- -  Day # 100  + +

EU > Portugal > Castelo Branco

Iberian battles

Castelo Branco, PT (View on map)

It`s quite normal for small countries to have a negative view on their big neighbours. Whether it`s a minority complex, arrogance of the neighbour or troubled relations in the past, people from small countries will find reasons to support their dislike of the bigger country next door. The same in Portugal. Even though the Portuguese are quick to admit that Spain offers more opportunities for a better life, their general perception of the Spanish is rather negative.

Vanessa (22):

`Spanish people will hardly ever make an effort to learn Portuguese ? not even when they are visiting Portugal`
Both countries share a great deal of experiences. They have both been part of the Roman Empire, they were both fighting against the Moors, and they were both ruled by dictators for a part of the 20th century. Both countries joined the EU in 1986, but none of these common experience have been able to make the Portuguese people become friends with Spain. Frequent historical battles between Portugal and Spain seem to have much more decisive in the view they have of one another.

Taking over
It is a common way of saying that Spain invades Portugal every 200 years. Under that theory, the next time is coming up soon. Rather than occupying the country with soldiers, the current wave is mostly economic. Big Spanish corporations are buying up Portuguese ones. Spanish chains, like the fashion shops of Zara or the consumer banks of Santander Totto, are spreading over the country.

Vanessa (22, photo) lives close to Spain, but doesn`t visit often. The only places in Spain she has been to are Lloret de Mar (Catalunya), Ayamonte (Andalusia), and Santiago de Compostela (Galicia). Her view of Spain is rather indifferent, although she finds it annoying that Spanish people always expect Portuguese people to speak and understand Spanish, while the Spanish themselves will hardly ever make an effort to learn Portuguese ? not even when they are visiting Portugal. The Spanish find spoken Portuguese almost impossible to understand, even though they have no problems reading it. A matter of pronounciation.

Apart from the annoyance about these unadaptive Spaniards, the language is also a reason to make fun of them. The Portuguese laugh at Spain for always and forever dubbing foreign TV programs, which the Portuguese claim to be one of the reasons why Spanish people are so poor at foreign languages.

Since both countries are very fanatic about football, it is not a big surprise that clashes between the two national teams are a good reason to emphasise the rivalry. However, such sport events hardly ever lead to riots, tire-puncturing or other sources of violence. It is mostly the football commentators who bring old metaphors to the surface, stirring the excitement and making more out of it than whatever is actually happening.

Visits and return visits
Many Spanish own residences in the border area with Portugal or on the beach. Many of them are pensionados, who have a lot more purchasing power in Portugal than they have in Spain. One of the very few things that are actually cheaper in Spain is petrol ? which is in turn a reason for many Portuguese from the border areas to jump across the border every now and then. Ingredients for rolling joints are also more easily available in Spain, which drives many youngsters to the Spanish border area.

When the Portuguese plan their holidays, they are not very likely to include Spain in the route. France is much more popular, and some even consider it culturally closer to Portugal than Spain is. The love for cooking, and for style in general, are among the favourite reasons why people like France better than Spain. Also the French and Portuguese language are very close to each other, not only in reading but also in speaking.

It is however not uncommon for Portuguese to study in Spain or to look for a job. Pedro (22) tells me that Spain is in many ways thought of as more modern than Portugal. `Infrastructure is better, access to the world is better, it`s easier to find a job, the economy is better and people have more diverse opinions than in Portugal`, he says. On top of that, there`s less corruption and there are much more multinational companies present. Good reasons for some Portuguese to overcome their prejudices and make a living in Spain. Many do and they usually stay away for a long period of time.

Belisa (22) is a graduate in biochemistry. Despite her degree, she is not able to find work in the area of her studies. Hospitals in Portugal are not willing to hire qualified personnel to perform diagnostic tests, which results in many jobs going to cousins of bosses and other people who are cheaper than official biochemists. For now, she is living at home with her parents again, helping them to pick olives and grapes on the family premises.

If the search for a job lasts much longer, Belisa will move to Spain to try her luck there. She tells me that many people stay away for 10 years: enough to obtain experience, possibly an additional degree and hopefully to earn a lot of money. Once that has all been achieved, many Portuguese still decide to return to their roots. Portuguese cuisine seems to be the most attractive reason to return, but knowing a little about the social structure of Portugal, saudade of the family may act as a magnet as well.

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