For me, travelling is never just about getting to know new places. My perception is composed of culture and its creators – the local people. I am always curious how their behavior and habits reflect the soul of a nation.
I am in Portugal for more than a month. Before coming here, I didn't know much about the country as I have never visited it before, but a lot of my friends had fallen in love with it, its culture and the people, advertising all. Now, I can clearly see why.
Personally, I tend to compare cultures of countries I have visited. My impression of Portugal is so far clear: the country has a lot of beautiful places to visit (overcrowded Lisbon or Porto are just tips of an iceberg), an amazing ocean-side, fantastic gastronomy and warm, welcoming people. That is why it became one of my favourite counties on this planet.
Tolerant and open-minded in spite of the history
Portugal was a colonial empire for almost 600 years. In the 20th century, after almost 50 years of dictatorship, the country became a democratic republic only in the late 70’s. That never caused Portuguese to lose their faith. The country is still one of the most religious in Europe, with more than 80 per cent of its population being Catholics.
Why I am writing all of this is that taking a look at the history and seeing the contemporary Portugal, I need to admit that I am surprised. Portuguese, in spite of their past and high amount of religious people, seem to be quite open minded, welcoming and tolerant. One of the curiosities worth sharing is that the so catholic country as Portugal was among the first ones to allow same sex marriages. To be honest, I was happy to get to know this. I like when it is recognized that nothing is black and white – if one wants, there is always a compromise or a solution to find. And Portugal is a great example of it.
Portuguese are not Spaniards
Portugal is quite isolated from the rest of the Europe, it has border just with Spain. Because these two countries share the same Peninsula, some think Portuguese are similar to Spaniards. For sure, there are some similarities. Both of them are night creatures (it is common to see small kids outside in the middle of the night – Czech mothers would be shocked to see this), their lives have usually the same slow rhythm (they try to enjoy and not to kill the time with too much work), they're positive and welcoming. Also identically, both of the nations are traditionally family oriented and they cherish interpersonal connections. At the same time, Portuguese are not so loud, expressive and extroverted. They seem to be calmer, more thoughtful and modest.
Portuguese kindness and positivity
Even when a lot of them don´t speak any English, they are usually eager to help. What I find very nice, and interesting at the same time, is that some random people are greeting you even when they don´t know you.
Portuguese are usually in a good mood (I think one of the reasons needs to be the high amount of sunny days) and with a broad smiles on their faces. If you go to Portugal, remember a very important rule – smile! If you won´t, people will think something is wrong. I need to admit that for a Czech person it is a kind of a challenge and sometimes I am still getting cramps when smiling too much.
Behind the smiles brought by the sun, there, in a Portuguese soul, is also a hidden melancholy, delivered probably by the omnipresent wind. I don´t know any other country which would base the local spirit on something like saudade or fado. The idea behind the national music is a destiny one can´t escape. It gave the name to a beautiful singing tradition which is recognized as UNESCO heritage, and which we had witnessed in Alenquer. And the very poetic expression saudade... It means nostalgic longing for something or someone, and creates exactly the kind of emotions that is very close to my own. Thanks to it, I, a melancholic creature from the Czech Republic, found myself in Portugal to be in the right spot.