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Spain and Portugal: neighbors or strangers?

Por: | 07 de abril de 2011

ZP nad Sócrates 
It has transpired many a time over the years. A Spanish person begins to vituperate against the French and when I ask whence surges this boiling bile toward the northern neighbor, the answer comes with a shrug: "Well, they just ignore us." In recent years a rather flimsy tennis-based explanation may have tended to crop up more often, but at root, Spanish hostility toward our Gallic cousins seems to be essentially a case of feeling spurned: here we are, looking gorgeous, tanned at a lively bar in the summery south, and the French boy just shrugs and returns to his interminable conversation with a somewhat thickset German girl.

Well, this is the way things go. All countries have to focus more in one direction than others to keep their bearings. Britain looks across the Atlantic and France has always been more conscientious in its efforts of trying to provide a cultural lead to the landmass of central Europe (not to mention two or three other continents) than bothering to see what was stirring the other side of the Pyrenees. And, for several centuries, the truth is that it wasn't missing much. Now things are different, and the French attitude should change; naturally. But my point is not French guilt or otherwise regarding trans-Pyrenean dealings. No. I am looking further west from Irún and imagining a similar conversation in a café in Porto or Lisbon. “What exactly do you have against the Spanish,” I would ask. “Well, they just ignore us." And could ever a truer word be spoken? 

Living in Spain, Portugal might as well not be there, and any visit to Extremadura should come with a warning not to stand too close to the end of the known world. Anyone who pines for a drop of port at Christmas will know what I mean, with only the Corte Inglés gourmet store (if you have on near) offering a meager selection of the wonderful sweet wine. The languages are so similar and yet those flattened vowels are largely absent from the airwaves or the stage. With the death of Saramago, the Nobel laureate resident in the Canaries, a literary link has been lost. Ask someone living in Spain (and I include myself) to name a living Portuguese writer, and they will most likely flounder. 

Ibero-Socialists Zapatero and Sócrates seemed to enjoy a fraternal rapport, with much talk of a Madrid-Lisbon high-speed train route, despite the serious doubts over whether there is much desire for such a service. But how poignant that now, in Portugal's greatest hour of need, heartless neighbor Spain simply cannot be seen in her company for fear of confirming some kind of Iberian curse, proving that inferior coin is the inevitable order of the day south of the Pyrenean divide.

With the humiliation of following the Greeks and Irish in asking for a European bailout now seemingly inevitable, the Portuguese will hang their heads a little heavier as they walk down high streets where Zara rubs shoulders with El Corte Inglés (that’s how they get the port wine). The Portuguese seem to have little choice but to admire their successful and dynamic neighbor, and even ponder idly the possibility of an Iberian federation, as was supported by Saramago. A survey published this week shows that the number of people on both sides of the border in favor of forming a union between Spain and Portugal is actually on the rise.

Busquets and Ronaldo 

The latest Barómetro de Opinión Hispano-Luso, carried out by Salamanca’s Social Analysis Center, reveals that 46 percent of Portuguese (up from 40 percent in 2009) and 31 percent of Spaniards (up a shade from 30 percent), claim they would support some form of Iberian federation. It would certainly produce a strong soccer team, although Spaniards might blanche at the prospect of glory boy Cristiano Ronaldo ruining the all-conquering harmony of La Roja.

Hay 98 Comentarios


I am travelling around the world and have lived many years outside Spain in anglosaxon countries. This journey has helped me to realise that a union of equals based on a shared vision on improvement of common people's lives with a common purpose to revitalise unique and diverse communities should be good for those communities and set up an example for the world.
A union between the Spanish, Portuguese, Catalan, Basque, Andalucian.... speaking countries if desired by the people living there in equal terms of all the communities would certainly encourage South American countries to do the same and therefore help to develop and create a peaceful society on both sides of the Atlantic.

Having crossed the border between Spain and Portugal only twice (I was visiting from Massachusetts), I was shocked at the disconnection I noticed between both countries. In Lisbon it came as a surprise that I spoke Portuguese besides Spanish. The infrequent bus and train schedules between both countries and the lethargic interaction in the border towns, is the opposite from the vibrancy of Brazilian contacts with its Latin American neighbors.

