The Crisis Climate in Europe: Portugal

Just a short note on what’s going on.

Yes, I am on vacation but how can you resist a request like this from a fellow Canadian blogger? 🙂

To say that people are concerned about the debt crisis and the Euro is an understatement.

It is by far, the MAIN TOPIC of discussion in every little visit, chat, on the TVs and in all the cafes.

A lot of people here in Portugal speak French (they work in France and visit Portugal in the summer with their family), and from meeting people, you get introduced to their family and so on and so on.

UPDATE: For the rest of the readers — I will also note that these are mostly taken as comments from people I met there. It may have been a small subset of people, yes, but these are THEIR opinions.

There is no way I could have come up with all of this on my own if someone hadn’t been telling me this and translating it.

So I will kindly ask you to keep your personally insulting comments to yourself, or find some way to express them candidly without being rude.

Here’s the breakdown from what I’m hearing so far in Portugal:


They used to be able to buy food for pretty cheap, but once the EUR was introduced, their salaries were converted accordingly, but the cost of living was not.

So if you paid $1 escudo (their former currency), stores just changed the currency from escudo to EUR without doing the proper conversion by taking into account that 1 escudo is really 0.005 EUR.

As a result, prices have gone up astronomically, but their wages have not.

In Spain and Portugal, a normal wage is about 500 EUR a month unless you have a better job, but when 8 slices of decent presunto costs 22 EUR in the grocery store, you can see how the gap has increased between salaries and cost of living.


A very good income here is about 1500 EUR a month, assuming you don’t have a mortgage, you already own a car and it’s just to cover utilities and basic living.

(1500 EUR used to be $300,722.99 ESC)

Most people, earn about 500 EUR a month (minimum wage), and they are barely scraping by.

I wouldn’t say that having a car or insurance is expensive compared to Canada, but when you now earn 500 EUR and it costs 10 EUR for 4kg of grapes and 1.2kg of peaches, you can see how it’s getting expensive.

Here’s an example of a receipt:

Everything used to cost a lot less than this.

Look at the coffee at almost 4 EUR for a jar. It’s about $5.60 CAD, but they used to pay less than a EUR.

In Spain, we tried to order sangrias and in the past it used to be a real shot of fruit-soaked wine, but now it’s a splash with 3/4 of the jar filled with ice cubes for 3 EUR per glass.

A single capirinha (limes, ice, sugar and this sugar cane alcohol) is 7 EUR.

7 EUR!!!

That’s $9.80 CAD for a single glass of alcohol that only has a small splash of wine, a quarter of an orange and is 3/4 full of ice cubes!

You can buy the sugar cane alcohol for about 10 EUR for a LARGE bottle in the store, a basket of limes for 6 EUR, some sugar, some ice cubes and do it yourself at home. With one bottle of sugar cane alcohol you can make about 12 decent drinks with a lot of lime, sugar and alcohol.

12 x 7 EUR = 84 EUR, and it only costs 18 EUR (max!) to do the same amount at home. You can see why no one drinks like they used to.

I know these may not be crazy prices for some places in North America, but we are talking about small cities where people earn around 500 EUR a month.

They all drink one beer each and nurse it for 3 hours. More telling are the parks and empty spaces in Spain. They are FILLED with people who have brought their own alcohol from grocery stores, sitting on the ground at night and drinking with a little joint or two.

The Chinese have become even more enterprising in Madrid, and they’ve purchased a lot of beer beforehand in the grocery stores to sell to these people.

In one instance, the Chinese have about 5-6 people per family in Madrid who help run one convenience store.

They have runners who put beer and alcohol in those fridges to cool them down, and when it comes time to sell, they load up the cooler backpacks and walk around (illegally) selling beer at 1EUR apiece.

7EUR for a drink in a proper bar versus 1EUR sitting in the same park as the bar (or even beside it)? People are not idiots.

At the end of the night, all the trashcans are overflowing with cans of alcohol sold by the Chinese in the streets. Cops patrol and the minute they catch a whiff of a cop, they all scatter into alleyways with their cold beers.

People aren’t eating and partying the way they used to. It’s all cheap food and cheap barely-there drinks.


Since the crisis hit, the number of people leaving their cities has increased.

There is now a direct route from Portugal to Spain, because there are more jobs in Spain than in Portugal and people are leaving in droves.

