The Portuguese are a people generally comfortable with the English language. About half the population is fluent and many of those that don’t have total mastery of the language can still communicate. It is one of the many things that made the country feel more like a second home. We have aspirations of learning Portuguese, but in the meantime, we can navigate and build relationships pretty successfully in English. That said, there are subtle, charming differences in phrasing and expression that differentiate American and Portuguese English. For example, because English is a second language, no matter how fluent the speaker, there is often validation needed that everyone truly understand one another. “Exactly, exactly” is the phrase the Portuguese use for this confirmation and the saying is uttered as frequently there as “y’all” is in the U.S. South.
Having sold our house in the U.S., David and I recently took the monumental step of purchasing property in this wonderful country. It was a daunting and exhilarating experience. We did so in preparation for long-term travel and the desire to have a home base in Western Europe for both logistical and visa reasons. Everyone we worked with throughout the process, from the realtor to the lawyer to the banker had different masteries of English but “exactly exactly” rounded out many sentences.
The decision to purchase in our chosen city in Portugal was not a spontaneous one. On the contrary, we’ve spent the last several years researching the advantages of purchasing real estate in different countries, eventually narrowed our possibilities to Spain and Portugal, and spent several weeks exploring Portugal to determine that Cascais was the place for us. That started an eight month long-distance property search which culminated in the selection of a cute little two bedroom flat about which we couldn’t be more excited.
Once we finalized our decision, we ventured into Lisbon to meet with an attorney named Cristiana who was recommended by our realtor. Cristiana was lovely and informative, but the whole process was still somewhat overwhelming. We then darted across town to meet with an equally lovely banker named Andreia, who walked us through the seemingly needlessly complex process of opening a bank account (which must be done in person, not over the phone or online). We learned that employment wasn’t a requirement to open a bank account, however if you have the misfortune of having a job, the amount of documentation required to validate employment is sizable. We bounced our way back to our Airbnb from Lisbon on the train that evening both overwhelmed and exhausted.
It has been a few months since we returned to Denver from Portugal. The dust has settled, the transaction is now complete and we’ve had a chance to reflect on the experience. In the moment, everything seemed harder than it needed to be, kind of scary, and, despite the amazing English spoken by those helping us through the process, well, foreign. In hindsight though, the act of purchasing real estate in any a country is a complicated affair, perhaps this is most true in the U.S. Ironically, our realtor in Portugal is planning on moving from there to Miami soon and will go through the process we’ve just completed in reverse. His English is passable but we struggled to communicate at times so I can’t imagine how daunting he will find the mountains of paperwork he will need to sign to secure a property in our country and, even if he has the fortune to find someone who can help him translate the documents, how they will explain to him that he needs to sign papers to demonstrate he understands there may be lead in the paint on his house or how he will navigate the inspection/disclosure process. Their process for that in Portugal is “we trust,” which, while perhaps a little risky, is undoubtedly simpler.
Both David and I had our moments of panic through the process, fortunately, never at the same time. During both our meetings with the banker and the lawyer, they patiently walked us through the process and ended their explanations with “Do you have any doubts?” At first, the phrase puzzled us a little and we found the question a bit personal. We wanted to say, “why yes!” and adjourn over to the office sofa for a lengthy therapy session to help us deal with our anxiety. We eventually figured out that the word “doubt” is interchangeable with “question” in Portuguese English. However, the realization made the exchanges no less comical. They would both ask if we had doubts and we would nervously reply that “no, we had no doubts” they would cheerfully return with “No doubts, really? Well, think about it, because when you do, you will surely have doubts.”
Well, Cristiana and Andreia we have thought about it and, yes, we have many doubts. We are about to leave our jobs for at least two years, move to another country and give up much of what is comfortable and known to us. We have doubts about the timing, the distance from friends and family, money and many other things. It would be easier to stay the course and follow a more traditional path. So yes, many doubts and butterflies and sleepless nights. I have never in my life had such a combination of doubt and certainty, of fear and excitement. I think we’re ready, doubts and all.