“The people of Portugal don’t judge a person’s sexual orientation but, rather, his or her character,” a wise woman said to me.

As hate crimes continue to escalate in the USA and same-sex marriage, though now the law of the land there, faces renewed opposition and denials by government representatives, I am reminded of yet another reason why we love Portugal and Spain.

Sexual orientation and gender identity don’t appear to be issues here.

How ironic that two of the most “Catholic” countries in the world – Portugal and Spain – have been in the forefront of recognizing both civil and human rights, regardless of the church’s official teaching and position.

In fact, the entire nomenclature – the words we use to identify and call this or that – takes a bit getting used to and understanding on this side of the pond.

Take “partner,” for instance. Despite its business associations and financial connections, it’s my own preferred word to describe a relationship in which we share the substance of our lives together.

Evidently, others feel the same way, too.

We’ve met more married couples here who refer to their spouses as “partners,” rather than husband or wife. The same goes for committed couples who, but for common law, aren’t technically married.

And, although I advocate gender-neutral vocabulary whenever possible (and practical), “spouse” simply doesn’t convey that warm-and-fuzzy feeling as does “partner” (or husband and wife, for that matter).

“Mate” can also be gender-neutral, but no longer implies what it did. Once upon a time – for many Americans, at least – one’s mate referred to one of a pair. Like socks or matching earrings. A sexual connection was often implied or inferred when referring to someone as one’s mate. Not anymore: Now, especially among Brits, “mate” is more commonly used as a familiar form of address—as in “friend” or “buddy.”

Attraction, like emotion, is legitimate but not logical … less a product of the mind than what abides in our hormones and hearts. So, whatever term of endearment – partner, spouse, mate, husband, wife – you’re most comfortable with when referring to that special companion in your life is yours to choose and use.

Yet, how does that play out among the Spanish and Portuguese, who refer to their intimate relationships as “esposo” and “esposa” (husband and wife, in both languages), but “marido” and “mujer” (“mulher” in Portuguese)?

The man is a husband in both countries; but the wife is referred to as “my woman.” Both countries are rather progressive, yet with remnants of provincial sexism and property ownership.

What’s more, do the same standards hold true for the Portuguese people and Spaniards today? Look around: Depending on where you live, the answers may vary. Or maybe they won’t.

You’ll need to get to know your neighbors better.

Which is how it should be, anyway.

But don’t interfere!

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Shared here are personal observations, experiences, and happenstance that actually occurred to us as we moved from the USA to begin a new life in Portugal and Spain. Collected and compiled in EXPAT: Leaving the USA for Good, the book is available in hardcover, paperback, and eBook editions from Amazon and most online booksellers.

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