My wife and I recently returned from three glorious weeks in Spain and Portugal. Far from the gloom and doom of economic reports from the EuroZone, both nations seemed to be vibrantly chugging along with a smile. The only frenzied behavior we saw came at happy hour at the tapas bars. And if happiness translates to helpfulness, then Nazare’, Portugal is one of the most cheerful spots on earth.
Nazare’ hugs the Atlantic coast with a sweep of golden sand, and is jammed with solar-seeking hedonists in the summer. October is still shirtsleeve sunny but the
beach blanketeers are gone, leaving what was once—and still is— a fishing village peopled by chain-smoking old salts and their tiny wives, swaddled in multiple petticoats making them almost as wide as they are tall. And accommodating? We ended up chanting, “Obrigado!”—“thank you” in Portuguese– like a mantra as the locals helped us navigate a street system designed like my intestines.
When simply pointing the way wasn’t enough—and it usually wasn’t for we clueless gringos—locals dropped what they were doing and escorted us where we wanted to be. A hotel bartender hiked us three blocks—uphill—to the beginning of a walking path. After futilely trying to tell us how to get to a restaurant, a middle-aged lady with an time-worn companion on her arm also conducted us to our destination. With the older matron’s blessing, our guide led us to our restaurant, then circled
back for her consort.
But the ultimate display of Iberian hospitality began before we reached Nazare’, on the bus hauling us there. After unsuccessfully manhandling my seat to find a prone position, an affable young man across the aisle pointed out a simple lever that did the trick. And that was it; or so I thought. Two days later, the same beaming
Samaritan ambled up to our table at an intimate local eatery. His father owned the joint, and proud papa Carlos spent the rest of the evening showering us with complimentary largess ranging from prawn appetizers to port toasts from a bottle that rarely left his grip. It was as though he was thanking us for allowing his son do us a kindness. Obrigado, indeed!