sun glasses

Is it just me? In the heat of the moment

The ‘lady’ in the flowery dress and high heels elbows her way past patiently waiting regular customers, well-schooled in post-pandemic distance-keeping, to the front of the counter of our local café and shouts at the back of the girl, currently busy serving someone else, that she wants a ‘café curto’ (espresso) and a toast (torrada) buttered on both sides.

Not being immediately acknowledged, she then barks out her order again, snapping her fingers in the process. Next to her, a mother responds to the incessant cries of “mãe, mãe” from her brood of five kids of varying sizes with equally shrill “mãe (mais) nada!”.

Meanwhile, two balding, middle-aged men in striped shorts better suited to the bedroom have involved themselves in a heated argument over a parking space, accompanied by an ever-increasing cacophony of blowing horns from the growing tailback of cars unable to get past.

During all the confusion, a family of eight has taken up residence at the last remaining free table, carefully sharing a bottle of mineral water between them.

The newly-arrived group of French teenagers sporting expensive-looking surf gear and any amount of gold chains cannot get served and have started to play football on the adjacent grass area accompanied by loud whooping of “allez, allez!” – it is only the middle of June and the temperature has hit 100 Fahrenheit (38ºC) at 11 in the morning.

I turn away in thirsty despair and decide to return to the safety of my home far above the maddening crowd – welcome to the beginning of summer in the Algarve!

Speaking of ‘the French’, most French visitors to the Algarve at this time of the year are not actually French – although they pretend to be. Along with many ‘Swiss’ and ‘Luxembourgers’, they are actually what are commonly referred to as ‘emigrantes’, first, second or even third generation Portuguese who have gone to live and work abroad.

The explanation for the latter two categories is fairly straight forward – jobs and money. Since the 1960s, Portuguese migrants have been taking up manual jobs in Luxembourg left behind by mostly Italians returning to their own country as economic circumstances improved there.

Today, around 100,000 Portuguese nationals, 15% of the population, and many more of Luso-ancestry reside in the tiny Grand Duchy enjoying wages anywhere upwards of the monthly €2,200 minimum – which stands in stark contrast to the current €887 paid here, a sum which only surpassed a paltry €500-a-month a couple of years ago.

A good example of the level of the Portuguese presence in Luxembourg’s social fabric is the composition of the now successful national football team, which features star players such as Tiago Pereira Cardoso, Leandro Barreiro, Gerson Rodrigues, Mica Pinto, Miguel Gonçalves and Diogo Pimentel, amongst many others.

The situation in Switzerland is not much different. Here the Portuguese ‘Windrush’ has also continued unabated since the 60s, presently numbering a huge 300,000, mostly employed in the cleaning and catering sectors of the economy which has recently seen the national minimum wage raised to the equivalent of a whopping €4,100 a month. “Portuguese people don’t make many demands and know their place,” says Swiss immigration expert Rosita Fibbi – more to that a bit later.

Relations between France and Portugal, on the other hand, are much more deep-rooted and in many ways complex. A potted history would start as early as 1496 when King Manuel I signed an expulsion decree which saw 10,000 Jews flee to France. The next major exodus occurred during World War I when an 80,000-strong Portuguese military expeditionary force was accompanied by 22,000 civilians to help the war effort, most of whom ended up staying.

Between 1957 and 1974, that number increased dramatically with up to 900,000 Portuguese escaping political persecution, economic hardship or ongoing colonial war conscription under the Salazar dictatorship. Initially, there was plenty of work in construction, but, by 1970, mostly illiterate peasants living in extensive slums on the Paris outskirts – “gens des baraques” or ‘people from the barracks’ as they were called locally – were made up of mainly unskilled labourers, cleaners and rubbish collectors.

Today, France has the biggest Portuguese ex-patriot community outside Brazil.

But let us get back to the Algarve summer. Our French-speaking ‘cousins’ have made a habit of invading our small piece of paradise during July and August, shamelessly flaunting their comparative riches by way of luxury cars, garish clothes and, above all, brutish behaviour. It is as if they are determined to shake off the ‘shackles of domestic oppression’ for these four to eight weeks revisiting their homeland, displaying a desperate need to show off in front of other road users, those serving them their morning coffee or evening meal.

Another peculiarity is their refusal to speak anything but French, unless there is something to complain about (which is often!), in which case a fluency in vernacular Portuguese suddenly becomes apparent. ‘Knowing their place’ has been temporarily forgotten as an “obrigado” or “merci” is hardly ever offered, never mind a tip on the restaurant or café table, strewn with empty water bottles and remnants of food, more akin to a battlefield once it has been abandoned.

These annual visitors are, unsurprisingly, not immensely popular amongst the local working population which heaves a great sigh of relief come September.

And there are other hordes of infidels packing our beaches at this time, of course, whom I cannot let off Scot-free here. Oh, don’t get me wrong, I like the Scots, friendly and polite by and large, whilst the Welsh are jolly and the Irish just crack (craic) me up.

All three nationalities know how to have a good time on holiday unlike the English who tend to fall into two categories – either too reserved to let their hair down or too drunk to reign in their propensity for gratuitous violence – but what do you expect from a ‘tribal culture’ which regards football shirts as evening wear ‘haute couture’ for all genders and ages?

Of course, that is a vast generalisation. I’ve met many very nice English people over the years, including my girlfriend, but unfortunately the two above-mentioned types stick out when on holiday, especially when flying barstools and fists shatter an up-to-that-point idyllic late evening.

The Scandinavians are either unable to shake off their native chill or pass out following overenthusiastic consumption of what is to them ridiculously cheap alcohol. The Germans have never learnt how to have fun per se, and the Italians seem to live in a world of their own. Which leaves us with our second most numerous (after the ‘French’, and almost as unpopular) wave of summer guests, the Spanish.

Our Iberian neighbours really upset the Portuguese when lording it over them for 60 long years of annexation four centuries ago, and then tried to do it again with the help of the French (!) during the seven-year war in 1762. Although the second attempt was unsuccessful, the incursions were equally unwelcome!

This year, almost 300,000 Spanish tourists are expected to invade Portugal in July alone. Nowadays, ‘Los Hermanos’ come unarmed and are generally harmless and inoffensive other than for their reluctance to speak in any other language than their own, and at machine gun speed at that, but they are also known for keeping their purse strings tightly closed, thus not contributing a great deal to the local economy.

Which about brings me to the end of my latest excursion into the summer madness which is already upon us. The longest day of the year has been and gone and it will be October before we know it – at which time, I will make another appearance on these pages.

In the meantime, happy holidays!

By Skip Bandele
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Skip Bandele escaped to the Algarve almost 25 years ago and has been with the Algarve Resident since 2003. His writing reflects views and opinions formed while living in Africa, Germany and England as well as Portugal.