The pithy, punchy line “Portugal is the California of Europe” resonates for a lot of West Coasters.
California friends, close your eyes, tap your heels together three times, and whisper, “There’s no place like home” … then hop on a flight to Portugal and behold the reflection of the Golden State revealing itself before you.
In the inimitable American way of distilling something to a chop-chop comparison, the pithy, punchy line: “Portugal is the California of Europe” snaps into place with studied comparisons of their twin-like topographical features. The two bask in look-alike sweeping coastlines (Cali with 840 miles, Portugal with 1,114 miles), undulating hills, mountains, valleys, deserts, and forests. Both share a rich biodiversity up and down the coast of plants and animals in varying climates and landscapes with wine regions flourishing in each.
The buzz is loud and consistent
Before moving to Portugal last year, Ron and I lived in a lot of places in the States – including California for a short time. And now from our newly adopted European home, the buzz is loud and consistent from California expats who’ve also decamped from the states, crossed the Pond and landed in the lap of unspoiled natural beauty in this country that’s slightly smaller than Indiana.
Californians are not a rarity in doing this – increasing numbers of Americans are finding their way over here attracted to the open arms reception from this country that makes it relatively easy and straightforward to move. In fact, the growing popularity of Portugal with Americans drove a 45% increase in our numbers over the previous year according to government data (2021).
To be sure, our California friends and acquaintances marvel at the remarkable look-alike terrain and often matching climate that’s attracting others from around the world. Yet there are many other reasons that the country is resonating.
Culture Shock Solace
Often, those of us who move to another country can experience “culture shock” – the feeling of disorientation when a person is suddenly exposed to an unfamiliar culture, way of life, or set of attitudes. But remarkably, the culture “shock” many of us Americans experience is more culture “solace” for several top-of-mind reasons.
Everybody wants to feel safe and foremost on our American minds is the gun violence in everyday surroundings – parks, public celebrations, shopping and tourist venues and, most appallingly, in our schools. Even California, which has some of the toughest gun-regulation laws in the U.S., is registering upticks in gun violence. We’re seeing a growing number of families picking-up and moving here to escape the violence.
Gun violence is extremely rare in Portugal, which makes it one of the safest countries in the world (floating between 3rd and 4th place year-to-year). In stark contrast, the U.S. ranks 129 out of 163 countries (just below Azerbaijan, Zimbabwe, and Egypt) according to the 2022 Global Peace Index.
Yet people can “escape” to a lot of places. I’d suggest we don’t want to just “escape” – we want a place where we can thrive. Personally, as a newbie resident, I can say that Portugal offers the ideal “starter materials” for creating a new life infrastructure.
With that in mind, staying (or getting!) healthy is a #1 priority … and it’s so much easier over here. For instance, my private insurance costs a little more than $1k annually. You heard that right! (I had a series of x-rays taken recently and my co-pay cost was, in U.S. dollars, about $5.50.)
And as a registered nutritionist, I’m all about the food. Fish and farmers’ markets are ubiquitous… and based on U.S. standards, they’re cheap, including organic produce, which is a staple in my life. Oh yes, you can find fast food joints, but they’re more the exception than the rule.
Loud Pushy Americanism
Personally, the first few months here my American boldness (read: pushy) was trying to force a square peg into a round hole. The Portuguese are polite and respectful, friendly and helpful. But take-a-number and wait-in-line is the order of the day … at banks, at pharmacies, at clinics, at bakeries, at, at, at.
The pay-off is that when I get to the front of the line, service is singularly focused on me generally with smiles and kindness. Prior to that though, there’s no interrupting to ask a quick question, bustling to the front or wangling preferential treatment – as Americans are wont to do!
There are countless similar “keep your pants on” scenarios that organically nurture a slower pace of living, which have tempered my loud pushy Americanism. Eleven months in, I find the corners of that square peg are being rubbed smooth to slide comfortably into the round, safe world of my new Portuguese lifestyle.