I sincerely think that this time the paper made the wrong choice with this blogger. He must have been sitting in some seaside cafe having a drink of whatever as his opinion has nothing to do with what is really going on and his writing style tells that he was not really on to what he was supposed to be doing.

My comment is not so much about the article, but rather about the logo of the blog. If it was a deliberate strategy to make more people write comments and even start a controversy, then I have to say to it was a clever move. Otherwise, designing a logo for a "trans-Iberian journey" with only symbols of Spain (and what a selection...) is, to say the least, to initiate the discussion from a biased point of view. I would suggest a little bit more creativity and savoir-faire: forget about peinetas and paellas, fado guitars and Barcelos cocks. Identify the common traits and what makes us different - basically what gives some sense to this blog. Otherwise, I will appreciate reading these outsider views on life on the stone raft...

Sorry, but I missed the point. Whats the big deal in knowing the name of the actual writer of the novel you´re reading?? I know the novels-books-article whatever I´m reading but seriously I dont even know the writers name. And I dont give a shit to be honest. If its good, its good. Im currently reading "Blink" from an american author, he´s suppose to be some journalist from NYTimes or something like that, but dont ask me the name, cuz I don´t know it.

Btw, poor article. Doesnt show anything. But please keep trying, the actual idea is quite good I think!

This is really a poor article. Even though the author claims to live in Spain he must be watching BBC all the time, and hanging out with his English-friends. He seems to know very little about the Iberian dynamics.

If the author flounders at saying the name of a Portuguese renowned author that's the result of his ignorance, and not due to the existence of any (in fact, there are many).

If the author believes the Portuguese would ever accept being part of a federation with Spain he's completely wrong. Don't take my wrong: Galicians, Basques and Catalans are good folks, but we have no intention to socialize with the Castilians.

I consider Portugal a country which is close to Spain in many aspects, but I would never accept a union or federation with them. Portugal has a history on its own that makes it impossible any sort of union.

First: I do not think that there is a single country in Europe that gets on with France...
Second: As an Spanish, I never felt so close to Portugal as yesterday when I heart that they need a bailout. It is true that we maybe next in the line to be humiliated but the whole of Europe, but more than sympathy what I feel is the injustice: Portugal (as Spain) may not have lot of money, but it is a decent country... more than what you can find in the North (prosperous?) Europe.

I love Spain, but as nobody asked me about the so called Federation, here is my portuguese answer. NO, NO and NO! You must be kidding, guys!

By the way, James, I have avoided making any joke with your family name, and the quality of your article in the blog.
I guess you should be grateful, pay me a beer or something... ;-D

You absolutely missed the point, sorry. And, I guess you did it intentionally.
You could have well put an english guy, instead of of a french one, and it wouldn't have changed much the story, or the facts in real life. But, since the people writing this blog are english, or 'anglosaxons' (like french say), it was more convenient to put a french lad.
Nevertheless, the thing is that your point is almost completely futile an inexact.
True that for a long time spaniards have ignored portuguese people somehow, but that started to change with the democratic transition, and nowadays is not the case at all. Writers, artist, singers of portugal are known and welcome in Spain.

I believe that all that had to do with a kind of idea that was fixed in spanish culture, that the portuguese had committed treason, somehow at one point in history, by leaving the other people in the peninsula, in Iberia, in Hispania. As 'Luis de Camoens' said: 'castellanos y portugueses, porque españoles somos todos'.

Comparing the relationship, and making parallelisms between the spaniards and portuguese relations, and the French and spaniards (or english, or many other europeans) is an absolute fallacy.

The case of the relationship between other western and nothern europeans and spaniards is completely different. That is a case of historic racism and xenophobia. A case of ethnicity, phenotype etc. A case also, of centuries of ignorance, based on bias and political and economic interests, where the 'Leyenda negra' has had a mayor role.
Some British scholars have studied and recognized these facts, and published books about it. Some articles about thiat were published in ElPais some months ago.

