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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

In my opinion, one of the causes of Portugal's financcial problems is due to the fact of his dependence on other European economies, sucha as United Kingdom, France and of course Spain.
Tourism has descended a lot, and it directly affects it's economy which is extremely dependent on it.

A federation joining Spain and Portugal could be a very useful solution for old political problems. It would agree if we consider the union as an opportunity for abolishing the monarchy in Spain and for re-organizing the territory providing a more reasonable legal statute of the different Administrations.

I feel portuguese people as neighbours not as strangers.
We share a lot of things, our history have been going on togheter for centuries.
There is someting very curious between the both counctries, for exemple, there are more similarities between the North of Portugal and Galicia, that between Galicia and Almería. And the same happens in the south. The south of Portugal, known as Alentejo, is quite similar with Extremadura, even they don't share language, as Gallegos and Portuguese do, south poruguese people and " extremeños", are very closely. It is a question of surviving, help, friendship, they need to share their resources as well they share their benefits with trading, industry and tourism.

Hace que vivo en Lisboa algunos años, y la verdad es que tienen una relación bipolar. Tanto son vecinos, como estraños. Los portugueses se enorgullecen de su independencia histórica en relación a España. Y les gusta vernos como turistas, pero que trabajemos aqui, no, dicen que este pedacito es de ellos!!!!! quejan de que los médicos y enfermeros españoles les quitan el trabajo, u otros colectivos....cuando han sido un pais emigrante por excelencia!. Ahora que estan con la crisis, (quién no sabía) se quieren juntar federalmente a España......Si fuese al contrario, nos darían una patada en el......xxxx. Y les conozco bien!.....vengan de turismo a Portugal.....porque para otra cosa.......solamente simpáticos por delante. Fátima, Futbol, Fado e....Falsos.

This sucks

Well, it´s obvious that there´s no bad blood between Spaniards and Portuguese people. We shared more than once a crown (and a empire), thus our history it´s not a great divide between us.

I respect Portugal. And If a Iberian federation were to be formed between our nations, I ´d welcome them warmly.

Like Álvaro said, we get along fine.

Un artículo con un Ingles tan terrible y con tantas tonterías solo me hace pensar que cualquier tipo de comentario aparte de este es demasiado. Como puede alguien como usted, que piensa que sabe escribir, solo conocer un escritor Portugués. Le deseo la suerte de este no ser su primer empleo...

The mighty the country, the greater its ignorance. Ask an American about Europe and he/she will talk only about UK. Germany exists somewhere there because of the Nazis and second world war. France is there but he/she will not be able to say exactly where and not be capable of teling you why is the reason that every Olympic games (among other international entities) always kick off talking on that extrange ‘dialect’ called 'french'.

Have a look in these maps:

One thing that strikes me a lot comparing both countries is that the Portuguese are a lot more fluent in foreign languages, especially English, than the Spanish. Probably partly due to the fact that all foreign movies on TV are subtitled, not dubbed as in Spain. This seems anecdotal but it isn´t: as a Dutchman I learned to speak English watching series like "Ivanhoe" and the like and listening to the original language. Even the Catalans, with only 7 million inhabitants, are doing it wrong: everything dubbed in catalan, no subtitles. Missed opportunity!

so we buy Port at el corte ingles?? that's a bestiality..

If Spaniards ignore it, it is because Portugal is an inferior country, same as is Spain in comparison with France, whether you like it or not (se siente).
In English, the correct spelling is "neighbour", but I see that you prefer the yankee one...

Las comparaciones son odiosas, yo le preguntaría al autor cuánta gente cree que apoyaría, a ambos lados de la frontera, una unión entre España y Francia

Realmente para los portugueses la ayuda de la UE les va a costar cara, especialmente para los jóvenes que como en España son los que tienen las mayores problemas de paro, acceso a la vivienda, etc. Con un sueldo medio de 750 € (nuestros mileuristas) y los mismos precios que España es aún más difícil llegar a fin de mes. Esperemos realmente a las reformas "estructurales" que requiere la UE para ver el calado del rescate sobre los que ya lo pasan mal.
Y efectivamente creo que deberíamos dejar de vivir de espaldas a nuestros vecinos, realmente por desconocimiento. Fomentemos un conocimiento mutuo para darnos cuenta de lo que nos une. Besinhos.

You got it all wrong! What a pity, the idea of the blog seemed interesting. As mentioned below, the post is full of inaccurate clichés :(

Meh. Healthy sibling rivalry, and in the end, blood is thicker than water. It's true that the relationship with the French neighbors is more fraught with twists of History, but I don't seriously doubt it goes beyond good-natured ribbing. Moreover, I think J.B. has a good point: in an article purportedly focusing on the Iberian odd couple, the neighbors to the North get a lot of attention. What is truly interesting is that the mere idea of joining up - as also famously proffered by the untimely gone great José Saramago - doesn't meet out and out rejection. And amidst today's tribal tendencies that's remarkable. Either way, we get along fine. As all good neighbors should.

A mí me encanta Portugal, su paisaje, su cocina, su historia, sus gentes... En fin, voy siempre que puedo e procuro falar portugues (o portunhol). Me han tratado con respeto y, sabiendo que eres español, como uno más de la familia.

Vou com frequência a Espanha e sempre fui bem tratado, sobretudo na Galiza onde existe uma grande empatia connosco.
Já quando se passam os Pirinéus... :(

Creo que los dos paises llevan siglos de espaldas, pero no tienen puntos negros o flacos como se pueda tener con Francia o Inglaterra o Inglaterra con Irlanda o Alemania con Austria, o Eslovaquia con Hungría, Hungría con Rumania, Noruega con Suecia, Suecia con Finlandia..... Y las relaciones personales, mas allá, siempre son respetuosas.

Paella, peineta, Chillida, la Sagrada Familia y un toro... Además de los clichés, parece que aquí también ignoráis a Portugal.

Congrats: you just wrote a pitiful post full of clichés...

Congrats: you just wrote a pitiful post full of clichés...

Es difícil para un español ver a un portugués como extranjero. Es un pueblo ibérico más, junto a castellanos, catalanes, vascos y gallegos.

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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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