I spent the last week back in the US and, for the first time in my life, became homesick for a place that wasn't Austin, Texas.
When you pet a dog in Portuguese, you give them festas. Festa is the Portuguese word for party. When you pat a dog on the head in Lisbon, you throw the dog little parties.
Six months and 10 days ago, I brought a dog with me to Portugal. He weighed 80 pounds in America and now he weighs 36 kilograms in Europe.
His name is Mopac and neither of us had ever seen Portugal before we moved here. I arrived. He was brought. We were both new.
We were also new to city living. In Austin, my wife and I owned a house with a yard. When settling into Lisbon, we picked a neighborhood close to the center of the city. Instead of backyards, people here have these communal fields called parks. It's as if everyone grouped their yards together into public spaces. Very European.
Without a backyard, I take the critter on a lot of walks around parks and the cobblestone sidewalks in the city. He loves it. He is a golden retriever, but his preferred hobby is really to just “smell the whole Earth.” It helps us explore the neighborhood, but in our first couple months we only knew the buildings and spaces and not the people.
Then we stumbled on dog party. One morning, I found a new open space in our neighborhood. In that space, about 4 or 5 people stood chatting as 5 or 6 dogs played together. I sheepishly walked over and, in my best Portugeuse, asked if Mopac could join. They allowed it and Mopac was thrilled. He played with his new friends and was worn out by the end of it.
The next morning, I strolled back over with the pup hoping that I'd find the same group. Probably looked like a kid rounding the corner on Christmas morning. And they were there! The dogs had a blast and when I got back to our apartment, I told my wife that Mopac and I went to “dog party”.
We became regulars and the other humans at dog party became our first set of new friends in Portugal. One woman has lived in our neighborhood for four decades and raised her family there. Another attendee moved to Lisbon from Madeira. Others grew up around Portugal, some spent time living abroad, and some have children living in other countries now as part of the Portuguese diaspora.
We quickly fell in love with this little morning group. We started to chat more with them. We stick out, in a lot of ways, in our neighborhood. Not many Americans live here, not as many young people, and not a lot of lanky Texans who bumble around in athleisure. And I sat down to try and tell them why we arrived.
In some one-off conversations, they asked us why we moved to Lisbon. We did our best to answer, but about 4 weeks into regular attendance, I wrote a one-page letter to introduce ourselves.
And that was hard, because it was the first time I ever actually wrote down why I was doing this. Why we left our families and our friends and sold our house and moved to a place site unseen. And I think I did an okay job describing Cloudflare and my wife's grad school.
I translated the letter into Portuguese. My wife re-translated the letter. I printed out 10 copies and passed them out at dog party the next morning. I'm sure it was goofy. I felt just like I was a volunteer advocating for some cause on a sidewalk, handing out flyers. Except this cause was: “Thanks for letting me be a probationary member of your club. Here is my application for permanent membership.”
I stood there with a nervous smile as eight Lisboetas read in Portuguese about my little Texan family. I put my phone number at the bottom. Mopac and I went home and then I started to get text messages. Some folks sent welcome notes. The daughter of one attendee wrote out a note that told us about their history in Lisbon and their family.
Dog party adopted us. One member took my wife to coffee to practice Portuguese. They recommend places we should visit and ask about our weekends. My mother-in-law visited and came with us. She traded email addresses with a member that we love and now they exchange updates across the Atlantic. When my mother-in-law returned for a second visit, we all went out to drinks. I was in London two weeks ago and hopped on a train to a suburb to say hello to the youngest child of one of the regular attendees. We talked about Lisbon for an hour over lunch.
Dog party is also not limited to dog owners. Kids who go to the schools in the neighborhood stop and say hello to the critters. They know the names of all the dogs and chide them to sit and offer to pet sit. Sometimes they're running late for class and can only stop for a quick hello. The whole dog party group sends them off with a “bom dia.”
In a place where we were strangers, dog party helped us find a community. I imagine Mopac would like to take credit for this, but we're just grateful for how welcoming everyone has been. The whole city is that way. I used to think Texans had a monopoly on hospitality, but Lisbon's got us beat
My dog is very cute and the Portuguese phrases that I hear most often from people refer to how cute he is, or if they can pet him. Throw him a little party. I missed that wording in the past week while I was on the US West Coast. I missed my wife and my dog and dog party and our neighborhood. I missed my band of coworkers, the ones who showed up with me and the ones who joined Cloudflare for the first time in Portugal. I've been homesick for Lisbon, which is a new thing for me.