Portugal is the oldest country in Europe with its own quirks

10 oddities in Portugal to keep in mind

If you are planning to immigrate to Portugal , apart from the bureaucratic and everyday difficulties you will have to face at first, you will also have to get acquainted with the people of this country and their mentality. Portugal is the westernmost country in Europe and that is why the Portuguese are very different from the Germans or even the French, and especially from the inhabitants of the CIS countries. What is normal in your native country can be strange in Portugal, and vice versa. It is important to understand and accept these differences, because only empathy and respect for a foreign culture will help you best adapt to your new society. Nevertheless, such adaptation and “adjustment” usually takes years, and you will start to notice certain strange things once you are in Portugal. Warned is forearmed, as the popular saying goes, and this new article reveals the most interesting quirks of Portuguese people and culture that might surprise or shock you. Knowing these things ahead of time will help you feel more comfortable in the country during your first visit and better understand the events around you. And if you have been living in Portugal for a long time, we invite you to share in the comments to the article what you were surprised and shocked by immediately after moving to Portugal.

Well, let’s get acquainted with some quirks and unusual characteristics of the Portuguese mentality, which is important to keep in mind at first, right after your immigration.

Tardiness and failure to meet deadlines

An important feature of the Portuguese mentality is unhurriedness, which we have written about in this article. Many people consider moving to Portugal because of its leisurely pace of life, but there is a downside. In general, the Portuguese take their time without much care, so being late by 30-60 minutes or even more is, unfortunately, the norm rather than the exception to the rule. This point applies to both personal and business relationships. So if you are waiting for your Portuguese friends, a young man on a date, or an HR employee for an interview for about an hour, and they are late, this is quite a standard situation for local realities. So when it happens to you for the first time, do not take it personally and do not think that you are not respected and treated badly. You just need to be aware of this fact, and what to do about it is up to you. Personally, I always carry a book in my bag so that if I have to wait at the clinic or the bank again (despite the appointment), I have something to do. If a hired laborer (electrician, plumber, etc.) is late and doesn’t inform me about it in any way or apologize (unfortunately, this is also the norm), I am willing to accept tardiness up to 60 minutes, and if the person doesn’t show up at all, we immediately stop cooperating. It is important to understand that not all Portuguese are late and disappear within the framework of working relationships and agreements, so I know for sure that among 10 employees I will definitely find one who will appreciate other people’s time. I also try to schedule all meetings remotely or in my office (which will be less tragic in case the person doesn’t show up at all). All in all, over the years of living in Portugal, you can develop your own strategy on how to deal with tardiness and unfulfilled appointments. But for now, just keep this in mind and be mentally prepared for such situations.

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Respect for other people’s space and no pressure

The Portuguese may indeed be late and not appreciate other people’s time and the promises they make, but what they cannot take away from them is maximum courtesy and lack of pressure on other people. Even if you are in a remote Portuguese village, you will constantly hear “desculpa”, “com licença”, “não faz mal”, i.e. “excuse me”, “excuse me”, “no problem” and similar phrases. The person is already 1.5 meters away from you begins to ask for forgiveness, because it seemed to him that he slightly blocked your way with the cart. Is it worth comparing such behavior with the CIS countries where they can hit you with a cart and not even apologize? The Portuguese really do not want to hurt and offend another person, neither physically, nor even more so morally. Therefore, here you will not hear lectures, judgments on the appearance of the person, instructions on how and what you should do. Zero pressure on the others and maximum courtesy. Of course there are exceptions to every rule and in Portugal you will also find rude people who can be rude, but this is rare.

