Saturday, 27 December 2014

Some reasons why I like Portugal

I read, see or hear about various aspects of life in, and the culture of, different countries around the world, and it makes me remember the good and the bad of countries in which I have lived.

Perhaps because we have always lived on our farms in rural areas, sometimes a long way from a town, my family and I have met some extremely nice people in all of them. Portugal is no different – except that the townspeople are as friendly as the rural folk. During the summer my wife and I were in a supermarket, the bananas were of poor quality and I only picked up three, asking my wife if she would weigh them whilst I went back to the wine section for a bottle I particularly wanted to try and had forgotten. A Portuguese lady had obviously heard us talking, assumed we were tourists and, by gestures, indicated to my wife (who speaks almost no Portuguese) that she would weigh the bananas for her on the slightly complicated electronic scales this particular supermarket uses. The lady said nothing, just did the weighing, affixed the price ticket to the bag and smiled whilst returning them to my wife.

On our next trip to town we were in the same supermarket looking at several large jars of spices (from which you shovel out what you require) because my wife wanted to memorise the names of one or two she had forgotten – she reads Portuguese reasonably well, especially recipes. A young lady nearby said if we told her the English name for the spice we wanted she would identify it for us. My wife explained why she was looking at the labels, and the lady quickly went through them all, translating into English. In both cases typical Portuguese, always friendly, always giving useful help.

Portuguese roads are the best maintained of any I have ever seen. Little frost throughout most of the country is a great help. I drive to Lisbon airport, 236kms, half a dozen times a year to pick up and return family visitors. The A1 motorway ends about a quarter mile from the terminal buildings and it is rare not to be travelling at the permitted speed limit (it drops from 120 to 100 to 80kph in the final kilometre or so) when I exit for the terminal. The underground car park adjoining the terminal always has free spaces, and I have never been more than 100 metres from the arrivals/departure areas.

As with many countries Portugal has toll roads. I paid €25 for a little gadget that sticks to the windscreen behind the rear view mirror, and tolls (plus parking fees at certain parks including the airport) and any ferry journeys are taken direct from my bank account on a monthly basis. I do not have to stop at barriers to take a ticket that is then used to make payment further down the road, there is a lane without barriers purely for those who have these little gadgets.

Speed limits within towns and villages are readily controlled because there are traffic lights over the road that measure the speed of an oncoming vehicle and any over the speed limit are red-lighted and held up for about half a minute. I have never met anyone who has not exceeded a speed limit at some time, but few will go through a red light, so everyone observes the limits. The police use radar for spotting speedsters, but they publicly announce on which roads the radar traps will be for the following month. Again it means that people obey the limits along the roads where they know there will be traps somewhere.

A few weeks back I read that the UK is losing millions every year from foreign registered vehicles that are used there and do not pay road taxes. They are also often uninsured because of the problems of insuring non-registered vehicles. I know that some ex-pats, particularly British ones, bring vehicles here and fail to register them in Portugal within the 6 months grace period allowed. It is particularly prevalent in the Algarve, and so the police stake out places like supermarket car parks, record the date and number of foreign vehicles, and eventually take action if necessary, including seizing the vehicle. I have no sympathy for those who suffer from this attempt to cheat the Portuguese. I left my vehicle in the UK and bought a Portuguese one immediately upon arrival.

There are some drawbacks, of course, and we have had dealings with some businesses where the proprietor or staff make promises that they have no intentions of keeping. We have had four lawyers, two accountants, and four banks since we came here. I still use a firm of solicitors in England that I have been associated with for more than 50 years; use the same bank in Scotland that I joined more than 20 years ago when we returned from Australia, and the same solicitor there for the same time too although hopefully that firm will not be needed again until we eventually retire and go back. We have had dealings with a few other small businesses that accept work and fail to do it, or do not follow instructions. This is not a language problem. I am aware of a German couple who left the country because of the number of times this had happened to them.

Despite these few problems, many businesses and their staff have gone out of their way to help us, and so far as possible we pass on the names of these businesses to new immigrants. Many people from northern Europe move to Portugal to buy a plot of land and they want to grow some of their own food. The Remax estate agency in Castelo Branco often sends these people out to talk to us as we appear to be the only “estrangeiros” with previous farming experience.

The Remax people helped us with the language problem in the buying, registration and insuring of our vehicle in January 2003. It was 10 years old then. It failed to start one morning early in September.  Having little mechanical knowledge, I only knew it was a serious problem. When it happened I had to go along to the village a few kilometres away, and so took the tractor instead, thinking of what I could do to fix my problem with the car. In the village was a vehicle belonging to the place I bought the car from in 2003. I explained my problem and they took care of everything, including seeking us from home and taking us to the railway station a couple of days later so that we could travel to Lisbon for a flight back to the UK for our grand-daughter’s Christening. The car was ready when we came back, and I was very pleased with the bill. I had had no dealings with the business since buying the car and I consider that what they did went a long way beyond after-sales service.

Apart from the extremely pleasant and helpful population I also thoroughly enjoy excellent food and wine at almost giveaway prices. Just a few of the reasons why I like Portugal.