Portuguese-By-Marriage

Growing up, I always thought I would marry an Italian. I lived in Connecticut, just north of New Haven, and there, as my friend once put it, you are either Italian or married to an Italian. But I moved to Rhode Island. Here in my new hometown, you are either Portuguese and/or named Mike. I was not named Mike, so I married a Portuguese man. Now I am Portuguese-by-marriage.

When I married into a Portuguese family, I didn’t know what to expect.  The first thing I noticed was their fondness for food, particularly seafood. Personally, I don’t mind a little bacalhao every once in a while, but I get tired of having to pull shellfish, which I don’t like, out of every other dish. I also love dessert, but I don’t need a dozen different desserts at every family gathering. Unless we’re talking baked custards. Or biscoito. Or popovers.

Arg! The Portuguese are making me fat!

Arg! And all that seafood is making me talk like a pirate!

But as much as I love the Portuguese, not to mention their witty sayings (e.g., “The sheets make the peace”), there are times when they’re just plain silly. Take my father-in-law’s obsession with all things Portuguese. He goes on and on about the simplest things that he used to enjoy in Portugal. He seems to imply that if those things are also available here in the U.S., it is only because the Portuguese people made them first.

My husband and I have created a running gag out of this idea, expanding and reinterpreting it to mean that everything in the world was invented by (or first discovered by) the Portuguese. So, for example, if one of us were to remark that the piano sounded nice, the other might say, “Did you know that the Portuguese invented the piano?” And the proper reply would be, “Yes, I know. They did that right after they invented music!”

This gag has nearly gotten me in trouble on several occasions. For example, at my sister-in-law’s wedding shower, we girls were discussing where one might take a dress to get it altered, when my mother-in-law mentioned that there used to be a tailoring shop nearby with a Portuguese seamstress. She went on and on about how good the seamstress was, even after being told that the tailoring shop was long gone. I had to bite my tongue to keep myself from saying, “Hey, did you know that the Portuguese invented sewing? Yeah, that was right after they invented cloth!”

In addition to such fun games, there are other positives to being Portuguese-by-marriage. It connects me and my children, however nebulously, with the spirit of exploration (Vasco da Gama, Ferdinand Magellan), philosophy (Baruch Spinoza), and “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire” (Meredith Vieira). We, the Portuguese, have great music (Fado), a popular language (over 200 million speakers), and a multitude of wines. We are many, we are proud, and we polka!

Well, some people polka. I may be Portuguese-by-marriage, but my feet are still American-by-birth. I don’t dance much, but maybe my kids will learn how to polka someday.

I sometimes look at my life and wonder how I got here. This Portuguese-by-marriage life is not what I envisioned when I was a child. But back then I hadn’t met my husband yet, and I had no idea how attractive, loving, and wonderful the Portuguese could be. I’m glad I found out.

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