Five Things you may not Know About Portugal

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Even though we’ve now lived in Portugal for around four years, we still keep discovering new things, especially relating to customs and culture.

As our recent blog survey revealed that people like hearing about cultural differences, so in today’s light-hearted (and affectionately intended) post, I’m going to discuss five quite random things that I’ve learned about the country recently. These are the kind of things you probably wouldn’t find out during a holiday in Portugal, so may therefore come as a surprise.

Nearly all restaurants do take-out

This is something my wife and I have only recently discovered. Nearly all the restaurants in our local area have a ready supply of takeaway containers and will happily prepare anything on the menu for takeaway.

This is pretty life changing really, but also quite expensive as there’s rarely a discount involved. However, as Portuguese food portions are so large, we often share a main dish, which redresses the balance.

We took restaurant take-out to the ultimate level a couple of weeks ago, when we brought home a full fried breakfast from one of our favourite local hostelries to stave off a particularly stubborn hangover – at 6pm. This was the ultimate in decadence.

A fry up in bed in the evening - true decedence
A fry up in bed in the evening – true decedence

Portuguese people always know their place in the queue

A Portuguese queue differs substantially from its British equivalent. A queue in Portugal is more of a disorganized huddle, with multiple lines and entry points.

Don’t be fooled, however. Every single person knows who got there when and who should be next. If you don’t believe me, ask my wife: she nearly got lynched last time she went to the IMTT office.

It’s rude to sit down with people who are eating

This is one we learned just recently from Portuguese friends. We had arranged to meet several people in a local bar / restaurant for dinner, but one had already eaten. When he arrived, he didn’t come and speak to us at the dinner table but lingered in the bar area. When we questioned why he was “being funny,” we were told that, in Portugal, it is the height of rudeness to join people at the dinner table if you’re not eating yourself.

Dont join the table when people are eating
Dont join the table when people are eating

It’s weird to swim outside “swimming season”

A hardy attitude towards having a dip in the sea is a very British character trait. I personally spent many summer afternoons as a child shivering my way into the grey North Sea.

Even though the water in Portugal looks far more inviting, it’s all the Atlantic, and all pretty cold outside of August and September.

There’s also an official “swimming season,” which changes from time to time but is typically from May to September. Swim outside the official season and you are clearly mad or, at best, a tourist.

Inviting - Yes - but wait for swimming season
Inviting – Yes – but wait for swimming season

It’s sometimes hard to tell whether Portuguese people are arguing or not

Now we have more Portuguese friends, we are exposed to lots more Portuguese speaking and, thankfully, have begun to understand far more of the language.

As a result, we can often follow conversations between Portuguese friends and now know that excess volume and animation doesn’t necessarily mean that a fight’s about to kick off. Usually, they’re just having a good chat. Usually.

Can anyone suggest any more of the less obvious cultural differences? If so, please share them in the comments box below.

Would you like to find out more about our first few years in Portugal? If so, please buy our book:

Moving to Portugal: How a young couple started a new life in the sun – and how you could do the same

Readers in the US and Canada will find the book here – and it should also be available from all other country-specific Amazon sites.

Image credits: michaelseangallagher, Wikimedia Commons

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12 Comments - Write a Comment

  1. Wow, the bit about eating is interesting, glad I’ve learnt that ….. for me it’s normal to just go hang with people who are eating to socialize when I’m not eating myself.

  2. Gambling is illegal (except for Casino’s) as many found out the hard way in Albufeira last Friday night !!!

  3. Hi Etch,

    We used to do that too – just sit and chat with friends who were eating, even if we weren’t eating ourselves. We are a little more thoughtful before doing so now!

    Best wishes 🙂

  4. Thanks Ian,

    Clearly the gambling issue was one that not everyone was aware of, but I think with the amount of press coverage the bingo incident has received people will be a lot more conscious of it now!

    Best wishes 🙂

  5. Hi Ben,

    regarding the eating issue.

