Parisians Lineup for Portuguese Tarts

An unpretentious 11-letter word is set to be a hot topic on election bandwagons rolling across France as left and right contenders attempt to unseat the sitting head of state from his apparently highly precarious perch.

Immigration  is a potent codeword in France

Most polls and commentators suggest President Nicolas Sarkozy is fighting for his political life in the April 2012 ballot which could see a conservative president replaced by a potentially high-spending Socialist, at a delicate time of ongoing EU economic strife, stress and possible euro collapse.

Nicolas Sarkozy appears to have decided his chances of re-election depend on his colonising the stamping ground of the far right namely the rejuvenated Front National. Here the codeword immigration – well understood by those of all political persuasions who utter it – is at the top of a roster of issues which also include abandoning the euro, securing French jobs for French workers and possibly exiting the EU.

But of course, there are ‘immigrants’ and ‘immigrants’. Much of the heat surrounding this emotive trigger word relates to the levels of assimilation or otherwise achieved by incomers into a society of some 63 million with roots in centuries of Celtic, Latin and Germanic tribal flows, and a more recent admixture of ethnic groups.

Front National candidate and party leader Marine le Pen, who may well fail to make it onto the ballot paper (see here and here) has just made another incursion into immigration territory with a demand for legal action in the Ile-de-France region. Here in a Le Monde report she claims all meat processed by local abattoirs is halal and there are no clear consumer warnings on the packaged meats distributed to butchers and supermarkets – an alleged contravention of  trade description regulations and a blow to the rights of consumers to choose.

(Her claims follow a startling expose by the national TV station France 2 in its magazine programme Envoyé spécial screened February 16. For full details of this related story: “Ritual Animal Slaughter a Health Hazard?” go here.)

But to return to immigration. “Comme à Lisbonne” is a small recently-opened Portuguese pastry shop standing at 37 rue du Roi de Sicile in Paris, selling thousands of pasteis de nata, a week. The Paris pastelaria (as a patisserie is known in Portuguese), is jointly owned by Víctor Silveira, a Portuguese immigrant, and Christophe Boitiaux. Just steps away from Paris City Hall it opened six months ago to offer custard tarts that are freshly baked throughout the day, cost two euros each and at weekends sees sales of tasty tarts top 2000.

Famous Portuguese custard tarts known as Pastel de Nata

Famous Portuguese custard tarts known as Pastel de Nata

Víctor Silveira says he emigrated to France with a fixed idea in his head, “to bake and sell pasteis de nata, and he is mightily pleased with the results so far. “I was always convinced of pasteis de nata-power. A well-made pastel de nata delights the Portuguese, Parisians and tourists alike.

“People come in here and when they see the pastry we get a big smile, almost everyone has heard of them or eaten them on visits to Portugal,” Victor said adding: “The concept is to produce handmade and freshly baked pastel de nata in batches throughout the day, so people know they will always enjoy a fresh, hot pastry”, (the difference by the way between a gastronomic delight and a stodgy disaster).

The Portuguese branding in the shop is clear with Bordallo Pinheiro statues on the stone walls, Portuguese Delta beans in the coffee machine, Alentejo first pressing olive oil and dark cooking chocolate for the equally famous Portuguese mousse dessert, on the shelves next to canned sardines and other preserves, Port wine, a Barcelos cock and a statue of Our Lady of Fatima. The till receipts say Bom Dia (Good Day in Portuguese) and Victor Silveira regards the store as a shop window for Portugal. “We also plan to offer gourmet Portuguese food products to the Parisians as most of the clients are French and many are now regular customers curious about how we cook,” he said.

Indeed the shop echoes similar enterprises set up by immigrants of all nations and colours, found around the capital and across France in neighbourhoods where ethnic groups congregate.

