Greetings from Portugal! By the time you are reading this I will be back in good ol’ Ankeny. As I write, Joanne and I are visiting son Ben who is studying in Lisbon. It is a trip I never thought of taking, but am very glad I did. The group of travelers includes Joanne and me, son Ted, his fiancé’ Heather, daughter Jenni and Heather’s mom Terri. To add to the uniqueness of the group, all of the men are over 6’4” tall (I am the shortest) and the women are all over 5’10”. We are quite the site walking around the narrow city streets.
To add to our uniqueness, Ben is the only one that speaks Portuguese, and he is admittedly not very fluent after being here less than four months. The good news is that most of the people here speak enough English to make communication possible. Communication would be even more difficult if the people of Portugal weren’t so friendly. Let me give you several examples, all of which happened in Sintra.
Sintra is a resort city 30 miles west of Lisbon, famous for its castles and palaces nestled in the densely forested mountains. It is a pleasantly short train ride, but when we got there everyone was hungry and decided to eat in town before venturing up the mountain to explore. The restaurant we chose was not crowded and the waiter was delightful. He recommended certain dishes to some and steered others toward a meal he recommended. As a waiter he was engaging and friendly. He didn’t need to be, as servers in Europe do not rely on tips to make their living.
We took two separate hired cars to the top of the mountain. Our destination was a particular castle, but the driver immediately told our group to skip that castle and tour another one first. He wouldn’t even stop at the first castle. The advice was right on target, as we spent the rest of the day at this one palace. Closing time came and we worked our way down the mountain toward the train station, again in 2 cars. Our car dropped us off first, but at a different train station from where we started.
The weather had turned cloudy, windy and cold and we were tired from touring. With the different train station, the poor Portuguese skills and tired bodies, we could not figure out if we were in the right place, and when the next train to Lisbon was departing. Lucky for us a couple of very nice teenagers were waiting for friends and saw us struggling. In practically perfect English they helped us navigate the station, showed us the train schedule on their phone and reassured us that we would be OK. And they were right.
As small business owners and managers, it doesn’t cost us any more for our staff to be friendly, helpful and proactive. Like our new Portuguese friends, it leaves a great impression and invites people to come back, which I have discovered is very good for business. While it doesn’t cost us more, it does require hiring the right people and training them to be friendly, helpful and proactive. Here in Ankeny we hear about “Iowa nice” quite a bit, but I suggest you take that to a new level and create “Ankeny nice”. That would be a step above and lead our businesses to higher profits.
We leave Portugal tomorrow and I wish I could stay a little longer. Our group got along really well and there were no significant disagreements. I am also very glad I got to experience the nice people where Ben has been staying and studying the last four months.