The main colours of the portuguese flag are red, representing the people's combative spirit and military conquest through history; green, standing for hope; and white, to render the values of peace and harmony.
Book from Barry Hatton, british journalist:
A REVEALING PORTRAIT OF AN INCONSPICUOUS AND FASCINATING COUNTRY
That was one of the reasons for writing this book: to plug a gap, I hope, and to wake foreigners up to Portugal's enduring appeal. Wider recognition is owed to its fascinating history, which includes the first steps towards globalization and a spell as the world's richest nation; its climate, which is agreeable as the gentle and hospitable portuguese people; a captivating variety of countryside within a relativelly small space and a food that bis good.
Some twelve million tourists come to Portugal each year, but many of them head straight to the many delightful beaches. Most could probably name a portuguese football player, or identify port wine as a portuguese product. But beyond that foreigners know little of the real Portugal, and find it very hard to fathom. In this effort they are handicapped, first of all, by unfamiliarity. How often do you read about portugal in your daily paper? How much does the general public abroad know about, say, the Age of Discovery and Portugal's four-continet empire [..]?
This country can be all the more baffling if it is approached on the premise that it must be like Spain, which it is not. The seemingly impenetrable language, the sound of which was once likened to windsurfing from consonat to consonant, is another barrier. My intetion, then, is to shine a light in this enigmatic corner of Europe.
Portugueses long ago took the role of indomitable underdogs arrayed against more potent forces that would submerge them, but which, with varying degrees of success, they resist. The adversary, in historical terms, may be the perilous ocean or bigger, rival countries. It might be their own national leaders. The foe could also be identified as something vaguer, such as a cruel fortune.
A common sentiment among the portugueses is that the odds are stacked against them, that they are playing a losing game with fate. Since the glorious Age of Discovery - also called the Age of Exploration or Expansion - in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, when Portuguese seafarers valiantly met peril and menace head-on and took lead in shapping the modern world, Portugal has mostly been riding the anchor. Fernando Pessoa ), regarded as one of the country's greatest poets, in 1928 described the nation as "slumbering" since those maritime feats. There is a residual sense of loss.
Portugal, once an envied world power and, in the sixteenth century, arguably the world's wealthiest nation, has become an unheard land.
It appeared that Portugal had put its protracted difficulties when it joined the European Union, then called the European Economic Community, in 1986. Economic boom years gave the impression that the country had finally found its path to prosperity and parity with the rest of the continent. It blossomed and came to be viewed as a model European State. Portugal silenced the detractors by racking up triumphs - making the grade, for example, to be allowed into the club of countries adopting the common euro currency after northern European officials had mockingly dismissed its chances.
Still, Portugal - along with Spain, Italy and Greece - was viewed by some northern European diplomats as an incorrigible slacker, and they condescendingly lumped the southern European countries together under the moniker "Club Med". It hinted at a certain disdain, or superciliousness, which would surface again in the 2009 financial crisis when the term PIGS- denoting Portugal, Italy, Greece and Spain - was employed to describe the countries seen as fiscally lax, even though the four were not alone in overstepping the line.
But the sense of well-being was short-lived . Portugal was ambushed by the EU's late twentieth--century eastward expansion, which saw the bloc's balance of power see-saw back away from the continent's south western corner, and by globalization, which drew back the curtain on apparently immutable portuguese weaknesses.
As Western Europe's poorest country, accounting for only around 1% of EU's GDP, Portugal had a very hard time navigating the obstacles of the 21 century, at one point prompting "The Economist" magazine to brand it "the sick man of Europe".
By 2009 the portuguese average montly salary stood at just under a measly 900€ and the minimum monthly wage, taken home by several hundred thousands portuguese, was - embarrassingly - under 500 € (in Luxembourg it was about 1500€). The Organization for Economic cooperation and Development (OECD), exposing continental inequalities, states that the portuguese earn on average about 40% less than workers in other Western European countries. The European Union reported in 2008 that about 18% of the portuguese population - rougly 2 million people - were living below the point where it drew the bloc's poverty line. Only Poland and Latvia were worse off.
The portuguese candidly say of themselves, "We are an envious people". It is a hallmark of countries where the gap between rich and poor is broad and deep: statistics show that in Portugal this gulf is the biggest in Western Europe. Perhaps more importantly, there is not much hope of bridging it.