Victor Silveira said even among casual drop-in custom there are very few who have never tasted a Portuguese custard tart. “I was very surprised at the number of people who recognised this pastry, even without knowing its name. They would come in and ask for the ‘gâteau portugais‘ ‘ or ‘Portuguese tarts. Pastel de nata is well known to people everywhere, and not only to the French. “Where there are Portuguese there are custard tarts” he said. The demand is such that the business partners say they plan to open another outlet in Paris shortly.

Victor Silveira is just one of more than a million Portuguese who since the 1960s have emigrated to France in search of a better life and greater opportunity. The discreet and widely dispersed Portuguese migrant community is now in its third generation and many of the grandchildren while retaining distinctly Portuguese surnames, speak no Portuguese and may never have visited the land of their forefathers. The Portuguese community with its Roman Catholic roots, its shared Latin-derived language and Napoleonic code, along with a reputation for hard work, is often held up as a case study for how immigration can work.

The odyssey of some of these immigrants, in this case their Spanish counterparts, was amusingly handled in this 2011 hit movie,  Les Femmes du 6e étage:

In a piece offering a different perspective from the custard tart experience described above,  Le Monde reported recently on Les Gadjies, a Portuguese restaurant in Ormesson, bordering on Sucy-en-Brie.

This displays a menu that mixes Portuguese and French dishes with cod rubbing up against marbled ham, and vinho verde standing alongside bottles of Burgundy. At the bar where the regulars gather and in the kitchen run by Assunçao Macecino, the owner who arrived in the region 17 years ago, the sentences start in French but end in Portuguese.

This cultural mishmash basically sums up life for David Cardoso, 43, and Angelo da Costa, 37, two men having a meal the day the paper visited.  The former is the son of a bricklayer, the latter of a concierge. The two friends joke freely about the caricature of Portuguese immigrants that they represent. They laugh now, as well they can for thanks to the insistence of their parents, they are both well educated and successful, the one a real estate developer, the other an insurance broker.

As children at school however it was a different story. “When we need a wall built, we’ll call your father.” Both of the men recall this constant refrain from their childhood.

“We were the ‘Portos’” and despite the time gap and their own professional success, this and other barbs still have the power to wound the community, they told the paper.

David Cardoso was born in Saint-Maur in 1968. Six years earlier, Adelino, his father had left Santa Eufemia, a town near Leiria in central Portugal, for a construction job in the Paris area. He lived at first in a Champigny-sur-Marne slum, sharing 14 m2 with five brothers, before finding decent housing in Saint-Maur. Rosalina, whom he had married in Portugal three weeks before leaving, then joined him. She found work as a maid with a French family.

Like many Portuguese, the Cardosos landed in the Val de Marne due to family ties. The immigrants would live with a brother or a cousin who had a job and when in turn they found work would settle down nearby. For many Leiria migrants, Saint-Maur was the destination point so much so that Saint-Maur is now officially twinned with the Portuguese town. The Cardoso family later moved on to Sucy-en-Brie and the restaurant mentioned earlier.

Angelo da Costa, meanwhile, was born in Paris and as a child grew up in the porters lodge of a building in the bourgeois 8th arrondissement. His father, Antonio, arrived in 1968 from Bragança, in the far north of Portugal. He found a job on the Citroën assembly line. His wife, Maria followed in 1970 and took up a job as a concierge. “I did not have the same lifestyle as my friends in that building,” Angelo recalls. They did not see or pretended not to care, about his living in the concierge’s lodge. But he always felt that as he swept the yard of the building as they passed through, there was a gap. “As a result in the street, we created a clan of concierge’s children.”

At home, both children were taught Portuguese, spoke Portuguese, ate Portuguese meals, sang in Portuguese, on Saturday attended the Portuguese school, and on Sundays a Portuguese mass. Adelino Cardoso introduced his son to Benfica football worship and the ritual of heading for the Champs-Elysées on the evening the weekly football newspaper A Bola was delivered to the news kiosk. Both boys spent their summers in Portugal and remember how, to showoff to the neighbours their fathers would buy a new model car for the drive home a sign of their success. Little did these neighbours know that the car was immediately sold back to the dealership upon the family’s return!

