In Portugal we usually enjoy wonderful weather. The sun is shining and everyone looks full of life and cheerful. Well, everyone …? It might be difficult to imagine but the Portuguese can grumble about everything. And of course the weather is never as it should be. is A sunny day? What a tropical heatwave! A rainy day? What a mess everywhere…! Below 15 degrees in the morning? This is far too cold! The villagers complain every morning at the local bakery when we buy the rolls for our B&B. But remember, these remarks are not be taken too seriously! You don’t want to argue by saying something in return or dispute the comments. That is far too direct and you ignore the fact that these remarks are in fact not actual complaints… They are more of a friendly greeting! After all, the Portuguese do not like to argue so much… they just exchange opinions.
Because of their indirectness and politeness, the Portuguese have developed some smart reflexes to deal with complaints. Living here, we learn from the best in ‘complaint avoiding strategies’. So here are my three most important tips, directly taken from real life situations…
Tip 1. Ignore the complaint completely.
In a restaurant I asked for a rice dish. The waitress recommended a Thai curry. So I ordered this curry. Once the dish arrived, it turned out to be a (fine) dish but without any rice whatsoever. When I asked about this, the women said “but it was very tasty I hope?”. After which I stammered an embarrassed “… indeed”. “Well then!” Was her perceptive response.
Tip 2. Look at the bright side.
Last year, we ordered new black out curtains. The guy at the store indicated that the delivery time should be around ten days, with a maximum of two weeks. Well, you guessed right; five weeks later, a short phone call finally delivered the redeeming message; the curtains are ready. When picking up my order, I could not resist my urge to complain about the very long delivery time. The Portuguese answer; “But they’re here now aren’t they? So please be happy!”
Tip 3. Blame your opponent.
An appointment at the dentist ended in a bizarre discussion, because the original time we agreed upon did not match the doctors agenda. Eventually I agreed to another time which was a very problematic time for me. Of course, being Dutch I told her later on how uncomfortable I felt with this new date and the fact that felt a bit overpowered. Her answer? “But then you could just have said so. We could have chosen a different moment.” And she was right …!
The common heart of these effective Portuguese strategies, is to avoid confrontation at every expense. Northern Europeans often complain because they like the confrontation and they see the dispute as silly verbal arm-wrestling game. I start complaining, now you go hard in the defensive and I end up making my point and winning the set. This ‘win or loose’ strategy is doomed to fail in this country. This ‘win or loose’ strategy is doomed to fail here. In fact, if you end up being too stressed and agitated, people here will find you “mal educado”; very rude.
Tomorrow I need to go to the city hall for some simple paperwork. I am sure it will be a time-consuming visit. But the fine art of complaining will not work here; “I am now helping you Sr. Roberto, what is your point?”. So if you are once again waiting in line at the airport or you have to wait a little longer at the car rental, remember that complaining makes little sense. We just like to keep it friendly for each other. And we wait… Typical Portugal!