September 18, 2018
Tina Duarte

Browser warning: some readers may find this article a little too personal. Now the disclaimer’s out of the way, let’s continue.

I’ve noticed that our little Portugal is changing. I’m not talking about politics, economics or statistics. This is about communication. The holiday season is the ideal time for days out, travel and for exploring towns and cities, and you notice straight away that some places have had a makeover, a change in language use and new words that confront us on a daily basis. So I’m talking about language and how is it used. I’m sure that much of this change is because Portugal is in vogue right now, and there’s a whole wave of change driven by tourism, and by the Portuguese charm that people are starting to discover.

However (there’s always a ‘however’...), as far as hotels and restaurants are concerned, we are still seeing a glaring mismatch between what is advertised and the service that is really provided. Let’s look at two or three of the most blatant examples:

  • • We have menus and their famous translations that sometimes seem like a failed attempt to combine automatic translation, Frankenstein and a patchwork quilt.
  • Then there are hotels, residences, hostels and B&Bs that advertise the well-known phrase “we speak your language” and later, when we arrive with our bags and suitcases, we realise that even the most basic communication is like trying to work out a pirate treasure map.
  • There are beautifully decorated bakeries, with suitably-uniformed staff, complying with all financial and food safety regulations in the world, with cakes, pastries and other delights. They hang a wooden sign above the door with the name of the café, and underneath: “Food and Drinks” but, nevertheless, nobody there actually speaks another language besides (albeit very friendly) Portuguese.

I’m not the most travelled person in the world. I’ve been to just over half a dozen European countries, visited the USA once, and from my experience, I think that Portugal is still light years ahead of many countries we consider to be more “advanced” than us, in terms of customer service, friendliness and professionalism. Even so, I believe that the owners of these establishments I mention (and they are real-life examples), should consider that what their clients will most remember from their visit will be how funny the menu was, or the saga they endured just to order an extra towel for their room, or ask about a certain ingredient. Perhaps hey should consider hiring qualified people to translate the menu or to serve their customers. As they say on the Portuguese radio station, RFM, “Now that’s worth thinking about.”

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