The people who are able to leave, and are enterprising, hardworking and ambitious has left.

The few hard workers who have stayed (no choice, or they are still making a decent living), are annoyed that only the lazy bums are left in their cities — the ones who sponge off the government, who don’t work and basically laze around.

You can spot these lazy people from a mile away, and there’s a lot of them (not just in Portugal, apparently!)

In one village, apparently 50% of the people have left in the last year. Considering the village was only 26,000 people, you can understand how it’s a big deal that 13,000 people are now gone.

They say that there are 4 million Portuguese in the world. 50%, or 2 million live abroad, which is a staggering number of people.

In their eyes, taxes are being raised on the remaining few to cover the lazy people who have stayed, the corrupt politicians who’ve stolen and the good, efficient ones who have left.

In Spain, people who actually work hard in the offices or in buildings are pissed at the ones who have stayed but aren’t doing much.

Someone we met who was brought over by the company from France says that they get into work at 7 a.m., mingle, then go for breakfast at 8 a.m. (outside!), come back around 10 a.m., do a little work, and then break for a 2 hour lunch. Then they come back after lunch, do a little work, mingle, and go home.

He estimates they work perhaps 1 hour a day, if that. He says that working in France, he thought THEY were lazy but compared to the workers in Spain, the French are superstar workers.

Of course, this is just one account, but the ones who immigrate to Spain are pretty annoyed with the general laissez-faire atmosphere.

Also I should note that while we were there, there was another riot where 7 people were injured in Madrid.

They were protesting against the government (again) and it seems like the city is crawling with police officers standing around and watching people (not a good sign of a calm or peaceful country).


Everywhere I go, I see: Vende-se or Aluga-se which means for sale or for rent.

People are dying to try and get rid of their property or houses so they can leave…. but sometimes they’re unrealistic. They ask for 150,000 EUR for a home when in this day and time, people might pay 30,000 EUR because of its location and lack of actual owned land.

It’s partly sellers’ faults too.

A store about to close because business is really bad.


Lots of stores are going out of business. All that is staying are the big chains like Lidl (grocery store) owned by the Germans, or French supermarkets.

Know who else is doing business? The Brazilian folks and the Chinese.

Everywhere I go, there’s a Chinese loja (store).

They sell all the cheap crap from China.

A pair of fake Crocs costs 4 EUR, when I am sure it costs 0.10 EUR to make in the Chinese yuan currency, plus shipping.. maybe 0.50 EUR in the end for those fake Crocs (“Crooks” I call them).

They’re making a decent living here.

In the same village of 13,000 people, I am told there are no less than 4 Chinese-owned stores. If you consider that there are only 2 supermarkets and 4 bars, you can see how having 4 Chinese-owned stores in such a city is a lot.

They sell everything but food, and they’re expanding.


It’s gotten so bad that people are now stealing from farmers because they simply don’t have the money to eat.

I should note that in many villages, there’s a lot of free food to be had by the roads — apples, pears, blackberries, and olives… but it isn’t enough for a meal. It’s not enough to live on.

In Spain, they’re stealing from grocery stores, which is why all the employees are always staring at people in the stores (not just that we look like tourists), but they’re watching to see if we steal cans of pop.

Never in my life have I seen a 5 EUR bottle of wine, or 4.75 EUR of cheese being LOCKED UP in plastic boxes or with security tags on it.

Even some ham at 4 EUR was padlocked in a box in the fridge with a security tag.

These are not high end products, nor are they specialty items. They are normal, everyday items that people steal the most, so they have to be tagged to stop all this shoplifting.


Meat is a luxury. If you buy meat, you’re rich.

In stores, you can see people stock up on beans and potatoes. Why they buy pre-soaked beans in jars rather than dried beans by the kilogram, is beyond me… but nevertheless, they are all eating potatoes and beans. It is the only way to survive.

People are stocking up on cheap stuff these days.



People in Spain eat tapas that have apparently dropped in quality from what others are telling me. Everything is covered in oil or deep fried for calories (hmm, memories of China floating back), and their calories come from oil.

It now costs 5 EUR for 3 shrimp on a barbecued stick with some sauce on it. When you go to a grocery store, you can buy prawns (huge versions of shrimp) for 10 EUR a pound.

It’s just ridiculous how much these bars and eateries are ripping people off.

