Television & Movies
What? TV isn’t an invention unique to Portugal you say? Or did you think it was surprising that they have TV at all? I write that in jest, but before moving here I was asked more than once whether it was safe here, the presumption being that this largely ignored little country tucked into a corner of Europe must be poor and full of crime. The truth is much different. It was recently rated as the third most peaceful nation in the world, including a low homicide rate similar to Germany and Sweden, while the US’s homicide rate is most similar to Kenya, Kazakhstan, and Lebanon.
In addition, overall crime levels are 81% higher in the US than in Portugal, the rape rate is seven times higher, the violent crime/murder rate is 105 times higher… you get the idea. And so it’s very ironic that we could ask the same question of a Portuguese wanting to move to the US, but it would be a lot more of a legitimate concern. So maybe we got out of the US to protect our lives!
Actually, the reason I list television in the top ten is all about how nice it is to be in a foreign country with a different language and still be able to be entertained in English, even if a lot of the exported entertainment involves crime solving and lots of shooting.
To be sure, this benefit for English speakers is mostly due to the size of Portugal. When we were in Spain, virtually every channel (aside from BBC news and the like) was in Spanish. The first thing we saw when we turned on the TV was The Simpsons, dubbed in Spanish. Unless you know Spanish, there isn’t much for an American to watch. Not that watching less TV is a bad thing, but let’s face it, when it’s 9:00 PM and you don’t want to read, sometimes it’s nice just to switch on the boob tube and put your brain on pause for a while.
The truth is, Portugal is just too small a country to dub everything or produce a ton of unique content. Unedited American TV shows and movies dominate, all of them subtitled. This is true both for TV as well as in the theaters.
Another benefit to this is that we get to have our Portuguese language training enhanced by reading the subtitles while the dialog is spoken in English. It goes the other way too: the Portuguese –especially the young– learn a lot of English because of this even without any scholastic training.
When I complimented a young man on his English he told me the reason he spoke so well was due to Indiana Jones and cartoons. He said he barely needed the classroom teaching; he found himself ahead of the curve most of the time. That did answer my curiosity as to why he greeted me with a “What’s Up Doc?” and ended our meeting with a cheery “Th-th-that’s all folks!”
The other nice thing about Portuguese TV is there are far fewer commercials than in the US. Most American half-hour TV shows deliver only 20-22 minutes of content. And movies? Ohmigod. I stopped watching network airings of movings after getting very tired of sitting through five minutes of commercials for every ten minutes of movie. In Portugal, they have much less of that. Indeed, in many cases there are no commercials in the middle of the show at all, but only as bookends.
To top all that off, the cost of internet, wireless, and a mobile telephone here is 30 euros a month. For a similar service in the US, we were paying 150 bucks: five times as much. To be sure, we had more English-speaking channels to ignore, but it clearly isn’t worth five times the price. I constantly wonder why Americans put up with a “free enterprise” system that is clearly gamed for the benefit of huge corporations, and in fact is not even free enterprise anymore. Usually, you can choose from only one internet/cable provider, and they squeeze you like a python.
Meanwhile, in other countries, ostensibly “disadvantaged” with less competitive freedom (although there are four or five companies you can choose from in Portugal for these services; they all just have the same price) manage to provide similar services for a fifth of the cost. In fact, internet speeds in the US, where the internet was invented, are lagging behind many other countries, and is currently ranked 17th.
Anyway, we aren’t missing the American broadcast system. Besides, we do get to watch The Game of Thrones, Veep, Fargo, Modern Family, and Silicon Valley, to name a few, all with a 30 euro a month bill. We do have Netflix as well; no other American TV services have figured out how to broadcast here, even on Apple TV.
As far as the cinema experience, the biggest challenge, as it is with TV, is that other than dubbing, the titles are of course in Portuguese. We’re slowly learning the language, enough so that I could walk up to the ticket counter and confidently say, “Dois para Mulher Maravilhosa,” and be reasonably confident I would get two tickets to Wonder Woman. And Indeed I did. The only problem with doing that is that they will assume I know Portuguese and rattle off a response or a question I have no hope of understanding. But we got ‘er done and it wasn’t a bad movie. But selecting a TV show or movie is quite a bit more laborious when you have to translate the titles.
We do like the fact that the movie theaters here always sell a reserved seat with your ticket, which works even if you don’t speak Portuguese because you can point on a computer screen to select your seat. Some smaller theaters in the US also sell reserved seating, but here they seem to do it in every theatre. They also have an intermission in the middle of the show. (Which they do on TV as well- only one commercial break for about three minutes during an entire movie. That’s nice!) Since American movies are no longer created with any breaks (except maybe a few uber-long flims), the films usually stop and the lights abruptly go up right in the middle of a conversation or death-defying leap.
Despite that small problem, it is actually kinda nice to have a built-in potty break. They don’t sell three gallon cups of soda here, so ironically the need for an intermission is actually greater in the US. I think Hollywood should return to making movies with intermissions, its an old idea but it deserves new attention. After all, our bladders haven’t grown along with the size of our sodas.