A different attitude to hygiene and cleanliness

Most Portuguese don’t take off their shoes when they enter the house and jump on the couch in dirty sneakers, and not everyone has heard that they should wash their hands before eating and after going to the bathroom. This may seem strange, but it is important to understand that different countries have different approaches to cleanliness and hygiene. Many times I’ve seen how children can drop some thing or candy on the floor in the street, and then put it in their mouth, in the gym in the locker room and adults and children can sit naked on the public bench, etc. without any problems. In general, this is a personal matter for each person, but if you plan to live in the country, it is important to understand that with such a negligent attitude to hygiene you will also encounter in restaurants, and in beauty salons, and in other places, where the service is provided. Here, as in the first point, over time, you will develop a strategy of behavior that suits you. You do not have to accept this feature, especially if you are a customer and want decent service. So, it will take you some time to find those restaurants and places of service, which take cleanliness seriously.

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Dealing with Strangers

If a stranger approaches you or your child in the street and starts talking to them or offers to buy them something, don’t be alarmed, they don’t want to steal, kill or rape you. Yes, in the CIS countries young children are taught not to talk to strangers, but this rule can be forgotten after moving to Portugal. The locals are very fond of chatting, and it doesn’t matter if you know each other or not. If they start to talk to you at a bus stop or in a store, be relaxed and don’t expect any tricks (though of course you will need to learn Portuguese to start a conversation).

Barter and bartering

Do you want to sell something in Portugal and put your goods on one of the local marketplaces (for example, on OLX)? You wrote a specific price, let’s say 100 euros, and then you began receiving messages asking if you agree to sell it for 5 euros and whether you will take things in exchange (most often the proposal comes in the format of “aceita troca”)? Do not be surprised if you begin to receive such “bargain offers” and your new iPhone will be offered to exchange for an old bicycle. The ability to haggle and lower the price several times, as well as the ability to offer old things in exchange is an important characteristic of hand-to-hand sales in Portugal. If this doesn’t work for you, just decline such offers, but don’t take it personally.

Women and men are equal.

“Yay!”, women will exclaim, but be prepared for the fact that, as an equal, no one will give you a seat on public transport, open the door or the like. Of course, in Portugal you can still find the rare gentlemen who have been taught in the family to open the car door for a girl and let women through when entering buildings by holding the door, but this is a great rarity, not a general rule. In an article on the mentality of the Portuguese, we have already written about the fact that maternity leave for women in the country is only a few months, and in principle, both men and women in the family work and give the same. So if you don’t get a seat in the transport and don’t get paid on your date, it’s not an insult at all, but the equality that many women around the world are fighting for.

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Nepotism and its consequences

Do you want to buy a property in Portugal and have already negotiated a sale with the owner, but a day later you were rejected? You are almost to the end of the interview process with a Portuguese company and suddenly your process was interrupted? These situations can often cause shock and incomprehension, but here it is important to learn that nothing thrives so well in Portugal as the “cunhas” system, which in Russian is often called “nepotism”, “blat” or “having connections”. Family and clan ties are very strong in Portugal, and you can be the best worker in the world, but if a matchmaker or other distant relative or neighbor asks to place his son or nephew in a certain position, most often the Portuguese will put family or friendship ties at the top of the list rather than ethics or efficiency. I’m not sure if you can call it corruption, but in order to understand the scale of the problem the most famous case of nepotism in the country is the case of Portugal’s former Prime Minister José Socrates, who was caught falsifying his higher education (i.e. he had official documents, but he never really got it). Of course, this can only be done through “cunhas”, friend of the matchmaker, brother of the neighbor, etc. – Such connections are more than enough to promote the right person to the right place, or even to give a diploma of higher education to someone who never studied at all. As an immigrant in Portugal, you will have no connections or connections, and it is important to understand this, as well as the “cunhas” system.

The ban on filming

After reading the points above, you may think “well, if I am served badly in a restaurant or insulted because of my lack of connections, I will take all this on video and post it on the Internet!” And this is quite logical, especially if you come to the country from a place where video recorders, video cameras, video and audio evidence in court is the norm. In Portugal it is a crime, as we have written about in detail in this article of ours. So if you were offended, do not rush to shoot everything on video, because it may later turn against you. Your main defense should be a verbal defense, but in order to protect and defend your rights in a difficult situation, it’s important to know Portuguese very well and to learn it beforehand . Also, if you want to video blog in Portugal, going into different establishments and filming anything and everything, you might have problems with that too. Why in Portugal video and audio recordings are so strict and even the victim has no right to show them in case of a crime is anyone’s guess.

