Photo: franz12/Shutterstock

4 Uncomfortable Truths About Living in Portugal

Portugal Student Work Activism
by Sandra Guedes Oct 21, 2015

1. Portugal’s interior is for sale, and we are losing our traditions and environment because of it.

The need for money and higher-paying jobs has put Portugal in the hands of the big cities. Our countryside stone houses surrounded by mountains now serve as shelters to wild animals instead of people. In some interior areas there are only seven people per square kilometre, yet there are more than 5,000 people per square kilometre by the sea.

Our elderly citizens have gotten used to life in the “terrinha,” where they stay behind and often feel forgotten, remembering a time when the need for money was much smaller and children played football in the streets, instead of playing on their smart phones or tablets.

Today the countryside has barely any children at all, as hundreds of primary schools continue to close their doors each year. In 2014, about 439 schools were shut. Because young people are no longer around to learn long-rooted crafts and traditions from our elders in Portugal’s interior, our own culture is slowly fading away into the pages of history books.

Our interior land is in disarray as well. Plants grow wild, and trees which were once used to heat up our fireplaces are drying up in the intense summer heat, causing forrest fires. In 2010 the number of fires registered reached 22.026, around ten times more than what was registered 30 years previously.

And consequently, the social differences between the littoral and the interior keep growing.

2. Portugal has the highest HIV rate in Western Europe.

According to the statistics, 4,313 HIV Positive cases were diagnosed and reported by 29 countries in the European Union in 2012, which equals 0.8 cases per 100,000 people and Portugal had the highest incidents rate in Western Europe with 2.8 cases.

The government has been addressing the situation by taking some controversial measures. For instance syringes have been given away for free in prisons — where it’s illegal to consume drugs — and they have also been made available in pharmacies. Although Portugal still heads the table with HIV in Western Europe, our rates of positive cases have dropped 20% since 2006, but is that enough?

3. We are an old divided country in search of a new honest leader.

In October 2015, 43% of the Portuguese population within voting age walked away from the polls. And many citizens, ranging in age from 18 to over 90 years old, felt undignified that millions did not show up that day to exercise their right. Blog posts and news sprouted across the Web paying tribute to those who gave their lives fighting for what was once a Utopic idea. Those who did vote believe the 43% who did not have lost their right to complain for the next four years about our country’s situation.

Those who didn’t vote that Sunday claimed to be too tired. Some were born under a dictatorship and had voted for decades, but didn’t want to leave their homes that October. Somehow it doesn’t matter if we’re in a democracy, monarchy or dictatorship — it all feels the same. At the end of the day, those 43% will be part of the same group that pays taxes to whatever type of government is in power, and pay the wages of those who are meant to represent the fight for their own causes and well-being: our politicians.

4. Portugal’s attitude is more anti than pro.

We are anti-unemployment, we are anti-working-during-the-weekends and we are anti-factories-closing-down and having thousands of job placements destroyed. This would all be fine if we were not also anti the companies that want to create hundreds of jobs for us. We’ll publicly claim they are just throwing sand in our eyes and complain that their efforts are not good enough. Regardless of the situation, we are simultaneously anti those who are anti, and anti those who are pro.

If it is expensive, it’s too expensive. If it’s free, it’s too good to be true. Maybe the problem starts with our politics. We’ve become used to listening to the opposition criticize whatever our actual government is doing, while our media and social media expose every piece of dirt that either side has under their carpet. Then, we adopt the anti-policy of criticising the carpet and the dirt. Why don’t we just create a pro-policy, and find a solution to clean the carpet?

Discover Matador