In the days when I anchored the morning shift for NPR’s affiliate WBEZ, I’d roust myself from a toasty bed at 3:30 in the morning to be at the studio by 4:30 to produce and present the news at 5:30. I relished the work but the blinding blizzards, perilous ice storms and arctic cold swooshing in from Lake Michigan endlessly agitated my delicate constitution.

I’m musing about this during a morning beach walk in my new Portugal home as the winter glow of the Algarvian sun has me peeling back my fleecy vest.

Eight months ago my husband and I made a major life decision to move to Portugal. We decamped from the states, crossed the Pond and landed in the lap of unspoiled natural beauty in this European country that’s slightly smaller than Indiana.

We're 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 percent increase in our numbers over the previous year according to government data (2021).

Sure, sunshine is a big draw – with more than 300 days of it per year. But I also got that living in Denver and Tampa. There are many other reasons that are resonating with me and my fellow Americans.

Credits: Supplied Image; Author: Becca Williams;

Culture Shock Solace

Remarkably, any culture “shock” I’m experiencing with my move is more culture “solace”.

Everybody wants to feel safe and foremost on our American minds is the gun violence in everyday surroundings. Chicago is reeling from shootings – at parades, parks, shopping venues and, most appallingly, in our schools. I’m 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. 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 a few weeks ago and my co-pay cost was, in U.S. dollars, $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.

Credits: Supplied Image; Author: Becca Williams;

My Loud Pushy Americanism

The first few months here my big city 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. Eight 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.

Becca Williams is settling into small town living in Lagos, a seaside town on Portugal’s southern coast.

by Becca Williams