Photo: Pedro Ribeiro Simões
When you tell a normal mother you have a new boyfriend, she’ll ask about him, his family and where he’s from.
A Portuguese mother will ask you all those same questions, but in public, and as others leave the room she’ll give you all the advice you never asked for on sex. After all, the more you enjoy yourself the greater the odds are of her getting grandchildren.
A normal mother will talk refer to you by your name. In a gathering of normal mothers, they will talk about you using your name.
A Portuguese mother will agree that “os filhos não nos pertencem,” yet still continue to mention your name preceded by the possessive “my,” e.g.: “o meu João,” or “a minha Maria.” Because whether you like it or not, you will be always hers.
A normal mother cooks regular-sized meals for her family.
A Portuguese mother cooks extra-large meals of Bacalhau à Brás, big enough to feed the neighbours next door and the army battalion in the outskirts of the city.
A normal mother will advise her children not to talk to strangers.
A Portuguese mother will not only say “não fales com estranhos,” but she’ll be the first to talk to strangers at the market, hairdresser’s, bus station, train station, and not to mention the lady walking down the road with a push chair and that man walking his dogs.
A normal mother will congratulate you if you get good grades in school.
A Portuguese mother will expect you to have good grades and also to do better next time.
When you announce you are going to a different country, a normal mother will wish you good luck and ask you to keep in touch.
A Portuguese mother will start a speech with “ai meu rico filho,” pinch your cheeks, remind you to eat well, remind you of your allergies and kiss you like it’s her last opportunity to do so.
When you visit a normal mother, she’ll greet you and offer you something to drink.
A Portuguese mother will open her arms, say “estás tão magrinho,” and immediately start cooking a welcome home buffet with arroz de tomate, janquizinhos, salad and arroz doce — completely ignoring the fact that your BMI has not changed once in the last ten years.
When you call a normal mother, she’ll give you some major highlights from her week.
A Portuguese mother will give you a fully detailed report on everything that has happened to her — from her doctor’s appointment to the neighbour’s cat going missing, to what time she took the clothes off the line and what she’s had to eat for her last three meals. Then she’ll end the conversation by asking what you’re going to have for dinner that night.
On your birthday, a normal mother will give you a hug, a kiss, a gift, and ask you if you want to invite some of your friends around for a birthday cake.
A Portuguese mother will publicly share all of her sweet memories of you — from the details of your conception to the day you took your first naked breath.
A normal mother is moderately punctual.
A Portuguese mother says “ainda me falta lavar a loiça,” when everyone is about to go out. She’ll check that every corner of the house is clean — because you never know who you might bring back home. Now, whenever you arrive somewhere late, it’s a totally different story.
A normal mother is tolerant with the mess in your bedroom.
A Portuguese mother screams your first two names and lets everyone in the street know that your shoes were on top of your bed.
A normal mother will give you medicine when you are sick.
A Portuguese mother will give you medicine, a miraculous canja de galinha, and she’ll include pão de leite and other special treats on her shopping list so you can recover faster. And none of your siblings will be allowed to touch them.
On Christmas Eve, a normal mother will make sure she has everything she needs for the following day.
A Portuguese mother will boil bacalhau, potatoes, and couve portuguesa from your father’s or the neighbours’ horta for that evening. She’ll make sure nobody forgot to buy bread from the bakery next door and she’ll keep checking that the turkey is big enough and count all the pairs of socks she bought to replace your old filthy socks.
A normal mother will go to the shop when she runs out of lemons.
A Portuguese mother will just take some from the neighbour’s tree.
A normal mother will tell you old stories about the family.
A Portuguese mother will invite family members around on Sundays and cook grandmother’s pasta-and-bean traditional family recipe.
A normal mother will feel reassured when you decide to hang out at home.
A Portuguese mother will get sick of seeing you in the house and tell you to go and do something else.
A normal mother will prepare a few sandwiches for a day out at the beach.
A Portuguese mother will bring homemade bread, a roasted chicken, a bottle of water, two things of juice, six oranges, four apples, 1kg of grapes, and a whole melon or watermelon and mention several times she forgot something.
A normal mother buys jam in the supermarket.
A Portuguese mother makes the best tomato jam in the world, and stores enough to give you another pot in the winter when yours runs out.
When you arrive home late from work, a normal mother will suggest that you eat something light before bed.
A Portuguese mother will warm up some soup, give you some leftovers of bacalhau, and remind you multiple times that there is fruit in the basket.
A normal mother will understand if you only have time for a sandwich at lunch.
A Portuguese mother will ask you, “Onde é que já se viu?” She’ll worry that you are running out of money, tell you she knew you weren’t eating enough because you look so pale, and pack your lunch herself for tomorrow. That way, you won’t desmair de fraqueza.