I have just launched a new feature on the Good Morning Portugal! show – ‘Try Something Portuguese’ – hopefully an inspiring and educational service to my audience, though a somewhat risky endeavour for me, judging by some of the early responses.
The first suggestion to land on my virtual desk was to try some “diet-ruining” – Tortas de Guimarães, which after a quick online search, appear to be a delicious flaky pastry parcel filled with a “combination of sugar, egg yolks, ground almonds, and squash”. Special ingredient? Melted pork fat (pingue dos rojões).
I can see myself savouring these live on the show with my morning coffee, dipped briefly after baking as they should be in syrup, with their crisp, glossy coating glistening under the studio lighting. This thanks to ‘Virginia’ who has since added Ovos Moles to the list, clearly a fan of the nation’s confections.
Alongside these originally nun-made delights, other dares included Alheira de Mirandela, “the real, not industrial ones”, added ‘António’, quite specific in his request. Francesinha, said ‘Darren’, as a new Portuguese Northerner might. “A whole pig’s ear” came the challenge from ‘Michael’, who later downgraded his gourmet gauntlet to “just a good forkful” because he considers me “a friend”!
But aside from things I might be putting in my mouth or spilling on my microphone or keyboard first thing in the morning, “parking on a roundabout” was the cheeky suggestion of my namesake Carl Hyde, he of the dashing new real estate combo in Lisbon – The Agency – who you may have seen on US television.
For me, parking on roundabouts is one of those habits that marks you out as a true Portuguese, or if a foreigner, someone who is truly acclimatised. The sort who might be having an impromptu ‘roadside’ picnic perhaps, chewing on an aforementioned pig’s ear, followed by a dessert of ovos moles, and washed down with an Algarve orange juice.
That’s clearly a Portuguese Jedi-level scenario, and not for the novice Luso-phile, but it does get us thinking about what other signs there are of true Portuguese-ness that are so naturally and deftly performed by our hosts, and the practices that we might adopt to showcase our own assimilation.
True to my publicly-issued invitation, I have pledged to pull up on a roundabout, which will, of course, have to coincide with one of the occasional outside broadcasts that I enjoy beyond the realms of our Silver Coast studio.
The next one, it turns out, beaming live from Castanheira de Pêra’s ‘Cerveja na Aldeia’ beer festival, with microphone in one hand and an independently brewed beer in the other, so definitely not from a roundabout on that occasion!
If you are a foreigner, may I ask just how Portuguese you think you are, or are becoming?
In recent times, and as I celebrate my sixth anniversary here, I confess I am letting go of my wild dreams of first-generation integration, imagining my children and theirs might make a better and more complete job of it. But that needn’t stop me trying in the meantime, maybe faking it till I make it. Better still, having my imitation of the best of Portuguese ways signal a sincere flattery.
Should you care to join me in an unabashed effort to become more authentically Portuguese, let us first vow to begin each day by remembering to make contact before getting to the meat of the conversation and the self-centred requirements of our social interactions.
Let me explain by mentioning here the words of the great Stephen Covey who said, “seek first to understand, then to be understood”, and in Portugal, adapting his sage advice to “seek first to say hello and then get your needs met”.
In this country, if you focus more on the process than the outcome, you’ll see that our hosts tend to lead with connection, establishing human to human contact with the appropriate time-of-day greeting.
After offering your “Olá!” followed by a “bom dia”, “boa tarde” or “boa noite” (the appropriate selection of which demands another whole article), you are then tee’d up and ready to ask for food, drink, residency or whatever other matter might be at hand.
Getting straight down to business is not advised, even if you do come from a time-is-money culture, where some might say you should stay if you put transactions above relationships.
I may have been a little premature here. The social intercourse advice just offered may have required that you take a ticket before finding yourself in front of the human being whose help or attention you require. Should this be the case, take the piece of paper – whether at the deli counter or in Finanças – and don’t take it personally.
What you might lose by having the feeling of being reduced to a number will be more than made up for as that ‘hallelujah moment’ comes and it’s your turn. In Portugal (and this applies as much to the ATM queue as a government office or butchery section at your supermarket), when it’s YOUR turn, it really is YOUR turn to shine and enjoy your moment in the service spotlight.
You have waited, and now others must too, as you work your way through a deeply detailed order, resentfully query your mysterious fines, or look for a piece of paper that you swear was in your portable filing system the last time you were sat in this chair.
Which, of course, brings us to the contemptuous familiarity of those well-worn, posterior-sculpted chairs that face public servants on the front line of civic administration. Here, as you sense the residual warmth of the last member of the public who sat there, there’s more you need to know on how to “be Portuguese about it”, a phrase we have immortalised on our coffee cups.
To be in this prized position, clearly you took a ticket and, when called, uttered a suitable greeting before setting about the purpose of your visit. What you need to know next, for the sake of your blood pressure and mental health, is that even having done all of these things, you may need to make this same bureaucratic pilgrimage perhaps another two, or even three, times to dot those metaphorical ‘i’s and cross those symbolic ‘t’s. Furthermore, official stamps may sometimes be required and, by that, I mean pretty much every time.
For the always-Portuguese as well as the amateur or aspirant, this is the unquestioned and reassuringly warm water in which we swim. Our new normal is the old normal for the society into which we are integrating, whose infuriating inconveniences are all relative, subjective and ultimately worth working with.
Maybe one day scientists will prove that your level of resignation and acceptance of such treatment is directly proportional to your quotient of Portuguese-ness?
Just as you can’t make an omelette without cracking eggs, you can’t become Portuguese without being Portuguese. Immerse yourself. Get involved. Use your ‘PI’, your Portuguese Intelligence, just as we are urged these days to use our Emotional Intelligence (EQ).
Work also on your ‘PQ’, your Portuguese Quotient. Park on a roundabout, call it ‘torrada’ not toast and, whenever possible, have your sandwich or cake cut in half, for reasons we needn’t question or be suspicious of.
Being or becoming Portuguese is not a spectator sport. Get ‘some skin in the game’ and join me. “Be Portuguese about it” and try something Portuguese. Let me know how you get on and let me know what you want me to try LIVE on the Good Morning Portugal! show. I’ll take it for the team, Team Portugal, and together let’s have fun enjoying all that this ceaselessly fascinating land has to offer.
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