About Known and Unkwon Writers. I'm glad to discover that all of you have both, great sense of humor and a huge Library with all the Books (of course you've red all of them), novels, poems of all the writers that have written anything in your language through the ages. Do you? Ok.
I'm Spaniard, and althought it could make you thing I'm illiterate or something, you're very mistaken, one think is being Spaniard and other is liking Spaniard Literature, and frankly, I do not read any Premio Planeta, Nadal y mierdas similares, I read Sci-Fi (no Spanish Writers), Fantasy (no Spanish Writers but some politicians) and History (mainly Roman and Greek), so I know very well what Asimov, Ciceron, Philip K. Dick, George R.R. Martin, Plauto and so many others wrote. In the other hand, "DIME DE QUE PRESUMES, Y TE DIRE DE QUE CARECES". How many books do you use to read?, And Shampoo Recipients Instructions when your sitting on the marble? I think that all of you, funny people, read more of the second.

Costumo fazer férias nas Astúrias e nos Picos. É maravilhoso e sempre fui bem tratado. Sinto-me em casa.

Seriously, I thought El Pais as a great newspaper, only publish good blogs and good articles, but now, I think I was wrong... I think you have no idea about Spaniards and Portuguese. I'm living in Scotland, why you don't write about Scots's feelings toward English people?
We've got a lot of history in back and it's a madness think about an Iberian federation.
PS: If there is any distrust to French people is because they thought they were always better than us, saying things like Spain is part of Morocco.

First of all I would like to thank you for this blog .

You mentioned " it is almost impossible to find a Spaniard capable of naming a Portuguese writer " .
You got it wrong all along ," it is impossible to find a Spaniard capable of naming a contemporary Spanish writer let alone a Portuguese one ", would be a far more appropriate statement .

P.S. Not intended as a joke .

Guys, you have no idea what you're talking about. Living in a country for a few years don't give you enough knowledge to write a blog like this in the paper (I'm quite disappointed with El Pais).
I'm from Spain and have great friends from Portugal. I love them and love Portugal. I always feel that they share so much with us and I appreciate their culture and their beautiful country. They treat us very well when we travel to Portugal.

I always think that the Brits are a little bored in their country. Seriously, could you please write a blog about your relationship with Irland and stop writing things that you don't know? This is totally nonsense.

I don't agree with the overview of this topic. I was born in France, I'm Spaniard and I was living for a long time in Vigo and one of my favourites places to spend my time was Northern Portugal. We're similar countries with similar backgrounds that once played to conquer the world, as British and French did. The main difference is that Spain and Portugal never were enemies in the same way England and France were. I agree with the idea of being the same country, IBERIA, just like ancient Greeks named us a couple milleniums ago, that's our real name, that's the name that most of the citizens from every part of the Peninsula will admit like the one that identifies his land in the most suitable way. There's only one problem, and it's not an easy one, Spain has a King, so if the Prince give up when his time comes, IBERIA will have a shot, in other case, not only IBERIA will be a "Quimera" , Spain will still be, like nowadays is.

I DO adore Portugal

And I will miss (a lot) Vaticalia. Goodbye Mr. Mora, ciao.

My boyfriend , from Spain, was working and living in Lisbon. I've visited him several times. We have travel around Portugal in hollydays and I can say that people from Portugal has been always really nice and we have made good friends there. We have never had any problem. I only have good words for Portugal. I always feel like home there.

And you can ask a Spanish people about a French writer or Italian or Greek and I'm m sure few of them give you an answer.

Great idea for a blog... but I think the logo is extremely biased towards Spain: Sagrada Familia, a Bull, Paella, Peineta and el Peine de los vientos from San Sebastian. It is a beautiful logo, but come one, couldn't it have a Torre de Belem, or the silhouette of Padrao dos descobrimentos, a portuguese tile like those on the walls of Sao Bento Station in Porto, one of the bridges from Aveiro or a cork tree from the Alentejo? because right now it is looking pretty Trans-Spanish

We live in the Alentejo and we have lots of traffic along the A6 (near Badajoz to near Setubal) with Spanish license plates. I was told most go hunting or to the beaches near Setubal. In the same vein, at Sagres in the summer you willl find lots of Spanish cars. Whatever that means.

I travel little. The thing with travelling abroad and mixing and being well received is that you must try to speak the local language, if only attempt to do it and fail. Our local way of gesticulating a mixture of portuguese and spanish, which we call the "portiñol", is usually met with lots of wide smiles.

