Portugal is an underrated country with a lot to offer. That being said, I suggest you not travel there, because I’d prefer to have it all to myself. But if you do choose to make a trip, be prepared for the good old Portuguese sense of humor — hidden underneath the surface at first, but pretty awesome when you find it. Here are five examples:
1. Starbucks, inside a train station with a 16th century Neo-Manueline façade.
Starbucks only recently came upon Portugal, and many of my cousins and friends still have no idea what it is. Yet you’ll probably find the most beautiful Starbucks you’ve ever seen right off the Avenida da Liberdade in Lisbon. It’s set inside the palatial Rossio train station, because palaces and palace-like buildings are really the only structures that exist in Portugal. On the inside, it’s the same Starbucks as any, but on the outside, you might as well be walking into the Cinderella’s castle.
2. A heinously adorable love for sardines
I’m not sure if the tiny sardines that come in a can in the USA and the much larger, robust sardines that come off a roaring fire in Portugal are the same, as I’ve never had a canned sardine before and the ones here are just delicious. That being said, the Portuguese sure do love their sardines, and here is some signage telling you as much. The pride is part of the 2013 Festas de Lisboa celebrations. Just like peace, love, and happiness, sardines are for everyone.
3. An equally heinous, but playfully teasing, love for Cristiano Ronaldo.
Pretty much everyone is in love with Portugal’s sweetheart, the futbol player Cristiano Ronaldo (though sources say perhaps no one loves him as much as he loves himself). Though Portugal has much to claim in history, its current fame is minimal, and Cristiano is one of the large personalities that puts this small Iberian country on the map. I found this quip pasted to the draft lever of a small Portuguese bar in the Bairro Alto. It reads (with my own liberal translation), “The best thing in the world is children, and the second-best is Cristiano Ronaldo.”
4. An unashamedly logical response to great outdoor weather.
I took this image while walking down a dirt road in rural Portugal, past houses that were hundreds of years old and crumbling to pieces. The owner of a humble abode seemed to find little indoor use for his or her armchair, instead putting it under the shade of a tree in order to best watch the activities of passers-by. I don’t know about you, but this is pretty genius. Isn’t it every summer day that we say to ourselves, “boy, I wish I could enjoy this beautiful view while sitting in a La-Z-Boy at the same time?”
5. Tunas. ie, university students who will play anything for money.
That’s a moderate joke. The tunas are known in Portugal as being a highly respected type of music played in the style of 13th through 16th century Portugal, when it was at the height of the age of discovery. However, an important detail is that the musicians are university students. Which means, you’ll often find this very traditional, sweet type of Portuguese music played on the streets of Lisbon and Coimbra by sharply dressed, highly egocentric, performance-ready college boys hoping to woo visitors and earn some pocket change.
My cousin once told me of a group of tunas that showed up in a restaurant and asked everyone there (about 200 people) to donate one euro for their trip to Switzerland — and got exactly what they asked for. They’re too cute to resist, they put on a great show, and they’re playing mandolins. What’s not to love?
For more stories of irony and fun, give Portugal a shot and look around. You might never want to come back.