Do you ever find that taxi-drivers are the most interesting people? I mean, I guess it makes sense. These people spend their day driving people around the city and listening to terrible music. I guess they have a lot of time to concoct and workshop interesting theories on life.
The other weekend I was in Porto with two of my best girlfriends (shout-out Helen and Anna!). We found that the price of Uber’s in this city basically made walking economically unviable. Well, nearly. It was in any case cheap enough for Uber to become our primary modus operandi.
There must be a lot of competition for Uber drivers in Porto, which explains both the low price, and the fact that the drivers take it upon themselves to ply you with sweets in order to obtain five star ratings. Literally, they hand out the sweets (they are always the same; they always taste like bubblegum!!!) and then “remind” you to give them a five-star rating. For the most-part their English is fairly rudimentary, but “five-stars” seemed to be a pretty well known phrase.
On Saturday night, in search of the Porto night-life, and having found ourselves on the other side of the river (with no nightlife - but many French tourists - to be found) we decided to get the hell out of there and hail an Uber.
Right from the beginning we had the impression that this was an Uber driver like no other. We were in a dead-end street on the seedy side of the city, yet this guy rolled up instantaneously, almost as if by magic… Also, his name was not João, which acted to distinguish him from basically every other Portuguese person or street sign with which we had come into contact up until that point.
Helen took shot gun next to the driver, who will henceforth be known as the José, the Uber philosopher. Helen started off with some pretty safe Uber small-talk game: “Porto is such a beautiful city” (he agreed, and took an instant shine to Helen), “Have you been driving Uber often,” (only a couple of months), “Does Uber pay well?” (apparently so, as José had recently quit his job as a Civil Engineer to become a full-time Uber philosopher).
However, Jose had more cultivated topics of conversation in mind. He set about explaining Portuguese culture to us.
“In Portugal we are not a very rich country, but we are happy. We have everything we need, good weather, good food.”
“Portugal is the third safest country in the world, and the other two countries — Iceland and New Zealand — are islands so it doesn’t really count.” (Side note: the veracity of this particular claim has not been verified, nor has the logic that being an island necessarily makes a country more safe).
“Seriously, you can walk around this city with bags of money, with a laptop, and no-one will steal it.” Really, it sounded like some sort of Utopia. I would never walk around Paris with bags of money or laptops, precisely for fear that they would be instantly stolen out of my clutches.
At this point, I decided to give the philosophising a go of my own.
“That’s interesting,” I said, trying to mimic the wise and wistful tone of Jose. “The more I earn, the more I spend, and then I get used to a particular lifestyle and feel like I need it.”
“That’s nonsense!” said Jose (which I felt was a bit harsh, especially as we were about to give this guy a rating, and up until that point, there had not been a single five-star sweet in sight), “I don’t want to be the richest man in the graveyard.” The guy was on fire.
“In Portugal, we like to have enough money to be able to live comfortably, and that’s enough,” he said.
“Nothing else matters, just like the Metallica says.” Just. Like. The. Metallica. Says.
While it’s true that José’s conception of Portuguese culture probably cannot be applied to the country’s history as a whole (for example, I feel as if the Portuguese empire was based on some desires which at some point surpassed nice weather and good food), the guy certainly gave us a priceless insight.
And we gave him five-stars. Nothing else matters.