Returning To Portugal: An Interview with Pamela Ferreira

Written by:
Last updated on June 4, 2024 | Est. Reading Time: 6 minutes

Pamela Ferreira grew up as a third culture kid, with an incredibly multicultural background that saw her living all over the world. However, she always felt drawn to Portugal and despite many cultural influences in her life, identified more as Portuguese than any other culture.

Recently she decided to make the move to Lisbon from Amsterdam.

James: Tell me a little bit about yourself and your upbringing. 

Pamela: I am a blend of cultures—half Portuguese, half Spanish, with a childhood spent across Mexico, Madrid, and Abu Dhabi. Despite this rich tapestry of experiences, Portugal has always been a recurring theme in my life, a place I associated with summer, family, and a sense of belonging. 

This connection was nurtured by frequent visits, driven by my mother’s insistence on maintaining our ties to our Portuguese family. Over time, as I lived in various cities worldwide, I found myself reflecting on my identity. Although my upbringing was globally nomadic, I felt a deep connection to Portugal, which ultimately compelled me to move there and explore my cultural heritage.

James: I imagine you’ve seen some significant changes in Portugal during that time?

Especially in the cities. Lisbon, for instance, has transformed dramatically, and I feel it now aligns more closely with other international capitals like Amsterdam, rather than the smaller towns in Portugal. Lisbon is a world apart from Leiria, where my family is from, for example.

The influx of fusion and international restaurants, for example, is obvious, especially when compared to other Portuguese towns and cities. But I think its cultural identity is also increasingly more international than Portuguese.

James: You recently moved to Lisbon. What was that like?

Relocating to Portugal felt like a homecoming, but the reality is a bit more complex than that.

My fluency in Portuguese and familiarity with the culture didn’t fully prepare me for the nuances of living here. I found myself in a strange space, neither a foreign expat nor a local Portuguese person, navigating Portuguese slang and cultural references that were unfamiliar.

This in-between status made integrating into local communities challenging, pushing me to find friends with others who have similarly mixed backgrounds.

I would love to make more Portuguese friends, but many Portuguese people have their ties already and I find myself speaking more English than Portuguese in Lisbon. At the moment, I find myself spending more time with the Spanish-speaking community in Lisbon than any other.

James: Did you consider any other locations besides Lisbon?

Choosing Lisbon was an obvious decision for me, and I crave the vibrancy of a cosmopolitan city. It’s also the city with the most job opportunities. Despite the challenges, Lisbon just has an energy that I really enjoy.

Yet, adapting to the Portuguese way of life, especially coming from the structured efficiency of the Netherlands, has been an adjustment, though. The spontaneous social culture here contrasts sharply with the planned social interactions I was accustomed to.

In The Netherlands, if you ask someone if they want to go for a coffee, they immediately look at their diary to see when they can fit you in. That might be in two weeks’ time. In Portugal, it’s easier to make last-minute plans. You could go for coffee straight away.

James: What are some of your biggest likes (and dislikes) about Lisbon?

Pamela: Adjusting to Lisbon has been quite a journey. In Amsterdam, I had grown accustomed to the rhythm of the city, and felt like I knew every nook and cranny.

Truthfully, I haven’t spent a huge amount of time in Lisbon City Centre. I’ve found myself drawn more towards the natural landscapes on the outside of the city instead. The accessibility to diverse natural settings, from beaches to lush countryside, is something Amsterdam didn’t offer, especially considering the Dutch weather.

That said, Lisbon, to me, feels alive at all hours. Whereas Amsterdam would quieten down as the evening progressed, Lisbon has this energy that buzzes long into the night. It’s this spontaneous vibe that makes the city so unique.

However, the state of some buildings and public spaces leaves much to be desired. It’s a stark contrast to the well-maintained buildings I was used to seeing in Amsterdam.

What are some of the main differences between life in the Netherlands and Portugal? 

The biggest shock is going from a very efficient culture to a very inefficient culture. In terms of friendships, city planning, everything, the Netherlands is geared towards maximum efficiency.

Transport in Amsterdam is well connected and every area of the city has services. I miss biking so much, but I can’t even fathom the idea of biking in Lisbon. The buses here are unreliable, so I generally get around the city by foot. 

Besides spontaneity, another difference is directness. The Portuguese people really try to people please, even if it doesn’t always work for them. In the Netherlands, in comparison, people say exactly what they think. They see it as being genuine, but if you’re not used to it, it can throw you off and might come across as rude or blunt.

In Portugal, we aren’t so direct but we know what the other person is getting at because we all think in that way. 

Pamela Madeira

So, would you say you’re returning to Portugal or starting afresh?

I wouldn’t say either. Starting from the beginning but with a lot more context and knowledge than most people have, I guess. 

A number of Portugalist readers grew up abroad with one or more Portuguese parents. What advice would you give to those considering a move to Portugal? 

I think moving to Portugal and connecting with its culture really hinges on your prior exposure to it and how your parents have shared their own experiences of Portugal with you.

It’s essential to approach this journey with an openness to rediscover everything from scratch. You have to accept that you might not know everything about Portugal, and that what you do know might not always be applicable.

It’s all part of the adventure.

The small print: Portugalist may generate a commission from mentioned products or services. This is at no additional cost to you and it does not affect our editorial standards in any way. All content, including comments, should be treated as informational and not advice of any kind, including legal or financial advice. The author makes no representations as to the accuracy, completeness, suitability, or validity of any information on this site and will not be liable for any errors or omissions or damages arising from its display or use. Links to external websites do not constitute an endorsement. [Disclaimer Policy]
Written by

James Cave is the founder of Portugalist and the author of the bestselling book, Moving to Portugal Made Simple. He has visited just about every part of Portugal, including Madeira and all nine islands of the Azores, and lived in several parts of Portugal including Lisbon, the Algarve, and Northern Portugal.

Spotted a mistake? Suggest a correction

There are 0 comments on this article. Join the conversation and add your own thoughts, reviews, and stories of life in Portugal. However, please remember to be civil.

Leave a Comment