But for the rest Angelo and David were strongly advised by their parents to fit into their French mould. “My father told me to respect where we lived,” said David. Education was absolutely sacred. “Our parents toiled hard for us to succeed, we went to school to be taught what they never had the opportunity of learning. Thus whenever my teacher slapped me for any misdemeanour and I told my father at home he would give me a matching wallop to reinforce the message,” says David Cardoso.

Their story is typical of immigrants around the world and the universality of their journey was summed up in the moving comments left by more than a hundred online readers of the article, some from Algeria, Tunisia, and other migrant lands.

The poignant tale of many migrants

Among the reader comments were these:
“Congratulations on a highly successful piece. I shared it on Facebook and many of my Luso-descendant friends recognise themselves in this narrative. In fact, our generation has succeeded and chosen discretion just like their parents! Personally, I was born in Paris of a Portuguese father (not a bricklayer!) and a Spanish mother (concierge), and I still retain close ties with Portugal….” Comment by: Sabrina Foucaud

Bravo. A very good article, a real example of selflessness and adaptation. Having lived in Portugal and in Brazil, I have a great love of these countries and their deeply kind and endearing people. Never set your culture aside that is so important. Comment by: CJ

Thank you personally for this article which I found very moving. I think many of us recognize ourselves in these portraits. Comment by: Carlos

I recognize my childhood and my adult life … Thank you France for having welcomed us and for allowing us to study! Comment by: Irian

A very good article indeed. It is true the Portuguese are very discreet in France.
I suffered from the same kind of jokes … but it did not stop me from growing up as a healthy individual. I am currently a Project Manager in the Fine Watchmaking and Jewelry. Comment by: MV

Thank you for this article in which I fully recognized myself … I was born here, I went to school here (gaining a bac +5), I have not the slightest accent, and yet to the French I remain Portuguese… When I go to Portugal, where I speak the language perfectly without the slightest accent either, I’m described as French … It’s true, I have dual nationality, but never the right one in the right place … Comment by: tet ‘

A very nice article which has much moved me and in which I too recognize myself , except I am not Portuguese but Tunisian. Yet I could trace exactly the same course as the two Portuguese, the same jokes, the same vacation at home, the same feeling of inferiority … One way to get rid of this feeling is professional success. Today I hold a Master of Law degree, am a “fonctionnaire” and to quote ‘tet’,’ I have not the slightest accent” yet for French I remain an Arab. Ditto in Tunisia where they see me as French. We are the generation most certainly suffering from an identity crisis which in turn explains some o the excesses. But I digress, I just wanted to draw parallels with North African immigrants: reading this article I felt replacing “Portuguese” with “Maghrebi ” made the stories very similar. Again a very nice article and congratulations to the Portuguese on their success. Comment by: Myriam

Exactly the same feeling … and I’m French / Serbian! By the way a very good which and for me is an illustration not only of the Portuguese immigration experience. Comment by: Yugovik

A very good article on immigrants who have settled and integrated with the utmost discretion and progressed despite unjustified bullying. As an Italian I suffered as did my parents from exactly the same thing so I know just what it all means. But this gave a desire to excel and to show what I can do. I visited Portugal and really liked it, the people are so friendly and welcoming. Comment by: Pollidoro

Bravo, this article is full of realism, honour and happiness. This is a profound reality that clearly never leaves people who are so courageous in not hesitating to leave their own country. Thank you. Comment by: Beaulieu

Wonderful success for these two gentlemen, and clearly an example for others who want to be liked by their fellows. I would like to make a correction to the article where it refers to the Maghreb and black Africans as immigrants. I want to point out that North Africans and especially Algerians and other Africans are not immigrants. Myself I was born in France of an Algerian father and an Algerian mother I am a proud French citizen. My parents came to France because French Algeria was a department and settled here more than 50 years ago. The history of French Africans and North Africans is much more complex for it to be summarized by the word ‘immigration’. Comment by: Mustafa

Story: Ken Pottinger

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