By: SKIP BANDELE
Skip Bandele moved to the Algarve 10 years ago and has been with The Resident since 2003. His writing reflects views and opinions formed while living in Africa, Germany and England as well as Portugal.
DRIVING TO work the other day I found myself surprised to pass a seemingly endless row of cars stretching from the entrance of the Alvor Pestana hotel complex down to the beach at Torralta. For a moment I thought the ‘silly season’ had arrived early but then I realised that every single one of the vehicles was ‘manned’ and facing in the wrong direction, some serving as impromptu picnic areas while others contained men and women barely concealing their mounting impatience bordering on outright irritation. On my way home, the cars and their occupants were still there, albeit somewhat closer to their ultimate goal, the one petrol station in the vicinity still dispensing its precious liquid.
This scenario relates to the recent strike, temporarily provoking panic at the pumps as well as leaving supermarket shelves stripped of essential goods. The sudden siege took many by surprise, something which will happen to the new arrivals to the region in a fortnight’s time. Veterans of the summer invasion descending upon us from all points north, west and east know what August brings – queues. Queues at the petrol station, the bank, newsagent, restaurant… everywhere. As the Algarve’s population quadruples almost overnight supermarkets and beaches are overrun, space and consumables becoming equally scarce from one day to the next. In many ways, the chaos will mirror the brief June phenomenon which served as an appetizer for what is to come.
The options left open to those unable or unwilling to flee in the opposite direction are few. One possibility is to stock up and hunker down, only to re-emerge into comparative peace and quiet during mid September. Alternatively we can grin and bear it, ignoring both heat and ill-mannered intruders while constantly reminding ourselves how bleak and uneventful the winter months can be. Here are some useful hints for those about to spend their first ‘silly season’ here, be it as homeowners, tradesmen or restaurateurs.
Do not try to get anything important done – your bank manager, solicitor or local council official will be away from their desks.
If possible, time your shopping expeditions to coincide with prime beach time, such as 11 in the morning or late in the afternoon.
Avoid eating out; even if you are able to secure a table, the service will be slow and unfriendly.
Leave your car at home or limit your journeys to the absolutely essential – not getting stuck in traffic only signifies that everyone else has already grabbed the few parking spaces still available. Any prang or accident caused by annual returnees intent on showing off their outsized bull-bar monsters will result in you spending the best part of the day filling out forms – the region’s police forces have been ‘stocked up’ with officers fresh out of the academy to cope with the seasonal upturn in duties.
Roughly five million Portuguese live and work abroad – almost all of them pride themselves on possessing some kind of holiday abode here and want to enjoy their hard-earned cash while showing little respect for the pace of life still customary among their more sedentary compatriots.
Add in the majority of the continental population descending from the north of the country and you will have some idea of the gathering onslaught.
And then there are your everyday foreign tourists forced to travel at this time by school holiday restraints.
A survey of European hotel chains by the travel company Expedia has confirmed what most of us knew all along – the British are by far the worst behaved nationality abroad. Drunken behaviour, general rudeness and the inability to speak a single word of the host country’s language are undesirable traits augmented by a tendency to be messy and loud – and the industry’s damning verdict is not only levied at the young.
Recently, the foreign office warned that growing numbers of over-50s were making a nuisance of themselves while on holiday abroad, overindulgence in food and drink coupled with abuse of locals resulting in the label ‘Saga Louts’.
Surprisingly, the Brits are followed by the Russians, Chinese, French and Indians in the bad behaviour stakes while the Japanese, Germans, Americans, Swiss and Swedes are regarded as the most polite.
Speaking of Germans, the traditional cliché of deckchair-grabbing Nazis terrorising the poolside seems to have diminished somewhat. In the Algarve, this growing segment has adopted quiet and unobtrusive behaviour patterns. Mind you, this changing character trait could be purely a result of being in the minority.
A British family holidaying on the Greek island of Kos successfully sued their tour operator upon returning home after finding themselves hopelessly outnumbered, the ‘discrimination’ having led to a spoilt holiday after the entire hotel animation programme was conducted in German.
At the risk of attracting another outraged reader’s letter, have I mentioned the Irish? Having voted ‘no’ to the Lisbon Treaty some weeks ago after enjoying a deluge of European funds over the last 15 years or so, geographical proximity and the introduction of numerous direct budget flight routes have brought more visitors than ever to the Algarve from those shores.
I am not prone to generalisations – a friend of mine told me yesterday that ‘Nigerians are the biggest bunch of crooks out’, and I replied, “what, all 150 million of them?!” But in my experience, the Irish are good natured, uncomplicated and genuine people. There is only one tiny problem. Why does each family boast an average of six stretch limousine-type prams?
The endearing habit of meeting friends and neighbours from home over here subsequently makes for something of a cross between a rodeo and a Wild West wagon burg, gatherings of this type causing alarming bottlenecks on the region’s much improved pavements. For my part, I intend to blend in as usual, doing my best to answer endless questions ranging from ‘do you speak English’ to ‘how big is this island’!