April 24, 2012

New Adventures of Old Hens in Portugal

Hens on Ice took the Iberian Peninsula by storm after months of cold and grey climates. The sun was out and we spread out wings to tan our white feathers. We first fluttered through five Spanish cities before crossing the border and visiting Lisbon, Portugal. I will admit I was ignorant to much about Portugal other than it being Spain's thin neighbor to the west. And since Portugal doesn't pop up too often in US news outlets, the last I'd heard about Portugal was from The New Adventures of Old Christine:

I may not have been much more help than Christine for Richie's school project, but I felt confident my studies of the Spanish language and culture would be helpful. Portugal is surrounded by Spain, surely the countries are like a close brother/sister duo, right? Wrong. Things I learned about Portugal, Spain's third cousin:

1. That Spanish is getting me nowhere. I thought Spanish would be more helpful than speaking English, and I was still on such a high from communicating with Spaniards in their local tongue. But after two attempts to speak Spanish to locals, I stopped since it only got me a dirty look or ignored. Thankfully my English was received and understood quite well. The Portuguese turned out to be a friendly, lovely people once I stopped speaking their neighboring country's language like an idiot. Thankfully they could speak to me in something other than Portuguese. 

2. (Almost) everyone speaks English, at least in Lisbon. Thank you, Portuguese for learning my language and not giving me attitude about using it! (Take note, France.) 

I really just wanted a sangria. 
3. Drug dealers are friendly and speak English. I've grown up learning that drug trafficking is illegal, so the traffickers need to wear black hoodies, stand casually in dark allies and speak softly without moving their lips or eyes. But those rules were out the window in Portugal! I was fluttering through a busy, touristy street in Lisbon with a hen friend when a young man smiled in our direction. "Who am I to turn down a smile from these friendly people?" I thought, so I smiled back. He then brazenly approached us (smiling still) and asked me if I'd like some coke or hash in the same demeanor our cafe server had asked us if we'd like chips or rice. I politely declined, so he walked with us, insisting he had cheap prices. Still, that bargain deal didn't change my mind as he'd hoped, since drugs are a different kind of sell than adding a side salad to a meal. And drugs aren't typically an impulse buy like gum. I'm either interested or I'm not. We had also just finished an early dinner in broad daylight and were thinking of something more like a sangria or dessert, not cocaine. But thanks for offering the friendly face discount - I'm flattered.

4. No, I cannot understand Portuguese. When we entered the country, I saw a few billboards that I could understand because the words looked very similar to Spanish words I knew. However, that confidence was quickly shattered once I saw a menu in Portuguese and heard our show track in Portuguese. Adios, Spanish. Our show must not have any vocabulary from those billboards, since I suddenly had no idea what I was mouthing again, just like in French (and that uncomfortable week of Flemmish). Back to avoiding eye contact with that front row...

5. The Portuguese must really hate the Spanish. When the Puritans left England and settled in New England, the English language still survived that long boat ride across the Atlantic. Sure, American English and British English sound very different today, but it's all still English, no matter which party one thinks is butchering the language. (Why didn't the Puritans spice up the English language and make up their own? The US could have become independent sooner if the King of England couldn't understand any of the freaks in the new world) But the Portuguese basically gave Spain a big "screw you." They chose to do their own thing on the west coast of that Iberian Peninsula from the get go and speak a different language. Not only were they an independent nation, they could also talk shit about the Spanish right in front of them. Sure, many Iberian school children would eventually learn Spanish and Portuguese, but I bet the Portuguese at least had a good run in confusing the Spanish in the 12th century. 

Modern day Puritans, lighten up.
Thankfully a week in Portugal could at least clear up a little American ignorance I had toward the country. It was beautiful, warm and friendly - three key things I look for in a country. But I think that language barrier will keep us not much more than a nice one-week stand. Now, if only Spain would return my calls...

*Disclaimer: The Cackling Hen intends to be a humor column, not a politically correct history book. 

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