Top Ten Secrets You’ll Discover When You Move to Portugal
Top Ten Secrets You’ll Discover When You Move to Portugal
1. English Is not Widely Spoken
It is easy to assume that as a country in Western Europe, everyone will speak English, but this is just not the case. One in four Portuguese speak English as a second language, which is comparatively low to Germany (70%) or Greece (51%). Learning just a few words of Portuguese will make your life abroad a lot easier, even if it’s just “você fala inglês?”. Similarly, socializing might be tricky at first because of this language barrier, so joining InterNations and attending events with other expats will help you settle in much quicker. On top of that, you can get the advice of expats that have been there and avoid common pitfalls.
2. Slow and Steady Wins the Race
Depending on where you come from, the drinking culture in Portugal might be slightly different from what you’re used to. