What is one of the first things new arrivals notice about Portugal? I’m talking about when you first pull out of the car rental lot and glance into your rearview mirror for the first time. There, framed in the mirror, is the impatient face of a motorist, who looks as if he might be sitting in your back seat. I don’t think you’re supposed to be able to notice that he still has a piece of lettuce stuck in his teeth from lunch, much less the colour of his eyes or even the expression on his face.
As I’ve continued driving around the Algarve enjoying the flowers along the road and the many sea views, I have also become aware that many Portuguese drivers follow much more closely than motorists do in some other parts of the world. I mean much closer. Could that be why the A2 has guidelines painted on the road, showing drivers how much space should be afforded between cars? I think so, but I’m not sure that many are following the well-posted advice against tailgating.
On several occasions, I have noticed that the person – male or female, it doesn’t seem to make a difference – seems desperate to pass me, often no matter how fast or slow I am going.
To be honest, I’ve picked up my pace in an attempt to go with the flow, as they say, but apparently I’m still not moving along rapidly enough. At the first opportunity, the little grey compact car is no longer behind me but rather zooming past, ducking in just in time to miss the oncoming lorry looming in the other direction.
As we travel on, with another car, this time white, filling in the space right behind my rear bumper, I often have an opportunity to observe the progress of the car that has just scooted by.
Sometimes, if the road is open, the passerby disappears over a distant hill making my progress seem leisurely, at best. At other times, if there is traffic ahead, the car, that is now directly two-car lengths in front of me, arrives at the traffic light a whole two to five seconds ahead of me. That’s right; that hurried individual risked her or his life passing just before a curve in order to gain a three-second advantage.
I realize that over a lifetime this frantic effort to get places sooner could add up to minutes of quality time savings, but I’m not sure the risk is worth it. For one thing, what’s the hurry?
Now, after months in this sunny clime, I haven’t noticed that the average Portuguese is obsessed with punctuality. In fact, in my slow, deliberate way, I seem more intent on being on time than some of my new Portuguese friends.
In other respects, the average Portuguese motorist seems quite willing to follow the rules of the road. For example, I believe most are pretty good about getting around the roundabouts unscathed. I know this puts me at odds with some writers of letters to the editor, but circling a roundabout is always a bit of a live-and-let-live proposition.
In addition, the rights of pedestrians appear to be sacrosanct, which is a good thing, even though I think some mothers pushing strollers might still want to look both ways before venturing onto a cross walk.
It’s fine that they assume we’re all going to stop and allow them to get to the other side to where the Forum is located. It does become a challenge however, when I’m merging in the outside lane off the circle and that’s where the zebra stripes are painted. What’s more. there is a small black car right on my tail.
By Pat, the expat
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For the previous 10 years, Pat lived in Panama which used to be rated above Portugal as a top retirement destination (but not any more), where he wrote a column for a tourist publication.