One of these things is not like the others (Part 2)


Last week, I began this list of things that Portugal does differently than we do in the States. Some I like more, some less. While a number of them were minor things, I also alluded to one major thing, and I have to say that my reaction to it surprised me.

But I'll get to that in a minute. I wrote a couple of weeks ago about the coffee in Portugal, but it definitely belongs in this list, as well. Portuguese coffee is not like American coffee, in a number of ways. First of all, the amount.

You know how you sit down in a restaurant in the States for breakfast, and Flo comes around every now and then with a coffee pot in hand to top off your mug? That doesn’t happen in Portugal. You purchase a coffee, and you’re served one coffee. If you want more, you have to buy another cup. Francisca doesn’t come around with a pot of café Americano to top off your little cup.

The coffee itself is excellent, though. It’s thick and rich, strong without being bitter. And it’s inexpensive enough that even if you want more, it’s not going to break the bank. Don’t get me wrong, I like coffee, even American coffee. Some more than others, of course. Admittedly, though, even the best American coffee is simply dark flavored water, with certain inherent medicinal qualities, but water nonetheless.

But in Portugal, the coffee has a lot more texture. It’s not just wake-up juice. It’s something to be savored, to hold in your mouth for a bit, to feel, not just swallow. Portuguese coffee is sensual.

I better move on before this post gets slapped with an “R” rating.

In Portugal, I noticed that it was pretty rare to see a simple “trash can” in a public place. They may exist, but I don’t recall seeing one. Rather, what I saw were multiple, side-by-side receptacles for glass, plastic, paper and garbage. Recycling is something the country does as a matter of course. Surprisingly, according to a report by Reuters, Portugal recycles only about 28% of its urban waste, which is well below the European average of 46%.

Still, I’m not sure where America sits on that report. But I know it’s pretty rare for me to see separate receptacles here in the States. Usually, it’s just a single trash can for everything.

As I’ve written about before, one of the main concerns I have about growing old in the States is the cost of medical care. Since I, thankfully, didn’t have a need to make use of the medical facilities in Portugal, I can’t comment on them first-hand, though I suspect that would be up there on the list of major differences.

But the thing that I determined was the major difference was, I admit, a little surprising to me. When I left and came back to the States, I didn’t expect to miss the roundabouts of Portugal.

Portimão Roundabout

Portimão, Portugal

Admittedly, they seemed at first to be a little overdone. With the exception of the old central areas of the cities, almost every major intersection was a roundabout, or a traffic circle as they are so unimaginatively called in the States. Even entrances to highways were from roundabouts.

Since we’ve been back, I’ve begun to wax nostalgic about them. Sitting at a red light, idling for two minutes at a time (or more) whether there’s any traffic or not can do that. In Portugal, even at busy intersections, the traffic pretty much kept moving. That’s not to say that every intersection was a roundabout. There were some that had traffic lights, but even those lasted only a few seconds.

All in all, though, if I were making a list of pros and cons to determine which one I preferred, Portugal would definitely win out. According to numerous corporate motivational posters, “The most dangerous phrase in business is ‘We’ve always done it this way.’” I think that may be the trap that America as a country has settled into, as well. We’ve done things this way for so long that we can’t see the benefit of changing. Or maybe it’s just that change is difficult. And expensive.

But that little country over there across the pond sure does a lot of things better than we do.

I’d still like a refill of my coffee, though.