We are far from the only people writing about their traveling experiences or their new lives in Portugal. There’s practically a tradition of sharing your thoughts on moving here after you’ve been settled for a year. Well who are we to scoff at tradition? (I mean… we’re Lisa and John. Hi.) On the other hand, a lot of things have been said better by others or else is so obvious as not to need saying. Learning the language is a good idea? Sure. The food takes some getting used to? Check. The pace of life is different? You betcha! So, what can we tell you that you maybe don’t already know, whether you’re planning a move or just a visit, or maybe even just are curious? That’s a little trickier, but there is in fact a trick: get super specific. Herewith, things to know that we can only vouch for if you’re coming to Braga, Portugal. Some of this might be true elsewhere, but we’re not going to pretend to be experts on the Algarve, we haven’t so much as set foot there. So. Braga!
Number One With a Bullet – Cross the Dang Street! The social contract in Braga regarding pedestrians crossing the street is pretty simple; the pedestrian has the right of way. No ifs, ands, or buts. They are so religious in their observation of this conduct that if you wait to see a car come to a stop you are actually being a little rude, because they were going to yield to you. All you did by waiting to see them stop was slow them down unnecessarily. Just go. I mean, yes for pete’s sake at least make eye contact, your life could be at risk. That said, most times you can’t even do the little wave to indicate that they should go ahead. “They’re in a car” you think to yourself, “they can get out of my way faster than I can get out of theirs.” Doesn’t matter. You will get into a waving contest while they stare at you wondering why you haven’t gone yet. Corollary to this advice: if you happen to rent a car, or you’ve been one over here, behave by this rule. Don’t get irritated that somebody blithely stepped out from the curb as you were approaching – they were just following a behavior that’s been ingrained in them since birth. Take a breath, you’ll get where you’re going.
Number Two – Release Your Expectations on Sidewalks. If you are the kind of person that gets irritated when people “can’t pick a side” to walk on, may I recommend the Waking Up meditation program? (That’s not an affiliate link.) That’s not a thing here. Many Americans presume that sidewalk patterns follow traffic patterns on the road – stick to the right, in other words. This usually works in other countries we’ve been to. In Braga, at least, no way no how. It’s not that it’s the opposite pattern. There’s no pattern. You’ll have five straight people cross your path on the left, then two on the right, then one, then seven, and so on. Now, not everyone will even care about this, but “know thyself” as they say. If you can be prone to irritation that people aren’t behaving in the orderly fashion you like to see, that’s a “you” thing not a “them” thing. You aren’t changing 100,000+ people. Learn to be at peace with this, or else learn to go through your days in a constant state of irritation.
Number Three – Don’t Expect Anyone to Speak English. We’ve written on this in more depth before, but since this post is trying put a lot of advice under one nicely-tied bow, let’s talk about it again. You cannot go through life tranquilly if your plan for navigating most conversations boils down to “ah, they’ll speak English.” It’s not even 50/50 that this will be true, anywhere. Bank tellers, doctors, government officials (e.g. getting your Utente or driver’s license), priests… none of them have a need for English, so it will be pure chance whether they speak it or not. We are only talking about life in Braga. I expect it’s very similar in other Northern Portuguese towns, but things are very different in Lisbon, Porto, and large swaths of the Algarve. In those places, they get a lot of tourists who either primarily speak English or, being from some other country that has its own tongue, learned English as their 2nd language instead of the much-less-useful Portuguese. Point is, because so much business in those places requires practical English language skills there are plenty of incentives for employees, officials, and business owners to be conversant. But in Braga? We don’t have an airport to make us an easy destination for tourists. We are very close to Spain, a country that apparently shuts all the way down on Sundays (at least on their southern end), so we get plenty of Spanish-speaking tourists.
Now, it’s still true that English is a globally-useful language and so there are more than a few English speakers. But, you just never know. At the hospital for example, figuring out who the General Practitioners are that have good command of English isn’t too bad, but once you need a specialist your choices are whoever the doctor is that does that thing or nobody at all. Then it’s down to a coin flip. If you don’t have any interest in picking up some Portuguese, we respectfully suggest that this isn’t the town for you. Speaking of which…
Number Four – You’ll Know What You Think of Braga Pretty Quickly. Of course this is not 100% universally true, but we have numerous example stories from our friends of people who visited Braga on their scouting trip or whatever and had a sensation of being home wash over them within an hour. There’s even a common variant of this story that goes something like “we had been in Portugal for four weeks and seen a lot of places. It was the end of our trip. We spent two days in Porto, and it was lovely. We had basically settled on <fill in the town>, but our agenda still had a day in Braga. One of us said ‘why don’t we skip it, we’re tired and we know we want to move to <town>’ but the other person said ‘well, it’s not that far away, we can just go for lunch and then leave.’ Except, when we got off the train in Braga we immediately felt something different. By the time we had walked downtown to the fountain (there’s more than one fountain in the city, but everyone knows which one is “the fountain”) we were in love.” This happens a lot. Don’t fight it. There’s a particular vibe here. We won’t call it a “good” or “bad” vibe, just a particular one. Counterpoint to this advice: if Braga hasn’t knocked your socks off in an afternoon, don’t wonder what you’re missing. You aren’t missing anything, it just isn’t the right place for you. That’s cool, it’s a big country and no one place is right for everyone. But if you like it here you’re probably going to love it here.
