We haven’t lived in Madeira for a very long time, but long enough to know and (partly) love some of the peculiarities of the Madeireans. The people are known for their hospitality and warmth and their peculiarities only make them more like able to us.
If you are driving in Madeira for the first time, you will have to get used to the often small, very steep and winding roads. Of course, the locals know them well and drive accordingly fast. But for the pedestrians they will always stop at a zebra crossing, no matter how fast they are going.
The indicator is usually not used here, not for turning and not for overtaking. There is even a saying here: “pisca custa” (blinking costs). Only if there is an obstacle on the road to pass, then they will always use their indicator. Usually it’s another car, as people like to stop anywhere on the roadside. This is often done to talk to someone. But this behavior does not bother anyone either. Just turn on your indicators and drive past.
On a roundabout you can directly distinguish the tourists from the locals. While the tourists nicely drive around the roundabout and stay in their lane (usually there are two lanes), the Madeireans drive across in a straight line and use both lanes, no matter where they want to drive out – of course without turn signals.
Especially when it comes to parking, the locals are really good. They can really park anywhere and the smallest roads are never a problem. In any case, we have learned that cars are narrower than you might think …. so far it has always went well.
At this moment we live in the middle of São Vicente and therefore have a lot of contact in the neighborhood. So we quickly learned the different greetings that are based on a particular time here. “Bom dia” (Good day) is only used in the morning until 12 o’clock, “Boa tarde” (Good afternoon) is actually used the rest of the day, also in the evening and “Boa noite” (Good night) only really late in the evening, before going to bed or when it’s already dark.
By the way, many houses do not have a doorbell. We had to get used to the fact that neighbors, visitors or the parcel service just shout, honk or clap for attention.
We have had quite some experience with the post office and parcel services. We have introduced ourselves to the postman and the suppliers so that they know where the “foreigners” live. But in any case, the mail takes a very long time to get here. From Germany or the Netherlands the mail will take about 2-4 weeks, because first they collect everything in Lisbon, before a container-ship takes the postal packets to Madeira – and they only come once a week.
Here on the island it’s not possible to order overnight. Everything that has to come from the mainland takes time and nobody can say exactly how long it will take. In the beginning we were a bit annoyed about this, but meanwhile we have learn to wait or just look for a other local products that can be bought here on the island itself.
Communication by e-mail or telephone isn’t really working here, you just don’t get any reaction. However, if you come in person and talk face to face, it’s no problem at all and everyone is very helpful.
We are still working on getting used that we have to replacing the digital world, which works so quick and easy, with the old, analogue and personal ways.
Of course we also have to talk about food and drinks. Every country has its own preferences and when it comes to drinks, here in Madeira you definitely have to mention coffee, wine and poncha (small alcoholic cocktail). The Madeireans love coffee, strong coffee, and preferably their bica (like an espresso). A Bica is drunk everywhere and at any time, even quickly standing at the bar. But also wine or poncha is often found on the tables, although the time of day is often irrelevant. They have not yet heard of the 5 o’clock rule here.
As far as food is concerned, people here on the island are generally not very keen to experiment. Of course there are more options available in the capital Funchal, but the great diversity of different food cultures is not to be found here. For example, there is no Greek restaurant at all on the island. The typical food here is very pure, without much frills, mostly consisting of meat or fish with vegetables, potatoes and salad. You would think that the Portuguese, with their history of exploration, would have adopted more influences or products from distant lands, but Madeira is of course an island that was isolated for a long time and the population could only live on what they grew themselves. This has somehow remained largely the same until today.
We personally love the pure food here and especially enjoy the fresh, local products. Because of the mild climate they have produce all year round. We have already write about the meals at our neighbor during the weekends, where the most different animals are slaughtered and cooked. You can’t get fresher and more local food and you really can taste it.
Peculiarities which we do not welcome so much are the televisions in the restaurants. Everywhere they have TV’s hanging, fortunately they are mostly muted. You can find all kinds of programs, and most of the time people don’t pay attention at all. Once there was a documentary on National Geographic about vermin during dinner….
People like to meet up for a coffee, poncha or a meal, but we are still taken by surprise every time. When you meet up here, it’s not for the evening, or tomorrow, or sometime in the future – it’s always now. It even happens that the others are already sitting and waiting in the café or restaurant. In such cases, everything is left standing, whether you are watching a film, work out at the gym or working in the garden. We often have tried to arrange an appointment a little further in advance, but then we always get the same answer: “Who knows what will happen later? Or tonight? Or even tomorrow…”
I’m sure we’ll get used to this, eventually.
We had already mentioned in an earlier blog that the Portuguese like to talk. Since we notice this again and again, we have to emphasize this once again with the peculiarities. It’s a mystery to both of us how they can talk about (for us) irrelevant, small things for such a long time. Often only one does the talking and the rest just listens. We observe this with fascination and try to understand as much as possible every time.
Unlike the Dutch, they never talk about the weather. In the Netherlands, every conversation ends up with them talking about the weather, whether it’s too hot, too cold, too wet, too dry, you can always talk (and complain) about the weather.
We have never experienced that here. Maybe because the weather here is very stable and you just can’t say anything about it. The weather here is taken as it comes. But for us as new residents, we have noticed that the Madeireans are used to good weather. As soon as it’s “only” 19 degrees Celsius, or when it starts to drizzle a bit, the jumpers and jackets are unpacked while we can still walk in our T-shirts.
The issue of security is also worth mentioning. Madeira is a very safe island, which is particularly noticeable here in the north. Everybody knows everybody, you know their cars, you know where they live, etc. All this helps to prevent any kind of crime. In the gym, everyone simply puts their mobile phone, (car)keys and wallet on a shelf at the entrance. In my last gym in the Netherlands you paid money for a locker! Even in a café or restaurant, there are valuables lying around, without having to be afraid somebody would steel them. Recently we had to borrow a car from a friend and in case he needed our car, we simply left the key in the car. It is very pleasant to feel so safe and to be able to trust each other.
Last but not least we would like to mention the fascination of scratchcards and lottery. The Portuguese love it and we have often wondered what the long lines in front of the kiosks mean.
Recently there was a newspaper article that the Portuguese (including the mainland) spent 4.7 million euros a day on scratchcards and lottery tickets in 2019. No wonder there are queues in front of the kiosks.
These are, of course, only a few peculiarities and all our personal experiences. We have already adopted some of these peculiarities, partly unconsciously, but some very gladly.
We don’t (yet) drive as fast as the locals and always use our indicator, but we have got used to the road conditions very well and roundabouts are driven á la Madeira.
Our patience has definitely grown and we simply accept that you can’t always buy or get everything directly.
Yes, we have to admit that our alcohol consumption has increased since we have been living in Madeira, but of course we will never be able to keep up with the locals. Even during the long conversations we will mostly listen and we haven’t bought scratchcards yet.
And no matter what we had planned or whether the sun is shining or raining, we will first have a Bica and enjoy the moment …. who knows what the rest of the day will bring.