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Conservatism and respect for authority

In our article on the Portuguese mentality we already wrote about the level of education in the country and about the Salazar dictatorship. I do not know if it is related to these facts, but in Portugal (especially in the regions) you can see a strong respect for the local authorities, which include not only the police representative in the area, but also the family doctor and the priest in the nearest parish church (padre). They are respected and feared at the same time, so their will and decisions are not challenged. We therefore advise you never to clash with such representatives of the local authorities, because even if they are wrong, it is unlikely that anyone will support you.

This characteristic has positive aspects, for example in this article we wrote that if in Portugal there is an ambulance, police or fire truck with a siren, all cars move aside and pull to the side of the road to make way for the ambulance or fire truck.

Also the inhabitants of the country are extremely conservative and passive about any public initiatives. If you have been to Spain at least once, you have probably come across massive street protests (workers, teachers, etc.) and it feels like not a week goes by without a mass strike in Spain. Despite the fact that Portugal shares a border with Spain, people don’t like to express their opinions and fight against something, especially if it means actively expressing their civic position. So in Portugal you will either see very weak rallies with 5-10 people, which no one takes seriously, or the so-called “weekend strikes”, when the unions of transport companies or teachers on Friday or Monday do not go to work, but in fact they do not defend their rights violently, but just want to extend the weekend. Whether this is good or bad is up to you to decide, but just remember that in Portugal, most people take the will of the state, the pops or the doctor in charge as a given, which should simply be accepted as it is and should not even be considered, let alone challenged.

The conservatism of the locals can manifest itself in the fact that you, as a foreigner, may be refused a place to stay, you may not be hired because you are not Portuguese and even if you are already working in a Portuguese team, in case you propose a new and innovative idea, useful for the entire company, you will most likely be refused with the argument “it has always been like that, for centuries, so we will continue to do so, as we did 100 years ago”. Don’t take it personally, but it is definitely worth keeping in mind this peculiarity of the Portuguese mentality.

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Lack of aggression and related actions

You have blatantly parked your car badly and thereby obstructed many of your neighbors. It is unlikely that you puncture the tires or scratch the body, as they might do in the CIS countries. The most they will do is raise the wiper blades perpendicular to the windshield to let you know that you have done wrong. Yes, if you have parked your car badly, the police may tow your vehicle, but you can certainly not fear aggression from the Portuguese, because such behavior in the country is extremely rare. You can, of course, encounter an inadequate and aggressive person, but not very often. This is why we do not recommend you to behave aggressively, waving and shouting. Such behavior in Portugal will be very strange and you simply will not be understood.

Take the best from the people of the country

This is the best strategy after immigrating to Portugal. Even if something seems strange, incomprehensible and illogical to you, try to take it for granted, understanding that you have just moved to a new country for you, and as you know: “You do not go to another’s monastery with your own mouth”. Some of the features of the locals will become clear to you after some time, some you will not accept and will act on the basis of their own values and views on life. The most important thing is to put judgment aside and try to absorb the best of the Portuguese mentality, there is definitely a lot to learn from them. We wish you an easy adaptation and hope that this article will be a good starting point for understanding the complex and interesting mentality of the inhabitants of Portugal.

Also, just keep in mind that if you immigrate to Portugal, you can find various specialists on our website who can help you with this. Get a consultation on immigration to Portugal you can here, also offer the services of our lawyer and accountant . And if you decide to start learning Portuguese after you immigrate to Portugal you can always do it with an online Portuguese course or private lessons with a Portuguese teacher. In case you will need health insurance for your residency in Portugal you can always get it from our insurance agent in Portugal, and recently we also have a credit manager in Portugal, so now you can solve any of your questions and problems without leaving WithPortugal website!

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