    It’s not a rigoid thing. It’s odd, but not taken seriously, everything depends how familiar you are with the people involved, and also if they are just taking a snack or a full meal…

    cultural habits: we give two kisses to the ladies…


  6. Some of those were new to me even as a 10 year wife-of-Portie.

    Re: “It’s sometimes hard to tell whether Portuguese people are arguing or not”

    The first time I came to Portugal to meet my in-laws, I spoke zero Portuguese (10 years later I haven’t improved much) and witnessed my now husband and mother-in-law get into an epic fight wherein my husband removed his show and started waving it in her face. As our relationship had been limited to North American lands and the English language until that point I was sure I was seeing a horrible, violent dark side of him that I hadn’t realized had existed.

    I finally couldn’t take it anymore and did the kicking-under-the-table move and tried to ventriloquist style tell him to stop screaming at and disrespecting his mother right in front of me.

    Well they both heard and looked at me in kind of a shock, “What are you talking about? I’m just explaining to her how much easier it is to find shoes in my size in the United States than in Portugal.”

    I could’ve sworn he’d been about to whap her over the head in a fury.

    His English-speaking personality is equivalent to a puppy with a new toy.

  7. Thanks CcoR, it’s good to know the eating issue is not too strict. We will be careful while we learn our way around it!

    The two kisses for the ladies is something we are so used to that we don’t think about it now, unless friends arrive who we haven’t seen in a while. They always go for one kiss and we have to advise that in Portugal it is two 🙂

  8. Hi Sarah, that’s so funny – I can picture how animated the conversation was! Thankfully as our Portuguese has improved we are now (usually) able to tell the difference between an animated conversation and an argument, though we do still get caught out from time to time! 🙂

  9. Hello,

    As a portuguese and always have live here in Portugal, I always find this type of sites interesting.

    “It’s rude to sit down with people who are eating”, never eard this one before, the portuguese costume is to ask if you want to join us and eat more, if you don´t want to eat more you can still have dessert and coffee or at very least have a sit and have a nice chat loudy chat, we seem to be screaming but it´s to enphasize our opinion, it has nothing to do with rudeness, it´s cultural and rarely goes beyond noise, also it´s a lot of fun.

    “It’s weird to swim outside “swimming season”, again new to me, whenever the weather is warm enough speciaaly at week ends folks go to the beach even if it´s outside summer, there are people that go on a daily basis for a swimm all year long they claim it´s good for the bones, some like me say it´s crazy.

  10. Hi Bruno,

    Many thanks for your comments. I guess in Portugal, as in England, there are regional differences between customs. Hopefully as we explore more of the country over the coming years we will discover all sorts of additional customs and traditions in each local area, so we can add to our list.

    Best wishes 🙂

  11. Hi my name is Diana I’m portuguese and i live in england i really liked what you wrote i’m glad youre enjoying.
    Th eating thing i don’t really know it since i’m use to go to my family and mates houses and if they’re eating i will join them, they would also offer me food (we do eat to much and always on the dinner table).
    My dad for example hates when i’m having a meal on the sofa he will say “Don’t we have a kitchen with a table?”.
    Anyway in Portugal my parents house is like 15 miles away from the beach which means i had great summer and swimming out of swimming season it’s weird i’ll give you that because as soon as someone tells you that i will say “What are you thinking you crazy person” (but not in a rude way.
    The way we speak that’s real and made me laugh because i have proof of that i don’t really know what you guys think when you listen to our conversation because is normal for us.
    I had an apisode I was with a couple of british friends and they had a portuguese girl with them and we start talking to each other and my mate goes “guys don’t fight!” we just start laughing then we explain what we were just talking about.
    I’m guessing is just because we have a need to speak loud and express every little feeling i do think is funny when people spot this things.
    I’ve been in England for almost three years i love that is different and challeging and i love how the people clse to me cut some slack because we can sound rude sometimes is our way of speaking and acting is not on purpuse.
    thank you so much for your words.

  12. Hi Diana and thank you for your comment. It is really interesting to hear about your friend’s response to your conversation with the Portuguese girl – I think that there is something in how animated the conversation is that those who don’t understand the language find alarming!

    I had not noticed your point about eating at the table – I will be watching my Portuguese friends closely now to see where they prefer to eat 🙂

    I am sure that you have had fun discovering all sorts of things about England during your time there.

    Best wishes, Lou

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