Portugal lives in Europe's suburbs, far from where the action is, clamped into a corner by Spain and confronted by the Earth's second-largest ocean,,whose vastness makes anyone feel small. Portugal seldom shows up on the radar screen of the world news. The portuguese are infuriated by the way international television channels regularly omit their little south-west rectangle in continental weather forecasts and take it as a snub.
When I told my eldest, portuguese-born daughter, then fifteen, that I was writing this book her immediate response was: "Oh dad, don't make us out to be a bunch of yokels. That's what everyone thinks of us".
Pessoa even noted that "Portugal is a vague small country somewhere in Europe, sometimes supposed to be part of Spain."
It is taken for granted that Portugal is an unconsidered country in global affairs. It is why the American satirical magazine The Onion, during the 2008 US presidential election election could make a joke out of it in a spoof questionnaire for candidates: "How would Hillary Clinton deal with a nuclear-capable Portugal?". Then there was Homer's threat in an episode of The Simpsons when he went to watch a football game between Portugal and Mexico: "I'll kill myself if Portugal doesn't win!". The joke, apparently, lies in the question: how could anyone take so seriously a place that many would find hard to locate on the world map? Truth is stranger than fiction: a friend who works for a global US media organization was discussing a story idea on the the phone with an american editor in New York who after ten minutes interrupted with the question: "Where did you say Portugal was again?".
The sense of feeling unheeded is perhaps why the portuguese make so fuss when their country occasiolly does merit some media coverage abroad.
Conversely, the portuguese, while quick to criticize their own country, are easily stung by disapproving foreigners. That has long been the case as they felt disparaged and disregarded by bigger countries, and it is no less true now amid the mood of dejection and low self-esteem.
The singular language is another handicap to more intimate acquaintance with Portugal. Travel through Europe and people cannot identify what language you are speaking, much less what you are saying. Brows furrow when people hear portuguese, as if they are trying to place a rare smell or flavour. Once, a Dutch woman asked me and my family what we were speaking. When we told her, she said "Oh! I thought it was Hebrew or something!".
On the other hand this ignorance rankles. Some 220 million people around the world speak portuguese as their native tongue. If more people speak portuguese than speak french, german, italian or japanese, how can it be deemed "minor"? The great bulk of portuguese-speakers are in the remnants of the bygone empire: Brazil and the five former portuguese colonies in Africa as well as East Timor in Asia.
On the other hand, the portuguese find such linguistic incomprehensdion flattering. It makes them feel special. and they love the way foreigners find it so hard to speak well.
Portuguese is a common language spoken by more than 200 million people and much is made of this in Portugal, but the reality, however, is that the portuguese is the least consenquential of the major tongues. As the internationally aclaimed mozambican novelist Mia Couto baldhas gone largely unaddressed.ly express it: "The portuguese language is down at the bottom. I only exist because I translate into french".
Anyone who spends any length of time getting to know Portugal, though, might conclude that Western Europe's poorest country is in some ways its wealthiest. Large swathes of underveloped countryside make a rare natural idyll, likened by the Renaissance epic poet Camões - in a poetic flourish guaranteed to appeal a national sentiment - to a garden guranteed by the sea" In truth Portugal possesses some of the most stunningly beautiful places you have never heard of.
For a start, its geography offers a fascinating mosaic of contrasting features. Continental Portugal, up to just 561 km (305 miles) long and 218 km (135 miles) wide, packs a lot of unexpected variety into small place.
Portugal was the first European nation to adopt its local tongue as its official language. Latin was used by the royal courts and the courts of law during the Middle Ages, but Portugal's sixth king, Dinis (1261-1325), decreed portuguese the official language of government.
The portuguese work to live, they not live to work.
Black blood courses in the veins of some one million portuguese, the legacy of generations of unabashed ethnic intermingling: "God created blacks and whites. The portuguese cretated the mulatto", they used to say.
There is little racial friction in Portugal - at least of the most conspicuous sort. Portuguese who lived there in colonial times express a wistful, nostalgic fondness for Africa. And as a tolerant people, the portuguese recoil from the idea of discrimination. In 2007, a survey of 27 EU countries and Canada by Brussels- based Migration policy Group placed Portugal second- best, after Sweden, at integrating immigrants.