Book Review: Rick Steves’ Portuguese Phrasebook & Dictionary

Rich Steves’ Portuguese Phrasebook & Dictionary, by Rick Steves

It is rather telling that Rick Steves, a notably monolingual person whose appeal to readers is due to his passionate interest in European tourism, ended up writing (or at least giving his name to) a phrasebook and dictionary on Portuguese.  This book is aimed at those who are traveling to Portugal, and certainly contains some usage that is different from the Brazilian Portuguese that I am more familiar with.  It can be intriguing to see what sort of an audience a book is being aimed at, and I am not really the sort of person this book is aimed at.  With its comments about “every beach in Portugal being a topless beach” and a variety of bad pickup lines, this book is really aimed at the sort of tourist who wants to eat lots of seafood, pick up women of easy virtue, and have a travel experience to brag about to one’s friends.  That said, the book also has a lot of expressions for more sedate or more widely friendly travelers as well and anyone looking at this book will find at least a few useful expressions worth keeping in mind in one’s travels.

This book is a bit more than 250 pages long and is organized topically.  The book begins with Portuguese basics, counting numbers, money, and time.  After that the author discusses traveling by planes, trains, buses and subways, taxis, or driving for oneself, as well as finding places to sleep.  After that the author discusses eating at restaurants, special dietary concerns, as well as knowing the ingredients of various dishes organized by type, as well as words for drinking and picnicking.  The author gives a brief menu decoder between English and Portuguese and vice versa before providing discussions about sightseeing, shopping, sports, and entertainment, as well as connecting with others via the telephone, internet, or mail.  The author discusses words for seeking help, using services, and dealing with health concerns.  There are special sections on chatting (including profanity and flirtation), creating one’s own conversations using question words, and dictionaries.  The author provides some tips for hurdling the language barrier with tongue twisters and the Portuguese national anthem as well as words that people stumble over.  Finally, the author discusses telephones, gives a tear-out cheat sheet, and discusses how to reserve a hotel room, after which there are illustrations and maps.

It is interesting that Rick Steves is so focused on European travel that this book is aimed at those traveling to Portugal rather than Brazil.  I’m not sure what it is about Europe in particular that draws the author the most, but for those who want a guide to some Portuguese expressions but who are not going to expect lengthy or particularly deep conversations in the language, this book is worthwhile.  Given the author’s discussion of how people often talk Spanish to the Portuguese (something that likely offends them, I would think), this book is meant to give monolingual American and British tourists a leg up on their less culturally aware competitors.  Whether or not one appreciates the essentially competitive aspects of this book when it comes to somewhat aggressive flirtation or the expectations of the author that this book will be used by very competitive people in seeking to differentiate themselves from other tourists, one does not have to agree with the approach of an author in order to appropriate worthwhile aspects he has brought to one’s attention.  Whether or not you want to use this book as the author appears to aim it at, if you want to learn some easy and handy Portuguese words and expressions there is much to commend itself here.

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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