Don't judge a hotel by its porter

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REDONDO, Portugal -- The Alentejans are sometimes the subject of jokes by other Portuguese because of their -- shall we say, casual -- ways, a hotel manager here for the Convento de Sao Paulo explained.

The lackadaisical attitudes might be attributed to the heat, he said, because moving fast would mean accelerating temperatures in what is the hottest region of Portugal.

I do not wish to reenforce ethnic stereotypes in this article: I found the Alentejans to be reserved but respectful, helpful and easy going.

However, there were a few cultural clashes, which probably say more about me as an American than about the Alentejans.

Although Convento de Sao Paulo, in the heart of the Alentejo, stands out as one of the most beautiful hotels I have ever visited, my exchange with one or two of the employees approached a level of absurdity appropriate to a "Saturday Night Live" skit.

Driving into central Redondo about 45 minutes from the hotel, I was late and realized that I would not make it to the convent until 10 p.m.

The only person I could reach at the tiny property was the porter, who informed me that dinner was served no later than 10:30 p.m.

Considered one of the best places to dine in the Alentejo, the convent restaurant Hermite also is the only restaurant within an hour of its location.

In other words, it was either eat there or starve.

I called back and asked to speak to the night manager, who promised that Hermite would serve me when I arrived, which he hoped would be by 10:30 p.m.

I drove as if I was the last member of a royal family leaving a Communist country and arrived covered in soil, a result of climbing for hours in the desert earlier in the day.

The aforementioned porter appeared and, although there were almost no other cars in the convent lot, requested that I get in and out of the car no less than three times so that I could park it in a "straight" manner that he deemed correct.

Hungry and exhausted, I gave up and said that if he didn't like the way it was parked, he could do it himself.

He did, but it took much more time than anticipated because the car was an automatic, a rarity in Portugal and a new experience for the porter.

When he was finally satisfied with the vehicle's position, he ushered me into the hotel. I asked him in a plaintive voice if I could have 10 minutes to change out of my dirty garments and refresh myself.

"No time. Go eat now," he instructed.

I should note here that the restaurant's Alentejan food and service were fantastic.

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