Apart from the obvious differences regarding choice of products and types of products, shopping here in Portugal is pretty much like shopping in the UK but there is one clear exception.
Queuing to pay.
Unlike in Britain where queuing is one of our many national pastimes along with talking about the weather and watching soap operas, here in Portugal they have a different take on the whole system of waiting to pay for your goods.
The Orphan Butter
We were shopping in Continente, kind of the Tesco equivalent. A one stop one shop goliath of a thing. Almost worth going purely to be able to say, which we do, often, the “I’m in Continente” joke.
Anyway, yes, we were shopping and went to pay. They obviously didn’t expect queues of any kind when they built the supermarkets here in Portugal because every single one has no space at all for queues. You are either at the till or you are stood amongst the aisles of goods. This causes a huge amount of stress in itself as you are pushed and pulled and jostled and jiggled about as people mill past you trying to do their shopping.
So we are stood in the queue, minding our own, when I felt a tug on my sleeve. I turned round abruptly but there was no-one there, just a jostling moment I thought so turned back. Once again another tug, harder this time, swinging round I was once again faced with fresh air. As I went to turn back a tub of butter rose tentatively in front of my face. Attached to the butter was Dobby’s Mother. I mean I presume it was Dobby’s mother, the likeness was so acute I couldn’t believe who else she could be. This tiny house elf came up to my waist and with huge ears and round eyes she held the butter out to me like it was an orphan kitten. I smiled gently at her butter and nodded sympathetically and passed on my sincere condolences at the loss of her son, Dobby.
“He was a fine house elf”, I said, nodding and smiling. “He did Harry proud. You should be proud.”
NB: One of the joyous things about living in a foreign country is if you know full well a person can’t speak your language you can say pretty much anything and get away with it. It’s all about tone and action, speak softly and smile and nod and you really can say anything. We have endless laughs at this one, sadly yes, it is at another person’s expense but so be it.
She nodded and smiled her one tooth at me. She then spoke, something about the orphan butter and then nodded again at me.
Light dawned on my marble head as I realised she wanted to go in front, that she only had her orphan butter and we had a basket full of stuff.
“Of course!”, I exclaimed, “Please go in front!”
And we all smiled with various levels of toothyness at each other.
As she shuffled in front of us a man wheeling the fullest trolley I’ve ever seen appeared from nowhere and confidently took up position in front of us but behind Dobby’s mother.
“Errrmmmm. No.” Said Mister Mista. “Not you. Only her.”
The man looked up at us, he was equally as small, and gestured to Mrs Dobby and then gestured to his trolley as if it was a trolley full of orphan kittens.
“No, no, no, no.” I said. “She has only one thing, you have many!”
Mrs Dobby then turned and smiled malevolently at me and slowly placed the orphan butter into the heaving trolley of orphan items, all the while staring at me with her round house elf eyes. She suddenly grabbed the arm of the equally wizened old man, turned her back on us and, I swear to god, she cackled. A proper cackle.
Bad house elf.
This has happened, or tried to happen on so many occasions I have lost count. The Orphan Butter Trick is a sly one, and one used by small elderly people and house elves, don’t fall for it.
We were standing in a queue in Lidl. I say queue, it was us and a single basket in the queue. Funnily enough and I kid ye not, the basket contained a single pack of butter. This orphan butter thing is quite common in Portugal.
We stood patiently behind the said basket as in front of the basket was a lady loading the conveyor belt to the till. Suddenly a large middle-aged lady barged in front of us, placed a single packet of flour in the basket and promptly disappeared again. We turned to watch her as she moved slowly up the aisle, looking at shelves. She plucked a single item of the shelf, returned to the basket, placed it in it and moved off again. Totally ignoring us the whole time.
It was kind of like a slow Supermarket Sweep. Without a large orange hued white toothed camp man in the vicinity. Although I am sure one could be found somewhere.
By this time the lady in front of the basket had moved on. It was now not only us, the basket, an empty void of conveyor belt and a till operator sat patiently staring at us but it was another two people behind us. Well this is silly we thought as we turned once again to locate the basket owning lady. She was now stood chattering away to another lady.
So, feeling the pressure of the surrounding stares and believe me the Portuguese can stare, we moved in front of the basket and placed our few goods on the belt so that the girl could scan them through. No sooner had we moved in front then the large middle-aged lady pounced on us. Screeching at such a high pitch the old “only dogs could hear” joke came into play, she jabbed and pointed and became so agitated I seriously considered giving her a double Tango slap around her chops to calm her down.
The fact we had ‘pushed’ in front was obviously a major issue and I mean a major one. A faux pas of such extent we weren’t sure if we were going to be extradited back to the UK. Had she just shut up and allowed us to carry on we would of paid and packed and been out of her hair before she had even finished her bizarre method of shopping. But no, we were stuck there, in front of everyone being given a serious verbal bashing. Mr C lost his patience at this point, and in his low dulcet tones calmly but very clearly told her what to do with the basket. Given the size of the lady what he suggested was actually physically possible but that was by the by. And then someone cheered. A definite ‘Yaaay!’. I can only guess that a fellow Brit was somewhere in the little crowd that had now gathered, spurred on by this encouragement we turned our backs to the lady and continued to pack our goods and pay. As we moved off we turned to look at her as her screeching had now reached such a level the dogs that had gathered were now scarpering for their lives.
But it was no longer us this was aimed at. It was at the two people behind us, emboldened by our move, they had also moved in front of the basket and were loading their goods onto the belt.
It was at this point she exploded into a million tiny fragments.
We now stand quietly behind empty baskets in queues. This method of queuing has to happen often, The Basket is the trick of the trade of large middle-aged ladies for some reason. And despite it being a rather sneaky method of shopping we are happy to oblige rather than risk the wrath of large middle-aged ladies.
And after all we are British. We queue. That’s what we do.