Meeting new friends in Portugal could be a choice but thankfully, it is truly unavoidable. As I have stated many times, I am an introvert by nature and can get along quite well with little social interaction. I had, in my day, a very busy schedule of business networking meetings, running my own groups, serving on a board or two, attending Chamber luncheons and breakfasts, and attending in-person seminars. As I realized the fruitlessness of networking for my business in the local market, I went out for business less and less—usually only to speak to groups rather than attend meetings. I had my friends; I had my work. I discovered I could get treats from the local bakery delivered by Door Dash. When COVID lockdowns hit, my life didn’t change all that much.
You know how before people have a baby they say, “Oh, having a baby won’t change things”? (And people with kids laugh themselves silly.) Moving to Portugal is a lot like that.
In the States, I found groups to meet with through Meetup.com and Meetup is a thing here in Portugal. There are more business meetups in the Lisbon area, of course. Most of the expats who are still working seem to concentrate in that area. It has a large digital nomad community from all over the world and is the happening place. But, as before, I have no need of business groups. However, I did miss having someone I could call for coffee or lunch or drinks, i.e., FRIENDS!
Here in The Algarve, it is mostly retired and semi-retired people. I have found most of my in-person meetups through Facebook expat groups. I could be just as active here on a social level as I was back in Clearwater on a business level. There’s a monthly ladies’ lunch, weekly Wednesday mixer, morning walking groups, charity events, coffees, painting and yoga classes, etc.
Saturday, my friend Liz asked me if I wanted to go to São Brás for coffee. Thinking this was a coffee place, I agreed. When we got to the address, it was someone’s residence. As we buzzed at the gate, we said, “Well, either we’ll get run off or make a new friend.”
(How did I meet Liz? She posted in one of the expat groups asking if anyone wanted to meet for drinks at one of the restaurants in Santa Luzia. Yes. Meeting new friends in Portugal is that easy.)
This particular Saturday morning coffee event takes place at the residence of Graham and Jane in São Brás de Alportel. (It’s a town, not a coffee joint. Who knew?) Every week they open up their home, providing coffee and muffins. There’s a book exchange every other week. There is sometimes a clothing exchange. There’s a donation box to cover coffee and to donate to various causes, including the local Bombeiros (fire department).
We chatted for over an hour, had some coffee, and of course, fussed over Charlie the dog. Most of the people knew each other—they’d been coming to these for a while and São Brás itself is a smallish town (about 11,000 people). Everyone was open and welcoming, and largely interesting. There was catching up and sharing of vital information: “Who cut your hair?” (Trust me, finding someone who speaks your language and cuts hair well is a find!)
I met a lot of Brits, plus people from The Netherlands, Germany, a young man with a Swedish name who (he told us) was not Swedish. Many had lived all over the world—South America, the Middle East, Asia. I think I was the only US person there.
Some of the people had lived in Portugal for decades. Others, like me, have been here for only a few years. What we all seemed to have in common was gratitude for our adopted country. Most of the expats I have met want to assimilate into the culture to varying degrees. They are mindful of Portuguese culture and sometimes will remind people who ask about possible Thanksgiving or Fourth of July celebrations that (amazingly enough!) Portugal doesn’t celebrate these things.
As we were heading towards Liz’s car she remarked to me, “This would never happen in the UK—just opening up your home to strangers.” It doesn’t really happen in the States anymore, either. It’s dangerous. People might steal or at the least, rifle through your things. The crime rate in Portugal is low. There are some things that are “just not done.” The expat community is small and we’re all well within the six degrees of each other. You don’t burn bridges. Or, as my nana would say, “You don’t shit where you eat.” Successful crime needs anonymity and Portugal is a small country.
Which may also be why there is such a strong sense of community here. People know each other. You greet strangers as you pass with a Bom Dia, Boa Tarde, or Boa Noite, depending on the time of day. It is easy to be more social here. It is easy to find people that you have things in common with. The expat community is all about meeting new friends in Portugal. There is a “neighborliness” here that has been lost in many places in the US. While I am not yet a social butterfly (and probably never will be), I am more open to people and experiences. And that’s what travel is supposed to do for you.