants to remain connected, to other continents.
  10. That money isn’t the most important thing in the world. The good things about Portugal won’t cost you. On the contrary: there is nothing better than to leave the beach at the end of the afternoon and eating a grilled fish with a simple glass of wine.

How do you feel about his statements? Do you agree with any or all of these? I’m curious to know your views!

Original Portuguese version:


Alex Ellis article

Original version of Alex Ellis’s article

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  • ptismylife
    February 23, 2016 at 12:11 pm

    Agreed !

  • Gail at Large
    February 23, 2016 at 3:34 pm

    I fully agree with his list but I have to admit, #8 was a surprise!

    • aportugueseaffair
      February 23, 2016 at 3:36 pm

      Yes. I thought it was pretty insightful! #8: like a surprise in that he recognized it or a surprise in that you aren’t sure about it?

      • Gail at Large
        February 23, 2016 at 3:43 pm

        As in, he spoke about Portuguese people in such general terms (generations, attitudes) that I didn’t think he’d be any more specific than ‘people’. That’s why #8 stuck out, it’s not ‘everyone’ or ‘society’ or ‘family’. #8 was a wink!

        • aportugueseaffair
          February 23, 2016 at 3:51 pm

          I loved it! And I couldn’t agree more – although I feel like it probably applies in all countries! (Did I just say that? Teehee!)

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