Facts About Portugal

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It’s trivia time this week on Moving to Portugal. We’ve just come to the end of a long run of different guests staying with us, and this morning I was reflecting on some of the little bits of information about life in Portugal that sometimes come out in conversation, and are a surprise to those who haven’t been here before. So, here we have a light-hearted list of ten things not everybody knows about life in Portugal.

1. There is a reason why people often spend what seems like an unusually long time at the cash machine. The Portuguese Multibanco system is highly sophisticated, and allows you do to all kinds of things. Want to go fishing? Buy your license at the ATM. Need to pay your tax bill? Use the reference number on the bill, and pay it directly from your account using your cash machine (a quite scary task when thousands of euros disappear instantly from your account…. you will definitely want to double check that reference number). Want to book a seat on the train to Lisbon? Yep, you do it with Multibanco. With this in mind, try not to get impatient in the queue for the cash machine!

Portugal Multibanco Machine
Portugal Multibanco Machine

2. There is a nominal fee made in Portugal for a TV license. It is charged automatically on your electricity bill.

3. Petrol is even more expensive in Portugal than it is the UK.

4. So are cars. Due to the ways cars are taxed here, they are a LOT more expensive. On the bright side, the climate down here in the Algarve means they are less likely to rust.

5. When, after a meal, you appear to have become invisible to the waiter as soon as you have been served your coffees, it doesn’t mean standards of service have suddenly dropped. Here in Portugal, people often sit for some time after finishing a meal. On one occasion, I even saw someone place head on table and have a short nap before leaving. We don’t have a table-turning culture. Just ask for the bill as and when you are ready to leave.

6. Shopping centres here universally stay open until 11pm, even on a Sunday.

Fernando Pessoa
Fernando Pessoa

7. Portuguese people typically revere literary figures at least as highly as famous musicians and sports stars. In an increasingly dumbed-down, X-Factor loving world, this is a wonderful thing.

8. It is unclear why there is a nationwide shortage of all euro coins in Portugal, but there is. Prepare for wrath if you intend to pay for a 2.08€ grocery transaction with a note and you don’t have the 8 cents. Once you’re known in your local town you may be sent on your way with your goods and asked to come back tomorrow with the right change!

Portugal - Where are the Euro Coins?
Portugal - Where are the Euro Coins?

9. When eating, it is customary to keep your napkin to the left of your plate, and not on your lap. I’m not sure why this is, but it is practical. Constantly reaching down for a napkin below the table results in sardiney fingers making clothing smell unpleasant.

10. It can get cold here in winter. Really bloody cold. Without central heating, it can feel colder than the UK. People never believe this, but those of us that live here don’t just say it for a laugh. People who have actually visited us during the winter know this to be true, but, for some strange reason, May and September always seem to be “the popular months” for most!

So, I’ve thought of the first ten. Can any Portuguese residents think of more? If so, please comment below.

PS. Anyone wishing to become familiar with Portugal’s literary output would do well to begin here:

The Book of Disquiet (Penguin Modern Classics)

Image credits: anabananasplit starrynight1 FreeFoto

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15 Comments - Write a Comment

  1. #9 Customary it might be, good table manners it ain’t!

  2. #11…
    Loja do Cidadao, a place you can take care of almost anything. Think of a small shopping mall but instead here you can take care of you drivers license, get cable tv, pay your electrical, water bill,etc. Very convenient EXCEPT haha expect to wait, and wait oh and wait some more. Also everywhere you go to get any service you need a ticket number and when you finally sit down they push you away with some excuse that your missing something. I went to take care of transferring my license and spent over 20 euros in gas driving back and forth with missing papers…just give me a list of things from the get go.

    12…Portuguese are so laid back and relaxed…hour and a half lunch yet when they drive seams like the only gear they have is fast and fast. Stay on the right lane that’s all i can say.

  3. Nobody indicates on a roundabout?!

    If you ask for a café in the Algarve, you’ll get ‘uma bica’ – i.e. an espresso, i.e. a little tiny coffee with no milk! (fine with me but might be a shock if you are expecting a nice big milky coffee…!) there seem to be more names for a coffee than you can even imagine 😉 there’s a great blog post somewhere on names for coffee – ..I’ll try to find it for you)

    good post! I’ll be thinking of more things all day I’m sure

  4. 1- In Portugal, tea only takes sugar (when i was in UK in 2009 I noticed most people put milk in their tea). Also, Portugal use the word Chá from the Chinese 茶 (cha), instead of the Malaisian word “Te” like the rest of Western Europe, includind the english “tea”.
    2- Depending on the area, Portugal enjoy differnt winters. In Northern East cold winters with snow fall, Northern West and Central Portugal cold and mild winters and in Southern Portugal pleasant winters normaly dryer.
    3- Queues in Portugal have a broad meaning. It can be a single line of people taking it’s turn or a group of people, with no order, trying to remember who got first and not to lose it’s turn and patience.
    4-In Portugal people receive their wages montly. Supermarkets, namely in the biginning of each month, are insanely full of people buying their groceries.
    5- In Portugal, people pay a tax, that is colected in water bills, to secure public sanitation, even if does not enjoy from that.
    I don’t remember more right now…

  5. Aly, you mentioned a blog with portuguese names to coffe. I Found this one but it lacks some names like Curto, Italiana de Saia Curta, Café Coado, etc.

