Cultural Differences

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We had our first visitor from the UK last week and he asked what things had surprised us about living here in Portugal. It got me thinking about the “things that make you go hmmm” that we had noticed so far. Here’s a quick, light-hearted list.

1. Shopping (Part 1): When visiting a shopping centre in Portugal, it seems immensely important to the Portuguese to park on the exact level of the car park which they have driven into. People will circle the ground floor for several minutes waiting for a space when there is a level above containing only three cars. Strangely, we seem to have joined in the practice straight away.

2. Shopping (Part 2): We may have discovered the reason for the above. When parking in the car park of our local shopping centre, the Tavira Gran Plaza, you must remember the following information to find your car: a floor level, a letter, a number, a colour and an animal. For example – in the picture – basement, orange, C, 10, butterfly. I certainly won’t be needing that Brain Training game for Christmas.

Plenty to remember
Plenty to remember

3. Shopping (Part 3): All week long the shopping centre is quiet and you can have it to yourself, but on a Sunday, it seems you are not allowed to enter unless you take at least five family members , spanning a minimum of three generations.

4. Greeting People: Portugal is a wonderful, friendly place and people actually say hello to you in the street – this is where is can get tricky – we have “Bom Dia” (in the morning,) “Boa Tarde” (in the afternoon / evening,) and “Boa Noite” (evening/night.) The one thing no-one seems to agree on is the exact points in the day at which you stop using one and start using the next one. I can’t help but wonder if this is all a trick by the locals to try to catch out us newcomers.

5. Health and Safety: In a lot of respects, they don’t seem to have that here. It is a case of “if there is a hole in a pavement, look where you’re going and don’t be daft and fall down it,” I for one think this is fantastic, having come from the nanny-state lunacy that is Britain.

6. Driving: Portugal has a very laid back “amanhã” (tomorrow) attitude to most things, yet as soon as you are in a car, it seems it is customary to drive with the urgency of a man rushing to a hospital to take his wife to deliver a baby. All the time.

7. Driving (2): If you see a friend coming down the other side of the road, the most appropriate place to have a catch-up is in the middle of the road, the other cars can wait. This seems somewhat at odds with the point above.

7. Weather: Even if it seems hot to us Brits on a good day in December, we have had to learn to accept that if we wear flip-flops at this time of year, everyone it going to look at our feet, and then directly at us, as if we are crazy.

Flip Flops - in December?
Flip Flops - in December?

8. Cooking – If you buy a joint of meat in the supermarket, you are expected to know exactly how long to cook it for – no instructions are provided. Off to the cook-shop to buy a kitchen thermometer before I poison myself again….

All of these things just add to the day-to-day adventure and the more quirky little things I come up against the more I love it here. The other thing that constantly pleases me is how much more efficient and sensible some things are here compared with back in England (taking all of your rubbish to the end of your street for a daily collection just makes more sense.), although these efficiencies DO NOT include dealing with the town hall, the bank or Portuguese Telecom – more of that in a future post!

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  1. So that’s what’s surprised you, but what’re you missing?

  2. When I 1st came to Portugal, most of those things were a bit suprising to myself. Although some seemed just like “home”. Especiallay points 1, 3, 5 & 8 – all same as my countries “rules”. Good to hear that you’re enjoying your new home 🙂

  3. @Ian That’s coming soon ….- for today though a reliable 3g signal so I don’t have to walk in town to get online 🙂

  4. @Ian – I have now posted a post on what we miss – I hope you find it interesting 🙂

  5. 4. Greeting People

    From +-6H or sun rising to 11H59 “Bom dia”, if you went to sleep and had to wake up early, if you didn´t go to sleep and it´s still dark it´s ok to say Boa noite

    From 12H00 to sunset “Boa tarde”

    After sunset meaning no sun ligh whatsoever “Boa noite”

    8. Cooking – It´s ok to ask for suggestions, people will tell what they usaually do with the meat, no shame on asking

    1. Shopping (Part 1): True, as a portuguese I never understood why, I park where the least cars are.

  6. Thanks Bruno, particularly for the times to say bom dia/boa tarde and boa noite. In our local shop the custom seems to be that it’s ‘bom dia’ until about 2.30 in the afternoon, but in other places it’s ‘boa tarde’ as soon as the church clock strikes midday! 🙂

  7. Hello,

    I’m from Belgium but my wife is Portuguese. She came to Belgium many years ago, for me to meet her off course. 🙂
    I am also becoming more and more fed up with the northern lifestyle and am thinking to move there aswell, unfortunately my wife is not so reluctant to do so (yet).

    Anyway, what I have been thaught, is that you use “bom dia” untill you have eaten lunch, after that it is “boa tarde” untill, like Bruno explained, it gets dark. That explains the confusion around lunch as some will say “boa tarde” at 13:00 and others “bom dia” at 14:00 🙂

    Nice blog and very recognizable since I am already used to their way of living after being with my wife for 7 years and visiting Portugal twice per year. Also, keep up the good work with learning their beautiful language which I can imagine must be a huge challenge for English people. Me and wife have fixed days for several languages and thanks to that great idea of hers, I speak Portuguese fluently but not as fluent as her Dutch 🙂

    One little remark though, I have read most of the blog but haven’t come accross fado yet. You should definitely go and visit one of the restaurants in Alfama, Lisboa, where they bring live fado. Beautiful music that shows the heart of the Portugese – there is not a single Portugese that doesn’t love fado, not a single Portugese woman that doesn’t cry when she hears it 🙂

    Also, you guys being English, you have to try Francesinhas (specialty in Porto but more and more available in the rest of the country – but the best ones are in Porto). Very heavy dish with an amazing sauce, perfect after a night out.

    And last but not least, if you haven’t yet. Visit Nazaré, the town of my wife, beyond beautiful in all seasons. Internationally renowed professional surfers keep breaking records of surfing the highest waves ever (up to 30m which is 90 feet I believe) in January (praia do norte). The village itself is split in three, the original one on the hill with beautiful views (pederneira), another one on the cliff going into the sea (100m/300feet above the beach)(sitio) and one at the beach itself (praia – what else :))

  8. Thank you Arne for your detailed comment. What a fantastic idea, having different languages on different days! Our Portuguese is coming along well now, helped by the fact that having a baby here means we have to conduct a whole load more conversations in Portuguese!

    We have indeed encountered the magic of Fado and I was suitably spellbound by the experience – there was so much feeling and saudade in it!

    We have yet to try a Francesinha, though my husband is planning a trip to Porto and this is the top item on his To Do List for when he gets there. I will add Nazaré to our list of places to visit too. I have seen it regularly on the news thanks to the surfing records, but have yet to visit. It really does sound lovely 🙂

  9. In case your husband hasn’t gone yet, or for future reference. Best francesinhas in Porto: Café Santiago (Rua Passos Manuel, 266 – Porto) & Capa Negra II (Rua do Campo Alegre 191 – Porto). Also worth a visit: Bali-Hai Polynesian Bar (Rua Águas Férreas 9 – Porto). Cocktail bar with a very special atmosphere and amazing cocktails. The fun part is that they don’t tell you what’s in it 🙂

    When visiting Nazaré, you should also go to nearby Sao Martinho do Porto, where the beach is in a protected bay, perfect for little children. Especially the other side of the bay (Salir do Porto) is wonderful where a river full of tiny fish enters the bay. The river is affected by the tides so it goes from being narrow and shallow to being wide and deep.

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