During a recent, unanticipated trip to the UK, I couldn’t help making several comparisons between life in Portugal and in Britain. As a Brit who’s lived abroad for more than 10 years, there are things I notice when I’m back to see family and friends in my native country that are comforting, like a little treat for the spirit or the taste buds. Other aspects of life in the UK serve as sharp reminders of why I choose to live in Portugal.
Three ways in which the UK trumps Portugal
1. The sheer variety of food
Portuguese people are bred to be proud of their food, and in some instances, for example Polvo à Lagareiro (baked octopus with potatoes), their pride is understandable and justified. Unfortunately, this love of national food results in an almost identical menu in most restaurants. I can pretty much guess what’s going to be available without looking and when I find a café that serves something other than cheese / ham / ham and cheese sandwiches I get quite excited.
Britain, however, has a bad international reputation for bland food. This may have been true years ago but we Brits have firmly embraced foreign cuisines and this is reflected in almost every café, bistro, restaurant and sandwich shop across the land. I’m often overwhelmed by the options available but it’s a real treat to have such a choice. The last sandwich I had in the UK was crayfish and avocado on ciabatta. Delicious!
I’ve been reminded how limited the range of food in supermarkets can be in Portugal. Unless you’re in a major city, or the Algarve, it’s almost impossible to track down anything that isn’t bog standard Portuguese fare. If, by some stroke of luck, you find something exotic, you should buy it immediately as it probably won’t be there next time you visit the same shop. In Britain, there are herbs, spices, sauces and ready-meals from around the world, even in small town supermarkets.
Food shopping also seems a lot cheaper in the UK than in Portugal these days. Except for wine, which is outrageously expensive in Britain. The cheapest drinkable red costs £4 whereas in Portugal, you can pick up a decent bottle for 2€.
3. Opportunities and activities
Even in a backwater, fairly deprived area in the Midlands, there are interesting courses on offer at the local library and other community organizations. Drumming, languages, and photography to name but a few.
I admit that my language limitations, rural location and unsocial working hours in Portugal make it more difficult to attend courses but there just doesn’t seem to be a comparable offer either in my local town or the city where I work. Or perhaps I’m just not looking in the right places.
Three ways in which Portugal beats the pants off the UK
1. The weather
An obvious one, I know, but the warmer weather is one of the main reasons why I love living in Portugal. It’s not perfect; the summers can be overpowering and winters chilly but the sun shines most days. There are times when I’m sunbathing in the garden and my friends and family back in the UK are having to put the central heating on.
The difference that blue skies and sunshine make to my mood and motivation are incredible and I couldn’t bear to return to the UK where almost every day is a grey day. Sometimes we have what feels like a month of solid rain in Portugal but it’s a small price to pay for great weather we get for the rest of the year.
2. Free things
The UK is a rip-off country. Everything costs a small fortune and if you want to go out for the day, you’ll be hard-pushed to manage it without putting your hands in your pocket.
Portugal, on the other hand, can still be refreshingly cheap. Parking at river beaches, and off-season at the seaside, is usually free. Most attractions haven’t been excessively commercialised and set up to extort as much money as possible from people. Long may they stay that way.
For anyone who likes coffee and has been to Portugal, this is no surprise. I will never understand the Brits’ obsession with drinking bucket-sized mugs of watery, tasteless stuff that costs £3 a cup. Once you’ve had ‘proper coffee’ in Portugal, it’s best to avoid the muck they serve in the UK. I stick to tea these days.
Portuguese coffee, whether it’s a quick shot of expresso to keep you awake after a meal, or just to keep you going during the day, or a meia de leite (coffee with milk), is strong, freshly made and full of flavour. And cheap!
If you’re thinking of moving to Portugal, or any other country for that matter, you’ll need to do your homework. This book, A Better Life for Half the Price (affiliate link), with various extra support components is a useful read to help you decide if becoming an expat is right for you.