As we prepare to head home to the US of A for a few months, we are reflecting on our love affair with Portugal and it truly is, indeed a love affair. Low cost of living, beautiful places to see nearly everywhere you turn, an amazing Mediterranean meets organic rancher diet, wine regions across the country and incredibly welcoming people. It’s not unusual for a perfect stranger to give you a “Bom dia” in the morning and downright expected to reply with one if you throw one out their way.
For any other future American expats planning a Portuguese residency out there, there are, as with any relationship, a few cultural quirks.
1. The Portuguese Pick.
There is no sidewalk too large for a single couple to completely block the way, proceeding at a pace even the residents of an assisted living would consider leisurely. Throw in a couple of kids and you’ve got a full-on offensive line of an NFL team. There also is no “look both ways” before exiting a shop on to a sidewalk and typically this exit is followed by a complete standstill no matter what pedestrian traffic is headed one’s way. It isn’t meant to be difficult or offensive. It’s a little endearing and just an example of a slower pace of life, but be ready to slam on the foot brakes at a moment’s notice as you make your way around the cities and towns.
2. Beware the man in the white van.
If you rent a car, you’ll notice the white van. They are everywhere and they are in a hurry. The white van is 99% of the time the mark of a tradesman. You’ll see them in your rear view mirror screaming up behind you and if you’re lucky it’s in a passing zone so they will just sail past you without a pause. Otherwise, the white van and you will be bosom buddies until he (or she) can “safely” pass. Even the most obnoxious tailgater in the US can’t hold a candle to how close these guys will get riding at 70 or 90 kph on winding narrow roads. We joke that when the dealer sells the white van he hands out a protocol for driving which must be followed. Rule #1: Speed everywhere. Rule #2: Tailgate as closely as possible. Rule #3: If you break these rules, the van will be repossessed. Here’s a tip: don’t try to play their game, just pull over or slow down in a passing zone so they can get by. They’ll appreciate it and so will you.
3. Loja Chines.
When we’d forgotten our European adapter (we own like eight of them and brought zero) on our last trip, we were trying to explain to our realtor that we needed one. At the time, he had very broken English and exclaimed to us: “ah yes, I know exactly what you mean, we go to the Chinese”. Surely, we thought, he must not understand. The only thing with which we would associate such a sentence in the US would be a steaming bowl of Hot and Sour Soup and a good dollop of General Gau. Nope. Loja Chines (Chinese Shop) are everywhere and advertised as such. They sell, well, just about everything. Luggage, clothes, plumbing supplies, dishware, the aforementioned adapters, shower curtains, shoes…. you get the picture. So, if you’re missing something when you arrive, just find “the Chinese”.
4. The Portuguese Promise.
As Melissa wrote about in Yes, We Have Doubts, not all words translate directly. “Promise” and “Guarantee” appear to be two of those words. If someone is coming to deliver something or do work on your house the timeline offered is usually a guide, not a commitment. We aren’t talking about the cable guy who is supposed to come between 8am and noon and shows up at 3pm, we’re talking a completely different day or week. Difficult if you’re trying to plan a flight home, as we were, but kind of charming if you aren’t needing to leave anytime soon. Just be sure you’ve allowed enough wiggle room (i.e. 2-3 weeks) in your plans and you should be fine.
So, after two months of living in this not-so-foreign land, these are the quirks we’ve exposed in our love affair and we can’t wait to come back to find even more. Tchau!