If you just go about by yourself and refuse to try to say even 'buenos dias' and 'muchas gracias', much like so many english speakers do, you can be sure not to receive much positive attention.

The blog's title banner image might benefit from some cultural reworking.

I'm missing the clichè about the portuguese women and their gigantic moustaches, and also the clichè that Spain, in reality, only wants to conquer Portugal to become filthy powerful.
(Everyone knows where do hairy women come from!:D)

I worked and lived in Portugal for six years and my children were born there. I struggled to learn the language and I achieved it. But there was always a high proportion of people (let's say about 25%) that treated me as a "Spaniard-piece-of-shit" for the only reason of being Spaniard. Luckily, it was better than the way they treat citizens from Angola, Cabo Verde, Guiné and Moçambique.

Many Portuguese people would tell you that their ancestors made a big mistake in 1640... But you cannot fight against centuries of propaganda from the House of Bragança (and its Fascist inheritors) in search of legitimacy and their "official" History that succeeded to depict their "coup d'état" against the House of Habsburg as a people's revolt against "Spanish" rule.
Not to mention that nowadays the Portuguese do heartly believe in a Republic as kind of government. There is no place for any dream of "Iberian Union" as a monarchy.

Una Federacion Iberica me parece una gran idea. Los Portugeses como los Catalanes, Vascos o Andaluces.
Menos fronteras y menos banderas siempre me parecera mejor.

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Authors (Bloggers)

Chris Finnigan is a freelance journalist based in Barcelona. He writes for Barcelona Metropolitan and is a book reviewer and reader for The Barcelona Review. He is a graduate of the London School of Economics. You can find him on twitter @chrisjfinnigan

Ben Cardew is a freelance journalist, translator and teacher, now resident in Barcelona after growing up gracefully in Scotland via Norwich. He writes for The Guardian, the NME and The Quietus, among others, on everything from music to digital media. You can find him on Twitter @bencardew

Fiona Flores Watson is a freelance journalist, guide and translator who has lived in Seville since 2003, and has been a writer and editor for more than 20 years. She writes for the Guardian, Telegraph and Sunday Times Travel Magazine. Originally from Essex, Fiona is also Consulting Editor of and has her own blog, Scribbler in Seville. She has been contributing to Trans-Iberian since 2014 and tweets at @Seville_Writer

Jeff Brodsky is a freelance writer. He arrived in Barcelona in 2013 via an admittedly indirect route, living in Chicago, Arizona, Seville, Amsterdam, North Carolina and Madrid. Despite not having stepped foot in Seville for over five years, he still speaks Spanish with an Andalusian accent. Jeff’s writing has been published in newspapers and magazines in America and Europe.

Koren Helbig is an Australian freelance journalist and blogger enjoying a life of near-eternal sunshine in Alicante. She writes for publications in Australia, the United States and the United Kingdom, focusing on stories exploring smart and positive approaches to social issues. She hangs out on Twitter at @KorenHelbig and keeps a selection of her favourite stories at

Julie Pybus lives in a small off-grid house on a hillside in Catalunya. She usually focuses on helping charities and social enterprises with their publications and websites, but has also written for The Guardian, Country Living and The Observer. Julie launched and runs a hyperlocal website which endeavors to increase understanding between the different nationalities in her area @JuliePybus

Paul Louis Archer is a freelance photographer, multimedia storyteller and artist educator. A cross-disciplinary worker, who endeavors to encompass the mediums of photography, audio design and writing. Born in Hertfordshire of an English father and Spanish mother. Based in the United Kingdom. @PaulLouisArcher

Vicki McLeod is a freelance writer and photographer. She has lived in Mallorca since 2004. Vicki writes about her beloved island for The Majorca Daily Bulletin, the only daily English language paper in Spain; produces regular columns for the Euro Weekly News, and articles for Vicki runs PR strategies for several businesses in Mallorca and London as well as working on her own blogs and projects. She and her husband, Oliver Neilson, supply photo and text content for private clients via @phoenixmediamlr. She tweets at @mcleod_vicki.

Born in Newcastle upon Tyne and based in Barcelona, Alx Phillips writes about contemporary art, dance and theatre in a way that human beings can understand. For more previews, reviews, interviews and extras, check:

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