Volto já is a Portuguese phrase with several closely related definitions. But, when going to a store, it has an ambiguous meaning.
Volto já meaning
“Volto já” (also “Volta já) is a common phrase in Portuguese. It can mean “get over” as in “Get over here right now.” Or, it can mean “come back” as in “When I come back.” But, most commonly, Volto já means “Be right back.” As in “I’ll be right back.”
Volto já signs everywhere
Walk around almost any village, town, or city in Portugal and you’ll see signs hanging in the window that say “Volto já.” As in, “we’re closed now, but I’ll be right back.”
And that’s what I find so interesting.
In the States, you might see a business, especially a small shop or boutique, that could have a sign in the window if they have to close for a few minutes.
But, most likely, that sign will say something like “Be back in 15 minutes” or “Be back at 3pm” or something else equally specific.
That’s how Volto já is different.
You see, while Volto já implies that the store will be open again, perhaps very soon, it does not specify a time. Volto já can mean 5 minutes from now, later this afternoon, tomorrow, or whenever. There is no exact time associated with Volto já and no return is guaranteed or expected.
In fact, across the way from a coffee shop where I often get my espresso was a shop where there was a Volto já sign in the window for several days on end.
Now, this is my regular coffee shop so I’m there almost everyday. It must’ve been two weeks that Volto já sign was in the window and I never saw the shop open.
What can we learn from Volto já?
In the end, Volto já is an admittedly small cultural difference between the States and Portugal. But, I think it’s quite interesting that in the U.S. (and several other Western industrialized countries) each minute is so crucial that even being closed for a an undefined period of time would be unacceptable to a customer.
Meanwhile, in Portugal, if a store is closed, you shrug, figure they must’ve had something better to do, and continue on your day.
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, Port, and Batalha. Brent’s podcast, also called Destination Eat Drink, is available on all major podcasting platforms and is distributed by the Radio Misfits Podcast Network.