cultural differences: a brief guide

Written by  //  February 8, 2012  //  latest  //  2 Comments

Some things that travellers are meant to encounter have always eluded me. “Cultural differences” and “culture shock”, for example, are two concepts that I have never really had a grasp of while on the road.

But now that I am settled and my mind is no longer occupied with train timetables and food poisoning, I have had time to ponder these issues.

I know that many of the comparisons I make on a daily basis are city/country comparisons, rather than being particularly Portuguese/Australian. The problem is with the generalisation. So, permit me instead to illustrate some examples of the more unexpected, curious and/or seriously annoying old life/new life differences I have encountered.

Do not take medications with alcohol

Elsewhere we understand that alcohol interferes with some prescription drugs, and can also exacerbate any side-effects like drowsiness that may occur. But here in my village, this code of practice is taken literally; I.E. you should not use a liquid containing alcohol to swallow your pills.

To counter this village logic, I have drawn up my own personal guidelines:

All illegal drugs should to be consumed with alcohol, although ecstasy should only be drunk with a trendy spring water.

:evil: All pain medication should be taken with an espresso to bring it on super fast.

8-) Any sedative should be taken with a glass of milk, preferably malted.

:-| Bex powders are of course taken with a cup of tea, followed by a lie-down.

:lol: Antidepressants, if taken in the morning, should be drunk with a neat scotch, or if in the evening with a swig of vodka straight from the bottle, for that desperate housewives type of style.

:oops: Any heart, circulation, or blood pressure treatments should be quaffed with a glass of red wine.

:-? Antibiotics, logically, with a liquid yoghurt.

8-O Ritalin, lithium, dopamine and anything containing pseudoephedrine should be drunk with a large glass of unnaturally-intense coloured cordial or soft drink.

:mrgreen: Anti-inflammatories, which should never be taken on an empty stomach, should be taken with a smoothie made from chops, potatoes and peas, or whatever you’re eating put into the blender. Mmm. spag bol smoothie, now we’re talking…

In this same “village logic/cultural difference” category one may also include “don’t drink hot things with cold things” (thankyou waitress now get me my coffee and orange juice) and “you can’t toast bread with fruit in it” (thankyou waitress now go toast my merendeira quicksmart thanks).

Being fat and being skinny

Despite the alarming growth of my girth and the persistence of a vulgar muffin top, my neighbours are insisting that I am puny and weak and need fattening up. It’s sweet of them to ignore the disintegration of my used-to-be physique, but really, I’m already rolling down Heartattack Road, and I don’t need a push.

You see, here, if you’re not as big as a house then people take pity on you. They describe fat people as “strong” people. What’s interesting is that their attitude is just as scientifically flawed as our perception of thinness being attractive. We might be starving ourselves to ill health, but they are meanwhile eating their way to heart disease and diabetes…


There isn’t even a proper word for “pet” in Portuguese. The best they can do is ‘animal of esteem’ which echoes nicely the dubious attitudes Portuguese have for companion animals. I should say, some, perhaps even many Portuguese do get it – just no one here in my village. Just how many times do the neighbours have to say that I have to keep my dog chained up EVERY HOUR OF EVERY DAY FOR THE REST OF ITS MISERABLE LIFE. Just how many “pet” dogs will the neighbours dump in the forest five minutes after their fun use-by date? How many domestic cats do we need who are hungry, diseased and petrified of human contact? What the hell is the point in having them around? I mean, if they were eating them, it might just make sense…

However, it seems their respect for animal rights is diverted to other species. The goats, sheep and one rooster are permitted to walk the streets like the holy cows of India. Which is all nice and utopian except for the backing soundtrack of the howling dogs, imprisoned for life.

At the café, it’s just incredible how many people are terrified of dogs. And Wookie is not exactly scary. Maybe I should take Mao out when he’s in a bad mood, and then we’ll see.

Stuff beside the road

Where I come from, if you make a pile of things outside your house, in any way adjacent to the roadside, you are sending a message that this is stuff you no longer want and that the general public is most welcome to come along and take it away.

This is not the case in here in Cú de Judas. A pile of anything anywhere still belongs to someone and will be doggedly protected should you attempt to reclaim it. I have stumbled over this cultural mogul when I was sprung liberating junk from a junk pile, which was unfortunately considered by the other party to be valuable personal property. “If so”, I queried, “why was it not secured?” Why was it not inside out of the rain, for example, or even behind a fence, or why didn’t it have a little handwritten sign saying “my shit – don’t take”? It’s charming, in a way, that Portugal (or Cú de Judas, anyway) is still so innocent that unprotected belongings left for days, weeks or months in full view of passing traffic in an open field, should not be mistaken for abandoned or be considered vulnerable to repossession.

Indeed, even in areas without houses to indicate private property, you should be careful about what you lift from the footpath. I have been told that collecting kindling by the roadside puts me in a suspect moral position. Certainly I now understand that seemingly ancient stacks of tidied branches may be someone far away’s sensitively aging wood pile. Even random arrangements of tree waste might be precious treasure to someone somewhere, and not just nature providing for the freelance hunter-gatherers’ benefit.

So now when I’m feeling nervous and guilty while gathering pine cones, (I don’t actually stop doing it) I just reassure myself with the wise words of a neighbour:stealing to eat isn’t stealing. I presume this includes stealing to cook, to eat, isn’t stealing.

2 Comments on "cultural differences: a brief guide"

  1. Manuel April 8, 2012 at 11:25 pm · Reply

    Spot on regarding pets : You should understant that for portuguese folks pets must have some kind of utility :
    That’s why dogs are kept outside all the time ,they bark (witch is not considered a noise ,by the way) and so they can warn about possible intruders .That’s also the reason why cats are considered useless and have to fend for themselves .
    (Portuguese expat in England )

    • spownall April 9, 2012 at 10:52 am · Reply

      The cats don’t have to fend for themselves in our village, Manuel. They are all around our house! They recognise a couple of softy ‘estrangeiros’ when they see them :)

Leave a Comment

comm comm comm