The USA ambassador in Lisbon speaks passionately about the country he has recently adopted and challenges his compatriots to “come and discover Portugal!”
When President Barack Obama nominated Allan J. Katz to represent the USA in Portugal in 2009, this lawyer from Florida had no diplomatic experience but accepted the challenge without a second thought. Public service and politics have been virtually omnipresent in his career and the ambassador recalled, 20 years before, having visited a country he had always wanted to go back to: “At that time, my wife and I stayed in Lisbon and Estoril, but we always said we’d like to come back one day. Of course, we never imagined it would be on such a grand scale”.
Since he arrived in Portugal, in 2010, Allan J. Katz has travelled the length and breadth of the country and is still amazed at the diversity and contrasting landscapes in such a small area: “I was in Porto a number of times, which is a magnificent city, and we went up the River Douro to Pinhão. It’s just… well, I can’t find the words, but I can quote someone who said, “I hope that heaven is like this”. We also went to Fátima, Batalha, Alcobaça, Óbidos, Mafra, Évora, Arraiolos, Faro, Tomar, Belmonte, all incredible places that surprised us.”
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The ambassador is sure of one thing; his compatriots have yet to discover Portugal: “I have a number of friends who have visited us and who are now seriously considering changing their lives and moving continents”. The reasons for such sudden changes of heart are easy to explain. “Portugal has everything that Americans look for in Europe. The historical heritage of one of the oldest and most important empires in the western world, fantastic beaches which are still wild and well preserved, great food and wine, a small country that’s easy to get around, an excellent gateway to Europe, and pure people who are easy to communicate with.”
According to the ambassador, the Portuguese are actually top of the list of reasons to visit the country: “In general, the people have a very generous spirit. There’s an essential humanity in the Portuguese, something that my intuition tells me derives from the role Portugal had in the world and global history. In addition to this, they like Americans and make an effort to understand my rather basic Portuguese – I have lessons every week. Today, Portugal represents the best we can find in the human spirit. On the other hand, it’s very important for Americans to visit a beautiful country, with good infrastructures, where the people like us and make an effort to understand our language without making us feel bad. I reckon they are going to think this country is magnificent. In fact, I believe that if they really discover Portugal, you’re going to have a problem of an excess of Americans (laughs).”
Allan J. Katz also believes that the new direct TAP flights between Lisbon and Miami may bring twice as many tourists from the USA. “Currently, around 300 thousand Americans visit Portugal every year, but that number could double, considering that there are 18 million people in the State of Florida.” And this is because despite there being similar offers on both sides of the Atlantic, like beaches and golf, the European side is more appealing, according to the ambassador: “Here, the weather is better because it’s less humid. Apart from that, I’m sure that the Americans who go on golfing holidays to Scotland or Spain, only do so because they don’t know Portugal and the excellent Portuguese courses”.
The ambassador’s enthusiasm for his adopted country is reflected in the person he shares his life with: “My wife, who speaks a little Portuguese after living in Brazil for a while, jokes that she’s going to stay in Portugal when I finish my posting here as ambassador and she expects me to visit her… she loves it here!”
by Patrícia Brito
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