view of lisbon castle over the river at night

When You Can’t Keep Your Mouth Shut aka “They don’t even speak English”

view of lisbon castle over the river at night

can’t ruin this city for me
photo: Joao Almeida

Sitting in a quiet cafe enjoying the view of a castle on the river, I strike up a conversation (or was it the other way around?) with a well dressed, well groomed, well off woman who is clearly dying to speak to someone. First she starts off about the food. “I haven’t had a decent meal since I got here- there’s hardly anything edible in this whole country…. I went to a restaurant last night and tried to order something that didn’t taste like cardboard, and can you believe it… they didn’t even speak English!!”

As she continued her tirade her face grew red from lack of inhaling oxygen as she was too concerned with spewing poison out of her lungs. When she began to snap her fingers for the waiter and assault him with her overly loud English to ensure he got her drink order, I took it as my turn to speak.

I normally try to politely agree with strangers on menial topics as I find it’s the quickest route to my personal freedom from them, but in this moment, she was picking on the people of a country I happen to quite like- and I don’t take that well. I may have also been suffering from a touch of PMS- just a touch.

“I’m terribly sorry you haven’t found any foods that appeal to you here- do you have dietary restrictions?”  
No, no, she informed me- it’s just that nothing here tastes good, in fact, it was impossible for her to even know what she was ordering because none of the “heathens” in this country spoke a “licka english”.

Well slap my ass and call me Sally, I was about to ruffle this woman’s feathers worse than any “non-english speaking heathen” ever could.

Firstly, I asked why she was even here in Portugal. Craving a holiday in a sunny spot. Hmm. “If you wanted to holiday in a place that has sun AND spoke English, why didn’t you choose Australia? There’s an entire continent of people waiting to speak English to you, and plenty of sun.” Well, it was simply too far for her to travel.

So had long had you planned this marvelous vacation Queen Oldbags? “Oh I’ve always thought Portugal was supposed to be a lovely place, I bought my ticket almost 4 months ago!” she gloated. Once her drink arrived and I was certain she would be my captive audience for the duration of those 12 ounces, I simply let her have it. I have some talents which I excel at; reaming people out is one of those I am increasing less proud of day to day, but I’m still pretty great at it.

First- “if Portuguese people visited you in your home country, (which I am sad to report was none other than USA) and acted so appalled at your lack of Portuguese, how would you feel?”
“Everyone should speak English not everyone NEEDS to speak Portuguese” she retorted, and then offered me one of those ‘you know how it is- it’s just more important’ smiles. Unbelievable.

So, in your four months did you happen to learn any Portuguese? Research the cuisine? Look in the back of your guidebook at the “simple Portuguese phrases”? …did you happen to put any effort at all into this vacation or were you simply planning to arrive in the country and treat it as if you were still at home?

I think she got the point at this juncture. She huffed and mumbled something under her breath. I said “I’m sorry, I didn’t catch that- was it English?” oh wow- this really set her off. I figured I would just keep barraging her while she was fumbling around for the proper word selection.

“If you wanted an English menu and English speaking people there are plenty of McDonald’s and Starbucks around- surely you would find some great food there?” I gave her the smile where you can’t be sure if I am being sarcastic or genuine.

She asked why I was here in this “god forsaken place”? I retorted that I initially came for only 3 days to the city, but since I have been so taken with it, I have extended my stay by over two weeks. She looked at me as if I was an alien. “How do you manage it? I just can’t wait to be gone.” I suggested she call her travel agent and get herself a return flight ASAP as both parties: her and the country of Portugal would both be better off.

She called me a “snotty little bitch” and I used some choice Portuguese words (which I learned from a freestyle rapper who I am in LOVE with) and asked her if she’d like the English translation. Since she declined, I left the cafe and paid for both our drinks- nothing like a little class right after setting someone’s hair on fire.

I will say, it’s not my custom to go out and pick fights with people at cafes when all I want to be doing is writing in my journal and listening to a little music, nor is it my problem if narrow minded individuals feel the need to travel.

It was simply her poor choice to look to me to commiserate with her about what an awful country this is because it’s like every other place: you get back what you put in.

For me, Portugal has been a gem that I hadn’t planned on visiting – much less falling in love with – but isn’t that the way the best love stories unfold?

July 2010

Brandy Bell loves adventuring around the world. She's been a solo female traveler since 2006 and has visited over 25 countries, made countless international friends, and now writes to inspire you to travel in a sustainable and responsible way.

'When You Can’t Keep Your Mouth Shut aka “They don’t even speak English”' have 16 comments

  1. June 28, 2010 @ 3:39 pm Dave

    I’m so with you on this one … like you, I usually try to keep a lid on it when people like this feel the need to share their xenophobic world view with me, but I don’t always manage it. Last time was a couple of weeks ago in Hue, Vietnam, when a Canadian backpacker took it upon himself to spend five minutes berating the fact that (amazingly) the quality of the hamburgers and french fries just weren’t up to his liking. This, despite the fact that that area of Vietnam is renowned for having particularly excellent *local* cuisine. Strangely, that doesn’t include hamburgers. Or french fries.

    I suggested that perhaps, if he’d like things to be just as they were back home, perhaps home was a better place for him. He didn’t like that much.


