A Taste of Stereotypes: Reflections on a “Typical” Portuguese Restaurant

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A typical portuguese restaurant

On a balmy summer evening in Lagos, Portugal, what began as a simple dinner outing evolved into a lesson on stereotypes and human nature. My family and I, accompanied by American friends visiting us during our annual visit to Portugal, set out to experience what had been recommended as a “typical Portuguese restaurant.”

The recommendation came from another foreign visitor who had been impressed by the homey atmosphere and authentic feel of a small establishment tucked away in a residential area of Lagos, described as a place where you'd feel like your grandmother was cooking for you.

As we approached the restaurant on that Saturday night, the sounds of celebration spilled onto the street. A soccer game had just ended, and the local team's victory had turned the small village-like café-turned-restaurant into a hub of jubilation. The place was packed with patrons enjoying their beers and reveling in the win.

Despite having called ahead for a reservation, we found no table prepared for our group of nine. Though caught off guard, they quickly scrambled to accommodate us, pushing tables together in the crowded space. The scene was chaotic but lively, with only one server navigating the packed room and likely just one cook managing the small kitchen.

As we settled in, I found myself experiencing a mix of emotions. On one hand, the vibrant atmosphere and local crowd lent an air of authenticity to the place. On the other, I couldn't shake a nagging thought: “Is this really what foreigners consider a typical Portuguese restaurant?” The menu featured many items I wouldn't classify as Portuguese food, and the setting, while charming in its way, would be considered by many Portuguese as a coffee place that serves meals.

The evening progressed slowly, with service understandably delayed due to the crowd. When the food finally arrived, it was indeed tasty, and the ongoing celebration around us – complete with more beer, hearty meals, and spontaneous outbursts of traditional songs – created a memorable ambiance. I found myself enjoying the experience, which evoked fond memories of my student days in the historic University of Coimbra.

Yet, even as I savored the moment, I grappled with an unexpected discomfort. I realized I was reacting to being placed in a very small box – a stereotype of “typical” Portuguese restaurant that didn't align with my own perceptions and experiences. This realization led me to reflect on the human tendency to categorize and label, and how uncomfortable it can be when we find ourselves on the receiving end of such categorization.

Ironically, this experience occurred during Pride Month, a time when I had sometimes found myself questioning the ever-expanding acronym of the LGBTQ+ community.

Suddenly, I gained a new perspective on why individuals and groups might insist on specific terms or labels – if we must be categorized, we at least want some say in how we're defined.

As the night wore on, I found myself appreciating the complexity of the situation. Yes, establishments like this one do exist throughout Portugal, frequented by locals for casual meals and gatherings. And yes, I had enjoyed similar places during my college years. But to label this as a “typical Portuguese restaurant” felt reductive and stereotyping.

The experience pushed me into what I call the “Zone of Proximal Growth”* that zone just outside our comfort zones, but not too far out to paralyze us yet enough to stretch us and expand our horizons. It prompted me to examine my own tendencies to stereotype and categorize others, even as I bristled at being stereotyped myself.

In the end, our dinner at this “typical” Portuguese restaurant became much more than a meal. It was a lesson in cultural perception, a reminder of the pitfalls of oversimplification, and an opportunity for personal growth. While I genuinely enjoyed the food, the company, and the lively atmosphere, the experience will stick with me primarily for the insights it provided into human nature – including my own.

As we left the restaurant that night, full of good food and enjoyable conversations, I carried with me a renewed appreciation for the complexity of cultural identity and the importance of looking beyond surface-level categorizations. It served as a powerful reminder that while we all may sometimes fall into the trap of stereotyping, true understanding comes from embracing the nuances and contradictions that make up our diverse human experience.

Practice the P.I.E. Method & Sharpen Your Pencil

P for Pause. Allow yourself some time for self-reflection; maybe even start with a moment of mindfulness.

I for Increasing Self-Awareness of your feelings, thoughts, and actions.

Prompting question: When was the last time you felt “boxed in” by someone else's perception of your culture or identity? How did you react? What emotions surfaced?

E for Embracing Experimentation.

When it comes to stereotypes, what experiment can you play with to be in your ‘Zone of Proximal Growth'? Ideas:

  • Watch a film or read a book from a culture you're unfamiliar with
  • Challenge a stereotype you hold by researching its origins and accuracy
  • Engage in a conversation with someone from a different cultural background

Remember, the goal is not to judge yourself but to grow in awareness and understanding.

**Want to learn more about the P.I.E. Method?

Grab a copy of my book, MINDSET ZONE: Actualize Your Potential, HERE!

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Since this story was about stereotypes, I decided to ask ChatGPT to create an image of “a typical Portuguese restaurant,” and this image was the outcome.

ChatGPT, response to “A typical portugu…,” June 24, 2024,