I certainly don’t claim to be an expert in Portuguese culture, but what I’ve learned is this: women greet most people with two kisses. Right cheek, then the left. This goes for a women greeting a man or a another woman in a casual setting of course. I don’t walk into the bank to open an account and kiss the banker. In those settings I’ve usually shaken hands. That’s about the only time though….women just don’t shake hands very often.
Men, usually greet other men with a hand shake and an occasional half/hug with the other available arm. That’s only if they share a pretty close relationship or if a lot of time has passed since their last encounter. However, they almost always kiss women. (Had to get used to my husband’s face being that close to another woman!)
In your minds (my peeps not living in Europe) you may think this very personal…to kiss the cheeks of random people. Although most times it’s just a brushing of the cheeks while making a little ‘kiss’ noise, sometimes I do encounter the a man who squarely plants a slobbery kiss on both my cheeks. I tend to avoid those kinds at all future encounters….(do you blame me?)
I’m a southern girl….(I say that a lot don’t I?) Therefore I like to hug people. We hug down south. Period.
Why the cultural lesson today? I want to share with you a little story.
As I’ve already said, the wait staff at the hotel in Lisbon last week spoke English very well. I was a little surprised at how well they did. The women attending the retreat had no problem communicating their needs. The wait staff in the dinning room was incredible! They saw my need for a soup spoon before I did, and promptly provided one with a smile. (Portuguese soups are yummy!) They treated everyone like this, although they really took to me. I spoke ‘their’ language (poorly I will admit) but they loved my ‘minhota’ accent. My Portuguese is from the north. (guess I’m a Portuguese yankee. That’s weird to consider.)
The speaker that came with the group of 30 volunteers from America was a precious lady with a very humble spirit. I had the privilege of sharing a lunch table with her one afternoon. She was engaging in conversation and super polite to the wait staff. When she rose to excuse herself from the table a young waitress was at her side waiting to remove her dishes. The speaker turned towards the young lady, made eye contact with her, touched the waitress’s arm and said very appreciatively, “thank you”.
The young waitress was visibly touched. She was so grateful to have someone acknowledge her work like that. Maybe the slight touch on the back of her arm was what did it? She probably hadn’t been thanked like that in quite sometime. Sure, she works at a fancy hotel in Lisbon. She sees and waits on people from every walk of life. I know. But I also know that that young lady was ‘blessed’ by that simple act of kindness so sincere.
Kisses seem very personal, but trust me, that’s not always so. Sometimes it just routine, cold even. It’s what’s expected out of you. As is a hug sometimes in my southern culture.
This waitress was so shocked by the attention the speaker lady gave her, she was speechless. She gave a simple smile and lowered her head to busy herself with the dishes….it made quite an impression on her.
I later thanked the speaker for her simple act of kindness towards the young waitress. For not only was the waitress blessed………so was I. I witnessed the best of both my American culture and my adopted Portuguese culture…..I was happy to be me.