Who would have known that Portuguese waiters are so smart? They know how to trick tourists into spending more money. Oh Lord, they know how to do it well too!
A few weeks ago, I visited Lisbon.
Everybody speaks a pretty good level of English, so it’s very easy to communicate when you find yourself lost over the shore, or somewhere between the tiny bohemian uphill streets, or in the subway, or even between shelves of a 24hr grocery store. Yes, I have a terrible sense of direction. And yes, I get lost a lot.
Lisbonian people are not extremely nice or talkative like Spaniards, but they will answer calmly every stupid-sounding question you may have about the dish you are just about to order. They will politely, but with no smile on their face, explain what type of ticket you should or should not buy to get to a certain area of the city. At some point I felt as if I were in Spain, but instead of Spaniards, everyone was German.
I figured they are just different. Would saying they are more civilised offend my Spanish friends? If so, then forget it. Let’s say they are just more quiet and ‘minding their own business’ all the time.
But when it comes to ripping off tourists, they are masters. They have mastered the art so well; even I got tricked.
I can’t even remember the last time I was ripped-off. I generally keep my eyes wide open, my money deep down in my pocket, and pay only fair prices while traveling. But somehow I let my guard down just for a second and bam-smash, 10 extra euros added to a 12 euros bill. Almost double what I was going to pay in the first place.
You wanna know why, how and where?
My lovely workmate Nazaret and I were wandering through the teeny-tiny streets of Lisbon on a Monday night after a long day mastering our networking skills at a business conference.
We were trying to find a decent restaurant. Please note, we were starving to death and every place we found was touristy looking and run by Turkish men (who we wouldn’t trust preparing our food). Or pizza places.
Nazaret kept refusing the first ones, and I would keep saying NO to pizza places.
We got ourselves into a tie.
At one point I briefly thought about checking trashcans for leftovers but I zipped my lip, didn’t share the idea with Nazaret, and kept walking.
It was a daunting task I must say, but we were still trying hard to keep our spirits up while faking smiles.
And then, out of the blue, a tiny restaurant appeared on the corner of the street. It was a sign from heaven.
You can’t even imagine how excited we got. Even though we kept our cool while entering the place, I knew Nazaret wanted to hug me. And I wanted to hug her too. That’s how happy we were about finding a quiet, tasty-looking place and finally being fed.
A nice chatty elderly waitress approached our little table and brought us a plate full of tiny round cheeses. By the labels, we learned that these were local goat, sheep and cow cheeses. A kind of delicatessen you might say. We were positively surprised by their hospitality and the fact that they were promoting local products by offering them as a free appetizer, before we’d even started looking at the menu.
I am not a cheese person but my not fed for 12 hours body gobbled half of the dish immediately. And Nazaret stuffed her face with the remaining half.
A bit happier, we both ordered soup as a first course and decided to split a second course: fried fish with a huge salad and boiled potatoes. No dessert. We were happily full once we’d finished the second course and the Portuguese white wine.
Since the place was so small, we got into a conversation with the guys dining next to us. Entrepreneurs from Italy, based in Berlin, surf addicted – funny and cute.
Until we were handed the bill.
According to the prices we saw on the menu, our bill was supposed to be around 12 euros. But magically it had been almost duplicated.
We were being charged almost 10 euros for the free treat of cheeses.
Well, it was not a treat anymore. Now it was a rip-off.
Our jaws dropped at the same time. We had been tricked into paying 10 euros for something we hadn’t ordered in the first place. What’s more, I am sure it would probably have cost us less than 4 euros in the closest grocery store.
It was a well-paid lesson on local customs, I must say.
At first, we thought it was a “dick move” toward tourists. And we furiously shared the story with every single person we met the next day – all of them foreigners attending a business conference like us. Until one of the local entrepreneur explained that this is how things work in Portugal.
Apparently, every single appetizer served the moment you’re sitting your ass on a chair in a restaurant, will always be charged (a large amount of money).
My Poland-born, Spain-raised mind can’t understand that. I mean why? Why on Earth?
We were instructed by the local entrepreneur that you won’t be charged for appetizers unless you touch them.
So guys, if you are in Portugal and a big bottle of Moet champagne lands on your table, do not touch it unless you want an additional 200 euros on your 20 euros dinner bill.
And during the next 3 days, we mastered the skill of screaming “NO NO NO NO NO!!” to every single waitress approaching us with a plate of cheese or olives, or bread sticks.