One of the aspects of life in Portugal that I had to adjust to quickly and which I will try to retain in America is the slower pace of eating. Yes, there are McDonald’s restaurants in Portugal, but they follow the culture, allowing patrons to sit and socialize, not expecting them to gobble down their food in two or three gulps and then move on for the next onslaught of people. In the McDonald’s closet to us, in Vilamoura, there is no drive-in windows.
The slower pace of eating here allows families and friends time to connect to each other, to talk and laugh and bond over good food, and it means that people eat slower, which results in fewer digestive problems and eliminates the need for take-out containers. Over the course of an hour or two or three, people tend to eat all on their plates but not get overfull to the point that you feel stuffed to the gills.
It is the feeling of camaraderie that fills the room, as individuals actually listen to each other. Each person has the opportunity to talk, and no one is left feeling unimportant or that their thoughts and the events of their lives do not matter, as they take turns leading the discussions. And, oh, the laughter! At first, it annoyed me, because I was not used to hearing it in “nice” places. The laughter is sometimes loud and continuous, which in America just might get you stared at and maybe asked to leave, particularly if you are people of color.
What better time to enjoy the absurdity that is the work day or that is found in relationships than at dinner with the people you love and care for and who love you? It just does not get any better than that, and I had to learn to embrace it. Those first days when it took so long for our meals to come when only a couple of tables were occupied stressed me so badly that I was ready to leave and not eat. I would say to Douglas, “What is taking them so long? There aren’t that many people here? The tip will be small!”
You would smile at the surprised looks we have been given by the waitstaff when we have asked for the check about 20-30 minutes after the food arrived. You have to go get the check, for they do not expect you to finish for another hour or more. The beautiful people here in wondrous Portugal seem to believe in the words of Ecclesiastes 8:15: “So I commended pleasure, for there is nothing good for man under the sun but to eat and to drink and to be merry, and this will stand by him in his toils throughout the days of his life which God has given him under the sun.”
I am accustomed to getting my food within 20 minutes or less of ordering it, unless I am in some swanky place, and, even then, 30 minutes is about the maximum. But, here, waitstaff bring the drinks, usually wine or beer (cold drinks for us, which gets more odd looks), take the orders for food, and leave people to socialize for a time before the food is brought to the table. Then, after the food arrives, people eat and talk, eat and talk, eat and talk, and before you know it, time has passed. Food is savored, and it is not just swallowed seemingly whole. Dessert and coffee is expected to be ordered after the main meal is complete, and, oh, man, the cakes and sweets here are phenomenal! My sweet tooth was amazed the whole time! After each dessert, I kept saying, “I am one happy woman.” So, you can see why it is a long meal.
At home, I can eat a Big Mac, medium fries, a fruit pie, and a drink within 10-20 minutes, and leave feeling unfulfilled and wanting more to eat. Because we eat so fast, we tend to eat more. We do not give our food time to digest and our stomachs the chance to signal that we have been satisfied. A friend asked me once if I had even chewed my food or just inhaled it, I ate it so fast. But, this was a habit for me since I was a little girl. One of my aunts timed how long we stayed at the table, and if you went past the time limit, which I never actually learned precisely what it was, you were spanked. So, I learned to eat fast to avoid the sting of a switch or the even more painful belt. It is a hard habit to change.
When I first dated Douglas, he was astounded by how fast I ate, and while living with his parents, I had to slow down and try not to be the first to finish or not bend down too close to my food, lest my father-in-law would tell me that I was acting “low-class.” On more than one occasion, I nearly told him that I was born low-class, raised low-class, and was proud to be low-class, but I would never disrespect someone older than me and certainly not my husband’s father. I just learned to eat like wealthy white people, which meant putting very little food on my fork or spoon each time. Needless to say, I was always hungry there, but I did lose a lot of weight, too.
So, it was quite an adjustment to eat slower here, but I love it. Douglas and I have learned to just sit and talk while waiting for our food. Well, we are still working on that, to be truthful, for we both have something to read, him a book and I the Kindle, because we are just not used to talking for so long at dinner. But, we are determined to learn it, to put down the book and Kindle while we are here, and to slow down when we get home and savor the time spent together discussing topics and laughing at life in all its wonder.
We have both lost weight and came to enjoy especially the lunch meal and a stroll after or before the meal. This is something I want to share with my children, who will not take me to a buffet restaurant any more because I only eat one plate of food, and they do not feel like they get their money’s worth.
I am reminded also that the Last Supper which Jesus shared with His disciples must have been a time of slow eating and much discussion, for Jesus revealed that one of them would betray Him and that He had to suffer and die. Most importantly, He enacted the first Communion with them, ordering them to “do this in remembrance of me.” He also reassured them that they would see Him again, for in Luke 24:28-29, He said, “You have stayed with me in my time of trial. And just as my Father has granted me a Kingdom, I now grant you the right to eat and drink at my table in my Kingdom…”
So, there will be eating and drinking and socializing together in Heaven, and I am sure it will not be fast food, no standing up gobbling food down or passing through a drive-in window. But, it will be a slow and relaxing affair among people who care for each other. There will be laughter, love, peace, and joy. I think this is why Thanksgiving Day means so much to Americans, for it is one of those few days when we slow down and actually talk to each other at the table, relating what or whom we are thankful for. We do much laughing at each other’s foibles and relishing the gifts of family and love that God has bestowed on us. I plan to try to do this every day from now on, as long as God gives me strength and Douglas is willing to cook (that’s another blog post!).