I was having an espresso in my favorite local café in the typical Lisbon neighborhood of Graça when two middle-aged foreign men walked in and ordered their own coffee. As with many cafes in Lisbon, the coffee was 70 cents or less. When the men heard how much they were being charged for coffee, they were shocked.
I do not know where they were from, but they said to the waitress in English: “This is so cheap. Oh, my God! This is so cheap. We pay four times this price back home.”
This might look like a normal situation at a first glance. Who does not compare prices when they move from one place to another? Who would not be happy to pay fraction the price they normally pay for their purchases? However, on closer inspection, this situation is an example of exactly the kind of behavior which causes locals everywhere to feel some sort of resentment towards travelers.
Travelers everywhere, whether they are tourists or newly arrived expats, are often criticized by locals for their entitled behavior. In fact, it is not uncommon to encounter a sense of entitlement among travelers. Due to the economic boom, Lisbon has experienced in the last few years, the Portuguese capital has become a hub for digital nomads, foreign students, artists, startup businesses and tourism. As great and enriching as that is, the daily lives of locals are sometimes compromised as a result.
While the Portuguese people are among the friendliest in Europe, there is an increasing discontent with the behavior of thousands of travelers who come to visit Lisbon every day. Although there are behaviors that are universally regarded as appalling when committed by travelers anywhere, some behaviors are specifically annoying for Lisboetas.
Telling locals how cheap everything is
I have seen this a few times: a North American or a Northern European family telling the waiter how ridiculously cheap the bill is. It is understandable that they are indeed shocked with the prices compared to how much they pay back home for a meal out.
However, many Portuguese people, as well as African and Brazilian
immigrants, are on a wage of 700 euros a month (the minimum wage in Portugal). The reason the restaurant bill is so cheap is that these people are paid very little. Also, they probably find the bill expensive for their incomes.
Even though travelers might have the best intentions, it does come across as rubbing it in people’s faces.
Assuming that Portuguese and Spanish are the same thing
It is only natural that we cannot converse in the native language of every country we visit. However, addressing Portuguese people in English makes sense as there is a consensus that it is the global lingua franca (whether we like that or not, that is another matter). The standard of spoken English in Portugal – particularly among younger generations – is also very high.
What does not make sense is addressing people in Spanish. Many Portuguese people (though not all) might find it offensive that a foreigner assumes that they just speak Spanish or that they must, at least, understand it. And while many people do speak Spanish, it is not very appreciated that you just start conversing in Spanish without asking your interlocutors if they actually understand it.
Even worse are those who just speak their mother tongue and expect people to deal with it. I saw a family of French speakers very upset for having to repeat their sentences in French, yet still no one understood them!
This is Portugal, not Quebec, not Switzerland, not France, not even Morocco where young people are expected to know some French. This behavior does come across as quite entitled, if not rude.
Bestowing the holiday spirit upon residential buildings
It is no secret that many houses in central Lisbon have been turned into Airbnbs or short-term rented accommodations for foreigners. This leads to a situation where a building of six apartments might have three Airbnbs, if not more. The problem with that is when crowds of young people start expressing the holiday spirit in the most annoying ways: loud music; talking in the corridors at 3 am; getting drunk in front of the building.
While all this may be expected in a youth hostel, in residential buildings where some people have to wake up at 6 a.m., this will not be welcomed. My neighbor was complaining of how people used the window of her ground floor apartment as an ashtray. Probably the same crowd would not act the same way in their home countries, but being away from home sometimes sparks a Dionysian spirit (which may be great for travelers but not for locals).
Standing in the way
Lisbon is very beautiful, and no number of pictures would ever capture its uniqueness. The city’s older streets are quite narrow, intricate and paved with traditional cobblestones. The sidewalks normally accommodate one person at a time.
When groups of people stand in the way doing nothing or taking hundreds of pictures, this becomes quite inconvenient for people who are running to catch a bus or racing time to get to work or are simply walking uphill to their homes with heavy shopping bags. If you are one of those groups, just be mindful that where you are standing might be an issue in the small historical part of town. Moreover, new places are easier to enjoy in person than through the lenses of camera phones.
About the author:
Sarah Nagaty is a PhD researcher of cultural studies in Lisbon. She’s lived in Portugal for two years.
As a student of cultural studies, Sarah is drawn to what connects people from different backgrounds to new cultures and places, how they relate to their new surroundings and what kind of activities they could engage with in their new hometowns.