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?