I saw a small little rice bowl of so-called authentic paella selling for 3.5o EUR, but it was JUST RICE with a few vegetables chopped in!!

To top it off, it isn’t even real saffron. They use turmeric or colorant to give it the colour, but not the taste. They’re really crooks these days, trying to squeeze every penny out of anyone they can find.

(Only clueless tourists bought paella in Madrid, because if you make it yourself the way BF does, you don’t pay that kind of money for imitation paella.)

Side Note: Real saffron here is pretty cheap — it costs 2.50 EUR ($3.50 CAD) for 0.5 grams. It may not sound cheap to you, but consider that we paid $15 CAD for 0.5 grams in Canada and your tune will change.

Even with saffron being as cheap as it is, you only need HALF of it to make a huge pan of paella, so perhaps 1.25 EUR for a huge pan that can yield maybe 25 of those little bowls of paella, at a cost of 0.05 EUR per bowl.

With meat, vegetables and the cost of rice and cooking taken into account, they could sell the real thing and still make a healthy profit of about 3 EUR or just under.

Instead, they sell it with fake saffron (turmeric or colorant) to save that extra 0.05 EUR.

It’s seriously unbelievable how much they rip you off. NO ONE would pay almost $5 in North America for a bowl of coloured rice with slivers of vegetables, but that’s what they’re trying to sell in Spain to tourists and the clueless.

BF says it wasn’t like that before. There was real sangria and real paella for a decent price. Now, it’s outrageous.


To get downtown, people used to drive. Now? They walk.

An old lady who lives by the road told us that these days, she’s seeing a heck of a lot more people walking downtown rather than driving. Something she’s never seen before.

People are now storing their cars to wait until the recession is over to bring it out and drive.


Their old entertainment used to be going to the bars or cafes at night to have ice-cream, coffee, tea or drinks. Now? They don’t go at all, or they go to the cafe once a week rather than every night, and they don’t take the expensive stuff.

When you go to buy ice cream, they’re pretty much sold out of everything because trucks don’t come regularly to refill the shelves as they used to, and they only buy a small inventory of each flavour.

In Spain, no one ate ice cream except for tourists, and even then, I rarely saw people eat ice cream. At 2 EUR a bar, it’s a luxury many cannot afford. Same goes for drinks or anything you can imagine.


A sandwich in the train station cost 7.50 EUR.

In the escudo, it’s $1500, and a sandwich would cost maybe $150 escudos.

Can you imagine that? The price of a sandwich has gone up from $150 escudos to $1500 escudos.

That’s just one specific example, but in general, everything has doubled or quadrupled in price just with the change to the EUR.

Now they’re saying they’re going to have an “expensive” EUR and a “cheap” EUR. It’s kind of ridiculous that nothing was converted properly in the first place when they wanted to switch to a common currency, which is what caused a lot of problems to begin with.

(See above: Cost of living skyrockets but salaries stay the same)


In some grocery stores, they don’t even make fresh bread any more.

If you don’t think this is a big deal, consider that many Europeans eat bread like the Chinese eat rice.

It is a basic staple for them, and for them to go to a grocery store where they can’t find fresh bread, it’s simply unthinkable.


Temporary they say. The Portuguese who work are snorting at this “temporary” tax (did you know sales taxes were also supposed to be temporary at one point in time?)

They know that the 3.5% will go to the debt and they aren’t mad about that, they’re more wary that this special tax will ever disappear once the government gets used to having that extra flow of cash.


  • The ones who stayed to work, feel punished
  • They’re about to levy a “temporary” (*SNORT*) tax on people to clear the debt
  • That the U.S. has a better chance of recovering than they do, and it’s still a great country
  • They are under a misconception that China is amazing and more advanced than they are (not true!)
  • They think about leaving to go work in Spain or the U.S. if they can
  • There’s a divide between the ‘locals’ and ‘immigrants’; immigrants being the Portuguese who left for other countries
In general, they’re annoyed…. but helpless. What can they do, but either deal with it leave?
So there you have it. This is how it’s going in Portugal.

About the Author

Just a girl trying to find a balance between being a Shopaholic and a Saver. I cleared $60,000 in 18 months earning $65,000 gross/year. Now I am self-employed, and you can read more about my story here, or visit my other blog: The Everyday Minimalist.