Take a Number

Everywhere you go in Portugal, it seems, you have to take a number.

Ticket machine at the bakery (photo: Brent Petersen)

In Portugal, waiting in line is a national sport. And, for the most part, it is an orderly affair-the exception being the Portuguese grandmother who pushed her way past everyone on the causeway to be the first to get on the plane to the Azores (yes, that happened).

In fact, I’ve been very impressed with the way the folks in Portugal deal with lines. At the grocery store, there is a lane just for pregnant women, the elderly, and the disabled. What a great idea!

But, in most places where you get service, you need to take a number.

Then you watch the little screen and wait for your number to be called.

It’s kinda like the DMV.

You take a number at the bank, and the bakery, and the cheese shop, and at the mobile phone store.

So, the very first thing I do when I enter a shop is look for the Take-A-Number machine. Once, at the cheese shop, I walked right up to the counter to place my order. I was the only person in there, but they still wanted the number. I think that’s because at the end of the day the owner counts up the number of tickets to see how many customers came through the door.

Waiting our turn (photo: Brent Petersen)

Another time I walked into a bakery and tried to order an espresso and pastel de nata. No luck. They wanted a number. The Take-A-Number machine was hidden behind the door at the entrance to the shop; I had walked right past it. In the meantime, another couple had walked in and got a number. When they saw what happened, they kindly offered to trade numbers with me. I declined and motioned for them to place their order. I was next in line anyway-no inconvenience.

But, the craziest Take-A-Number situation was at the bank. I had to meet with a customer rep in the bank because of a small situation with my account. Knowing that the waiting times at banks can be long, I arrived early.

Unfortunately, it wasn’t early enough as there were six other people in the lobby waiting their turn. Knowing the drill, I went straight to the ticket machine. As I pressed the button to dispense my number, a young man started talking to me in Portuguese.

“Não falo Português,” I said, letting him know I didn’t speak Portuguese.

“The machine is broken,” he replied in English.

Oh no!

This was going to throw the entire lobby into chaos, I thought.

Number 75, you’re up! (photo: Brent Petersen)

But, the young man I spoke to seemed to have taken charge. “Seven,” he said, pointing at me. Then he pointed to each of the other people on the lobby, indicating the order of the line.

Soon, a man in a suit who looked like he worked at the bank arrived. He pushed a couple buttons on the Take-A-Ticket machine. Nothing.

He opened the machine and removed a cardboard tube with some bits of paper attached.

Ah, it’s empty!

He left and soon returned with a giant roll of tickets that he inserted into the machine.

Soon, the Take-A-Ticket was working again and everyone in the bank’s lobby breathed a collective sigh of relief as order was restored to the universe.

About the Author

Brent Petersen is the Editor-in-Chief of Destination Eat Drink. He currently resides in Setubal, Portugal. Brent has written the novel “Truffle Hunt” (Eckhartz Press) and the short story collection “That Bird.” He’s also written dozens of foodie travel guides to cities around the world on Destination Eat Drink, including in-depth eating and drinking guides to Lisbon, PortoSintraMonsaraz, and Evora in Portugal. Brent’s podcast, also called Destination Eat Drink, is available on all major podcasting platforms and is distributed by the Radio Misfits Podcast Network.

Author: Brent