As you may have read, American immigration to Portugal is expanding rapidly. While we still don’t rate as one of the largest immigrant populations (Brazilians are far and away the most numerous, followed by a mix of European countries and former Portuguese colonies) there’s a few more coming every day. In Braga, a lovely woman (hi, Cindy!) organizes a monthly meet and greet and there are *always* new faces each time. A few “old timers” who have lived here for 10 years or so will tell stories of how they were the only English speakers they knew for years on end. Now, if you need the comfort of a familiar accent it is trivial to arrange lunch or a hike or… whatever. Funnily enough there’s a phenomenon we’ve been observing in the last six months where American visitors to Braga (on what is commonly becoming known as a “scouting trip”) seem to either fall in love with Braga, or not, within hours of being here. So let us try and tell you about the Braga effect.
First of all, we’ve noticed that people, by and large, get along ok. Sure, some people like each other more than others, and there’s always someone who is just going to get on your nerves; that’s just people. But still, for such an increasingly large cluster of (primarily) American immigrants it can feel surprising just how tranquil these get-togethers can be. Chewing on it, though, it becomes clear that we aren’t really a random sample. First and foremost, if you’ve moved here then you are someone who isn’t particularly afraid of “the other”; I mean, I guess you could be but then you’re also a masochist. You’re someone who has at least enough sense of adventure to be willing to leave your home country. You probably don’t think of other cultures as automatically inferior to your own (again, probably; yes, I’ve met exceptions, sadly). Then, you have the privilege of being someone who has either accumulated enough of a nest egg to retire or you have a job that affords you supreme flexibility in where you work from. Yes, it’s true that living over here is cheaper than in the US by almost any metric, but there’s still a minimum hurdle to clear as far as moving expenses and traveling are concerned. So before we dig any further, we’ve get a common basis of (likely) similarities.
That’s not all of it, though. There is something ineffable about Braga, or at least we haven’t effed it yet. Lisa and I are a little bit of an outlier in that we moved here before we had laid eyes on the place, but: our first night here (not counting the night we arrived) was December 1st, and that was the night of the official tree lighting downtown. We were invited to an immigrant event and, despite being jetlagged, we wanted to get out feet wet asap. So, we plotted the trip to the selected cafe in google maps (this sounds so ridiculous from our vantage point of 7 months in, but hey, day 1) and started walking. It took basically that walk for us to fall in love; there, and back. Heading into the pedestrian zone, with the open grass areas, plazas, wide sidewalks… the families strolling along, the lights that we put up here for holidays both grand and humble, just the general ambiance of the whole thing, it was tangible how different a world we were now in.
Our story, it turns out, is far from unique. Many of our friends tell us they had similar experiences (like, most of them). It has come to the point where it is included in the standard advice many of us give out when people exploring a move to Portugal stumble upon Braga and ask about it in one of numerous facebook groups. “What’s with Braga? Should we go there?” That sort of thing. We almost always tell them that they won’t need more than a day visit to decide whether it should be on their short list or not. There’s no doubt that people must exist who were lukewarm about the place at first but grew to like it, but that’s so foreign to our experience that we don’t even know how to describe that to people. We have seen, time and again, that people on their scouting trip either pass through with nary a word spoken, or else they almost immediately begin peppering us (there’s a pretty active Braga-specific fb group) with questions because they’re incredibly excited about the idea of living here. And we just smile and nod, and answer their questions
I swear, we should own stock in this town.