  6. Hi Ben,

    First of all thank you for your reply to my email in the other day.

    Some more things about Portugal.

    In Pt nobody goes to the supermarket to buy 2 oranges, or one apple. Fruits and vegetables are bought in kilos, not units.

    In Portugal we have cheese as starter.

    We suck the prawns heads.

    We don’t like to buy fish already in fillets. We like to see the eyes of the fish before buying, just to confirm it’s fresh.

    and that’s it for now…

  7. About the point number 10, it is true that many houses, particularlly older ondes, are quite cold. Still, new ones are much better insulated and usually have central heating.

    Have you considered installing central heating in you house? Or possible radiant floor heating (which I think is particularlly suited to tile flooring like yours).
    Its possible to have warm houses in Portugal too. 🙂

  8. Hi – found 2 posts (not the one I was thinking of -but a good start!)
    this one – http://portugal-info.net/gastronomy/coffee.htm begins to list all the different names … I’m confused already!
    and this one – http://catavino.net/portugals-coffee-a-sumptuous-and-delectible-treat/ gives a few different versions of where the word ‘bica’ might come from!

  9. A massive thank you to everyone for their own interesting facts which have made this article so much more informative – please keep them coming.

    Best wishes

  10. another bizarre thing – toilet doors in public toilets (airport, shopping centres etc) often open outwards…. I can’t tell you the number of times I have tried to pull them towards me to open them (like the do in the UK!) when I am in the loo! 😉

  11. Oh thank you SOOOO much!! I have come to Lisbon to study Português twice and sitting by myself at dinner I have felt so odd sometimes because the waiters are fussing about and leaving me napkins!!! I think I must be a really messy eater to warrent so much attention. I always just put the new clean napkins in my lap! Whole lot of them by the time I leave.

    I think it is really funny and wonderfully amazing thing to find out from your facts. How else would I know?? Thank you!!

  12. all these posts about coffee are just plain stupid. In fact, there’s only a handfull of types of coffee in Portugal, as follows: cafe, pingo, galao and 1/2 de Leite. Stupid names like bica are southern senseless expressions.

    If you compare to any pretensious coffee joint such as the likes of costa and starbucks with their machiattos, lattes, espressos, flats, americanos, cappucinos, frappucinos, and other idiotic inventions that come at least in 3 different sizes and or 3 types of milk, I rest my case.

    And today I’ll have a tall skinny double espresso caramel machiatto TO GO for which I’ll pay 2,90 € on a cold, rainy and windy August morning in the UK.

  13. SOrry I didn’t understand the fact nº7.

    The no-turning table politic is a cultural thing….people like to talk after the meal a little more but if someone is already waiting for the table ..100% that in about 10 min max they will leave… meaning if you show-off you are waiting for that table (standing beside but near without rushing …rushing is considered rude…) even if don’t say a word they will leave in a short period IF THEY SEE YOU…

    The ATM is free =)and you can pay almost everything in there..

    The portuguese driving skills are dangerous meaning …..they don’t respect most of the signs, speed limits and try to as fast as possible to their destiny…the roads mortality ratio is high because of that…

    coffee = café or bica
    coffee more concentrated less water = cafe curto
    coffee without caffeine = descafeinado
    coffee with milk in a small glass: galão
    milk with coffee but bigger glass = meia de leite
    coffe with drops of milk: cafe pingado
    weak coffee = carioca
    small tea made with limon’s peel = carioca de limão

    thats craps like expresso, machiato don’t exist they are imported from others countrys…

    Wear suncreen you get a sunburn just walking all day in street between 12 pm and 4 pm in summer (between abril and september)…this happens also the portuguese with lighter skin…

    The portuguese people (100%)like when people say polite things: good morning, thank you, excuse me, sorry…

    Portugal was the first country where Macdonald’s introduced soups in the menus…

  14. That by the way B.I.C.A means: drink this with sugar! BEBA ISTO COM ACUÇAR!

  15. Hi Ana,

    Thank you for your detailed comment – it has shown me that even after four years here I still have so much to learn, which is wonderful. And I love the BICA fact 🙂

    Fact number 7 relates to how in England fame and celebrity are accorded to reality TV shows such as X Factor, whereas writers are not celebrated as much (unless their book is made into a movie!). In Portugal it is refreshing to see figures such as Fernando Pessoa and Jose Saramago are so highly respected.

    Best wishes,


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