Conversations with Portuguese Uber Drivers

Last week my wife and I visited Portugal for the first time.  While there, we rode with many different Uber drivers who helped us get to know Lisbon and Porto better.  Below are brief excerpts from some of the conversations we had with them.

Afonso
“I like driving for Uber.  Before this, I worked in a bakery and I felt like I was in a prison.  But now look at me – I am like a bird because I am free.”

“I haven’t had any crazy experiences.  The tourists are sometimes drunk but they are fine.  The ones who give me the most problems are usually Portuguese.  I think some of us can be high maintenance.”

“Lisbon is a nice city but look how big it is and how much traffic.  I need some calm and quiet.  That is why I live in a small village about thirty minutes away”

Jamal
“The streets are so narrow. It’s like driving in a video game with someone else’s car.  Sometimes we can’t believe that we are able to do it.  I think if you can drive in Lisbon you should be able to drive anywhere.”

“I love driving with Uber.  I just love driving in general.  I could do it for 24 hours straight.  Sometimes my passengers need long rides along the coast at night to get to where they are going. I enjoy that. Sometimes we are out in the jungle practically – It is nice to see new places.”

João
“I have only been driving Uber for two months.  My company temporarily closed for renovation for three months.  I still get my salary but I don’t get my commissions.  That means I need to make up seven hundred euros a month and I do that by driving.  I won’t do this after I go back to work, but I’m grateful for this opportunity.”

“I am both Portuguese and American.  My father moved to the United States with us when I was four.  He got a position as the cook for the Portuguese Ambassador.  I grew up in New Jersey though.  That’s where many Portuguese immigrants settle in the United States.  My mother is still there today.”

“It was not that long ago that our economy crashed and the International Monetary Fund bailed us out.  In the past few years, tourists have discovered us. They like the weather, the food, the ocean plus we are a calm country without terrorism.  Tourism does bring some problems though.  See all this construction in Lisbon?  That is for hotels, apartment rentals, and properties for foreigners to buy.  Purchasing an apartment is becoming much more expensive for normal people.”

“It’s good that you are going to see Sintra.  It’s so close to Lisbon but it is a whole different world.  Just beautiful.  I will always feel a connection to it because I got married there.  Well, I did get divorced, but I still have the memories”

Bruno
“Did you say that Ukraine has the world’s worst neighbour? No, my friend – I think that honour goes to Canada.”

“I’ll never understand American politics. Why does every American vote not count equally?  Isn’t that how a democracy is supposed to work? It seems to me your vote only really matters if you live in a swing state.”

“I was driving a guy to Sintra and he was very drunk. We were on a busy highway and I needed to turn left to catch out exit. He started yelling that I needed to pull over because he was going to throw up. I couldn’t do that so I tossed a plastic bag I keep for emergencies over my shoulder to him.  He was vomiting and in between his throwing up he was telling me what a good idea it was to have plastic bags for passengers.  He was going to a wedding.  Probably had a difficult night.”

Eduardo
“There is a rivalry between Lisbon and Porto. We always joke with them about which is better – who has the best food, football team, quality of life, etc. For me though it is not so much a joke.  I really think Lisbon is better.”

“Portuguese is close to Spanish. We understand Spaniards and can speak to them but they have a hard time speaking with us. Sometimes we say the same words and mean different things. I’d rather speak English or French with Spaniards to avoid misunderstandings. “

Ahmed
“I usually don’t have any issues with my customers. I give them water and some candy as soon as they get in. I ask them what kind of music they would like to listen to. That way if we have any issues later we have gotten off on the right foot together.  People can be drunk and that’s ok.  I’ll just always be nice, listen, and get them to where they are going.  I have more than 5,000 rides now and most people rate me five stars”

“I am originally from Bangladesh. I came her fourteen years ago.  My children have grown up here.  Learning to speak Portuguese was difficult but I am happy here. There is a fairly large Bangladeshi community in Lisbon.  You have probably seen the shops and restaurants.  You’ve been to Bangladesh? So you know it isn’t an easy place. It has been getting better though over the last ten years including the infrastructure which hasn’t been able to support the number of people living in the big cities.”

“I am glad that Bangladesh is taking care of the Rohingya refugees who had to flee Myanmar because the military was attacking them. Even if Myanmar won’t do the right thing at least Bangladesh will try to.”

Gilberto
“Port wine? Here in Portugal we love to drink wine, but port is for foreigners. A lot of the port wine makers export everything they produce.  We have 600 varietals, the best wines are blends, and most are priced for us.  That means we can get really good wine for reasonable price”

Photo Credit: Nelson Carvalheiro