This is not my favorite article to write because I prefer to concentrate on the positive, the adventurous, the sunny, historical and the beautiful things in Portugal but its a question I hear quite often and a situation that I have had to deal with in the past, so I decided after visiting Portugal for almost 20 years and living here for the past 3 years it needed to be addressed.
It was all brought on by a friend, a very happy, positive friend, that visits me quite often in Portugal and on one her first visit something unpleasant happened and she tearfully asked me a question, a simple question that turned out to have a long tail.
After a really unpleasant experience with meal eaten at a restaurant that skyrocketed in price when the bill was presented, My friend´s simple question was, Did I get ripped off? and I looked at her, felt sorry and tried to be careful in my word choice before replying……I answered hesitantly “yes you did” and she replied, emotionated, “but the Portuguese are so friendly and kind, how could this happen?” and that was the swinging tail, a few words, spoken without thought, from her heart that caused this article´s need.
So it took me a while to react just because in Amsterdam she wasn’t this careless and she´s actually a very pragmatic, intelligent, well balanced and careful person that seems to always know what she is doing. successful at university, successful at her job, careful in choosing her acquaintances. A happy mother that travels a lot.
So now she faced me with having to explain ´the kindness off the Portuguese´ and that proves quite difficult as they are many and most are not the same, they seem to come from all walks of life, all kinds of backgrounds, emotion and levels of intellect, strange but true, they are human.
So I started hesitantly to reply and trying to rethink every word, I answered with ´Yes the Portuguese are very friendly and most will go out of their way to please you, help you, accommodate you in the best possible way. however there are some people that will “ripp you off”, cheat you, swindle you and lift you, right in your face and will smile while they’re doing it.
They’ll leave you struggling with language, surprised at the action unable to defend yourself and left to cry on your friends shoulder, disappointed and hurt.
Luckily, for Portugal and it´s visitors, they are a minute minority trying to target you as that is how they make a living but they exists and as Portugal grows as a tourist destination your chance of meeting them could get bigger and bigger.
This is a global thing and a problem for anybody traveling. Some people make a living out of ripping off ´tourist´. Awful people that can ruin you´re holiday or impression of a place and it´s people if you let them.
You don´t notice these people in your own country because when you understand the culture, behavior and language you couldn’t possibly be one of their victims so they wont bother you, they concentrate on tourists. Thats how they make a living and they smile at how easy the whole thing is!
You can just as easily travel and never meet them but if you do take action!
The scene in Portugal:
You arrive at the airport, tired from the trip and a friendly taxi driver greets you as you get in the cab, and you know most off the time this is how it will go. …you get in the cab, the friendly taxi driver goes out of his way to accommodate you using whatever sign language necessary to overcome any language problems you may have. He or she takes you to your hotel, brings your cases to the door and smiles as he presents you with bill, which is exactly what you thought it would be having checked the cost of taxi at your destination on line before you left.
But this is where it generally could start to go wrong.
You checked taxi prices in Portugal before you got in the cab, you checked distances and the route to your hotel, you got in the cab more or less with the change in your hand. The taxi driver gave you a big smile, even gave you tips on the things you should do while in Lisbon…….You arrived and somehow the price is 10 times more!
The very first time I traveled to Portugal, I came prepared. I checked, I read that taxi drivers where likely to drive around, many more km than necessary and charge me incredible unexpected amount so I decided to take the bus. I checked bus fares before I left, knew where I was going got in the bus at Porto airport fully aware that the fare was 100 escudos, the driver gave me the ticket and I gave him a 1000 escudos note and waited for the change, he smiled and said something I couldn’t understand. I looked at him and shook my head, he shrugged his shoulders and gave a mean smile but no change, it was my first holiday in Portugal, I was traveling with my 6 year old daughter and it was my first holiday after splitting up with her father and I was totally gutted by this bus driver actions, I felt like leaving and I did n´t know how to defend myself.
I should have gotten the authorities involved but I was n´t prepared, I came to Portugal looking for a break in a country with lovely people.
After that I still had to travel everywhere by bus, which I didnt feel like but traveling inland I had little choice than in one village I got stuck because the ATM broke and without it I could n´t travel any further. A woman that spoke broken English understood my situation, she accompanied me to the bus while I tried to protest thinking that she did n´t understand that without the fare I could n´t travel, she said a few words to the busdriver who than gave a big smile and told me to take a seat, he took me 100km without a ticket, he was sweet, friendly and helpful and fixed all the bad feeling the first driver left me with.
So are bus drivers in Portugal out to steal my money, no. Neither are taxi drivers, restaurant owners or the guy that offers to carry your case up the mountain to the hotel.
My conclusion: anytime I got ripped off wherever it was because it took me by surprise and I didn’t take the necessary and required action and mostly it´s not a Portuguese thing, in fact it shouldnt be pinned on any nationality, just as sentences that start with the Americans are, the Dutch are, the English are are silly and pointless and subject to to many exceptions to mean anything.
Getting cheated in this way is a tourist thing that you can experience anywhere. In Portugal trust the authorities and inform them when it happens!
Some tips to avoid getting cheated in Portugal
Be informed and ask the price before you order.
Know the local customs the dishes restaurants put on your table are not free and you can send them back, dont order things that are not on the menu without inquiring about the price. Know that taxis are more expensive at night, if you call them you will pay extra and suitcases or anything that needs to go in the trunk are also charged extra.
When getting in a Taxi make sure you know the fare before you get in a cab and inform yourself about the route, In restaurants always ask whats included and if your dish is not on the menu make sure you know what its going to cost before you agree to let them make it, don´t drink, eat or stay in places where prices are not exposed, unless money is not an issue!
Contact the authorities when things go wrong or when you think your being charged anything extra that was nt previously agreed!
Take note that in Portugal there is a very good functioning police force, laws well in place and they understand these practices and will get involved fast if you should need it.
DO you feel you got ripped off call the tourist police (+351) 21 342 16 23 or visit the local police station in the municipality where it happened, you can count on their cooperation!
So what caused me to write this article? So obviously, my very good friend that came to visit me in Portugal.
For a moment she lost all her normal sensibility and was cheated in a way that she would n´t have let happen in Amsterdam, but she didn’t know what action to take to harness herself against this behavior and almost concluded that the action was one that defined the Portuguese. It shouldnt have happened, it shouldnt happen anywhere to anyone but it helps to come prepared and to take the required action when all else failed and it does happen.
But also anohter story, the story of acquaintances of another friend, who traveled to Lisbon and were pick-pocketed on the first day, they than canceled their Portuguese holiday flew back to the Netherlands and swore never to return to such a criminal country without ever realizing they had just returned to a country with a much, much higher level of criminality and where they would have never had their wallets in any way exposed or reachable by anybody except themselves!
Portugal is a fast growing modern country with all the good and the bad included but it is a country where you can have many great experiences and where you will meet some of the best people in the world, sadly an article like this is only necessary due to a small percentage of idiots that could possibly ruin your holiday if your not prepared for them.
prepare yourself when traveling, do your research and take action when you think things are not correct! Call (+351) 21 342 16 23 for assistance. Should this article scare you from coming to Portugal you´ll be cutting yourself short of all the great things and great people you will experience here!