Number Five – Get Your Toaster from Antonio. Apologies, this is an unbearably-‘inside’ joke that at the same time just happens to be true. Confort Electrodomésticos is run by Antonio and his father. His hobby is repairing old sewing machines. While it is nearly universally true that the Portuguese are a kind and giving people, Antonio is just… well, absurdly generous with his time and expertise. Yes, he’s absolutely doing the smart business thing by treating his customers well, but between his passable English and his willingness to go the extra kilometer, but there are enumerable stories of him special ordering an appliance, delivering it, setting it up, and walking the purchasers through the operating procedures. You have to twist his arm or he won’t take payment until everything is finalized. He services appliances you bought elsewhere for practically nothing. Like, I’m sure there are many fine shopkeepers selling appliances in Braga, but his rep with the immigrant community is platinum plated for a reason.
Wow, I expected that Angela and I would have had similar experiences and observations during our first few months in Braga, but *exactly* the same? Spooky!
We too have mused about the chaos on the sidewalks, and about how any irritation we might feel at it is purely our problem. We’re slowly learning not only to be cool about how other people take up space, but worry less about how we do as well! As Americans, it’s a surprisingly difficult lesson.
Likewise, blithely crossing the street at a crosswalk took a little getting used to. We are learning. And you know what? It’s really nice; just one more thing not to have to negotiate in life. I like it.
And of course, nobody lives here long without getting to know Antonio. We too have partaken of his generosity, and we’ve also had to stand on his neck to get him to accept our payment. What a guy. 🙂
Just *today*, I tried my relatively new trick when I feel like I’m going to be rude by stepping out and it failed. If I feel like the car that’s coming is moving fast enough, and I’m far enough away, I’ve been trying to basically fake like I’m turning down the corner, hoping to then slip behind the car after it moves by. (I have no idea why I care, but there ya go…) Anyway, they caught me out! I turned left on the corner like I’m checking out my options and they still came to a stop and just waited for me. UGH! I’ve really got to get over it…
I laughed out loud at: “Number Five – Get Your Toaster from Antonio”
I feel so in The Know! 😉
And you are so right. Braga immediately spoke to me. It seemed the most beautiful city of all that I had seen – no contest! Almost 6 months in and I still walk down the streets absolutely overwhelmed that I have the luck to be living HERE.
100% agreed! Just last week I’m standing right about where the buses line up at Braga Shopping and I just looked down the praca towards the fountain and saw the old churches peeking out from behind the cafes, with the big church on the far side of the green, and I mean, I’m not even a church guy or anything but it was so overwhelming. Love love love it.
Great read you guys, thanks!
Cheers, thanks! 🙂
I’m smiling like a fool and have happy tears in my eyes. All this is true. Braga gets in your heart immediately (or for some, perhaps, never).
My neighbors mostly do not speak English words, but they speak words of welcome and belonging. They include us and share with us. We are home.
And I will get accustomed to walking the sidewalks…and trust sooner for drivers to stop.
So so true. It’s taken awhile to get to know our neighbors much; we’re in a newer building and I think most of the other units are young professionals on *very* different schedules from us. But still, every interaction is genuine and I can feel the puzzle pieces slowly locking into place.
Although we are originally from Texas, we have lived the past 6 years in South America (Ecuador). As we approach our First Year Anniversary here in Braga, we have to agree with everything said here, especially the Pedestrian Crosswalks. This took some getting used to, because “Zebra Crossings”, as they are known in Ecuador, will actually cause some drivers to Speed Up! We have watched many people dive for the curb, even after looking both ways and seeing no nearby traffic! And Braga did “feel right” from the very beginning – felt like “home”. And lastly, can’t say enough about Antonio. Shortly after moving into our apartment, the main light fixture in our bathroom burned out. Sadly, it was not simply a case of changing the bulb. The fixture and the bulb were all one unit. Since the fixture was no longer available from where it was purchased, we called Antonio. He said, “Let me have it for a day and I’ll see what I can do.” The next day he came by and re-installed the newly re-wired and reconfigured light fixture. Unbelievable. What a great guy! So much like so many other Portuguese people we have met here from our grocer to our pharmacist to our butcher. So glad we are here!
I’m still not sure that Antonio knows just how famous he is. 😀