    • June 28, 2010 @ 4:08 pm livevicuriously

      heck yes!!! I’ll have to make a mental note to avoid the burgers and fries when I am in Viet-freaking-nam. Seriously?! who travels that far to eat crap they could get back home?


  2. June 28, 2010 @ 3:55 pm Paula

    Go Brandy!! Love that you paid for her drink– seriously a touch of class . . . mmmwahhhh!


    • June 28, 2010 @ 4:09 pm livevicuriously

      yeah, I couldn’t help it. Thought it would add a nice touch of “go screw yourself” 😉 missing you!


  3. June 28, 2010 @ 5:52 pm Steve Kramer

    Yesssss!!!!!>fist pump<
    I can think of a couple opportunities to do the same that I regretted passing on afterward.
    Obviously a case of stupid cow disease. Deserved to be put down. NEEDED to be put down!!
    Thank you from all of us less ugly Americans!!!


    • June 29, 2010 @ 4:32 pm livevicuriously

      I just couldn´t help myself… not that I wanted to! some people just don´t deserve to travel.


  4. June 28, 2010 @ 7:13 pm Tanja

    Brandy Bell, I’ve said it before and I’m sure to say it again- you are my very own personal hero!!!!!! I hereby give you a standing ovation (no less sincere for being performed at my desk in the back corner of the office at work 😉


    • June 29, 2010 @ 4:32 pm livevicuriously

      and YOU are my hero for marrying a Matisyahu look alike. missing you both!


  5. July 1, 2010 @ 8:16 am Debi

    You ROCK! 😉 Keep calm and carry on…


  6. July 1, 2010 @ 11:55 am Eli

    Some people are insanely ignorant. What the hell was she doing in Portugal? I can’t stand people like that, and working in the food service industry, I’ve met alot of them. Thank you. You did the world a favor:)


  7. July 10, 2010 @ 4:03 pm Manuel

    Well, as one of the above-mentioned heathens, allow me to extend my appreciation for sticking out for us 🙂

    I guess there’s plenty to dislike about Portugal if you really have your heart set in it, but… the food? 😀 That takes some doing – but I’m obviously biased, what’s your take on the local fare?

    One of the funniest experiences I’ve had Traveling While Portuguese was Luxembourg – went there on a “target of opportunity” weekend getaway from Amsterdam expecting to have a bit of a hard time with language and such… only to discover that fully 30% of the place’s population was Portuguese (massive immigration in the 60s). It was funny… but almost a little off-putting, figuring out how to communicate with the natives without a shared language is fun – I end up learning a lot of ad-hoc bits of other languages in the process 🙂

    May I always be as classy when faced with militant ignorance 🙂

    Hope you enjoyed your stay and had a Pastel de Nata for me (I do crave them frequently…)


    • July 10, 2010 @ 4:54 pm livevicuriously

      loving it so much I am still here in Lisbon! 🙂 Are you still living in Amsterdam? something tells me my travels may bring ME there for a weekend getaway 😉


      • July 10, 2010 @ 6:25 pm Manuel

        Ah – enjoy! I trust you’ve done Sintra & the like… if you get a day-and-a-half trip opportunity head down to the Alentejo… lunch in Alcacer do Sal (or Setubal if you’re in a more Fishy kind of mood), then head towards Evora for dinner on the city walls, visit the temple to Diana at sunset (temp. should be almost bearable) – the places themselves are lovely, but ultimately what you’ll probably take along with you is the feeling of time “peeling off” from you, slowing down, history and the present merging into a timeless “now-ness” that is quite unique.

        And yes, hanging my hat in AMS these days. In that regard, single-item-tip: Amsterdam is not the red light district and the coffee shops. To taste Amsterdam’s “Gezelligheid” (a term every bit as tricky as “saudade”), wander away from the centre – the Jordaan, De Pijp, the Museumquartier… those feed you enough Amsterdam-ness that you may just “get it” 🙂 But of course, Amsterdam itself and the rest of Holland are worlds apart.

        Drop by, we’ll have a “Koffie verkeerd” 🙂


        • July 12, 2010 @ 8:51 pm livevicuriously

          Saudade is my favorite thing of Portugal. What a fantastic word… I wish it had a translation in English… Ive done Amseterdam once, but am looking forward to another visit for sure! keep reading and spot when Im headed your way 😉


    • November 21, 2012 @ 6:57 am Caio

      Got here through Lucy Pepper’s blog since I’ve been reading her for the whole seven years!
      I think it’s time you find the courage to discover northern Portugal and its typical recipes and by northern I don’t mean Oporto and nothing else than Oporto but Minho. Winter is coming and with it some of the most delicious food you have never tasted.
      like papas de sarrabulho, rojf5es (the real thing not the fake ones found everywhere else- they must include tripas rojidas, sangue and castanhas rojidas and grelos), arroz de sarrabulho, feijoada e0 transmontana, cabrito assado, vitela assada, lampreia. Of course dobrada in Oporto. All of this is only eatable and most desirared from november on.And arroz de cabidela too. Winter food. And vinho verde, red, da casa…


  8. July 18, 2010 @ 10:51 pm Fida

    Your style of class is unbelievable classy – I hope I remember that when I meet the next Queen Oldbags!


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