GUIDELINES FOR FOREIGNERS
This is for my foreign friends who don’t seem to have a clue. Were I to rent my apartment on Airbnb and I’d have this printed out for the guests:
- Portugal isn’t Spain (this could actually be the only entry)
To think of Portugal as part of Spain is the big no-no. OK, we share the Peninsula; our languages are as close as German and Dutch, Danish and Norwegian, but not only are they significantly different, but we also have dozens of “false friends” (now, that’s what I call a metaphor). Please do not assume that “it’s all the same” – if you do you’re in for a big surprise. A nasty one. So, if you don’t speak Portuguese and you need to approach a Portuguese speaker, please use English first. Then French. The Swahili. Or Urdu. Or Athabaskan. If none works, then resort to Spanish. But do apologize. Not happy? Go to Spain.
- Portugal isn’t really “Latin”
If by “Latin” you mean what I think you mean, forget about it. This tends to be a silent, nostalgic, a bit sad (some will upgrade that to “poetic”) place. Oh, you’ll find parties all right, but not huge street Carnivals, sexy folk dancing, overheated erotic drives and definitely neither Hemingwayan bloodthirsty pathos nor real tropical weather and beaches (although the beaches are much better than tropical ones, I must say). This is the “last flower of the Latium” – and that’s gotta mean something. Not happy? Go to Brazil.
- Portugal is not (exactly) in the Mediterranean
For a starter, it isn’t so geographically. Of course the Southern part shares the landscape and (some aspects of the) lifestyle of the inner sea folk. But please do not expect to find a Greek island or Amalfi Coast-like landscape – or food, for that matter (the food IS glorious, just different and less healthy). Oh, yes, there is a tiny stretch of coast (some 10 Km) south of Lisbon that looks Mediterranean, but I’m sure you’d change your mind once you’d step into the water – it would change your choice of words from “Mediterranean” to “Arctic” in the blink of an eye. Not happy? Go to Italy.
- Portugal isn’t “a Catholic country”
Well, most people say they’re Catholic and for sure the country suffered all the Papal malfeasance, not least of all the Inquisition. But today it’s a bit hard to put together “Catholicism” and the fact that it is one of the top countries in the world regarding LGBT rights or birth-control use. Right? It all depends on what you mean by “Catholic”. If you mean virginity until marriage, no birth control, and priests walking around in long robes, forget about it. Catholicism here is basically Marianism (pretty good feminist potential there…) and local, village saints’ feasts with a good amount of frolicking in the surrounding hills. Not happy? Go to… well, nowhere really.
- Portugal is European. And then it isn’t.
It is. Just take a trip to Africa or Asia or South America, then stop over in Lisbon, and you’ll see what I mean. But take a trip to Scandinavia, Britain, or Austria and then stop over in Lisbon and you’ll also see what I mean. Go down a street and you’re in Europe; take a right and you’re in Brazil; then take a right and you’re in Africa; then take another right and you’re in Europe again – well, of course. This is an outpost of Europe, its westernmost bit, its back turned on the Mediterranean and Spain, and a lot of the Americas and Africa right there in front of you. And lots and lots of ocean. Not happy? Go to Switzerland. Or Burkina Faso.
Now, print this, stick it in your pocket, and check the list every now and then. It’ll help you figure out the place. A nice one, by the way.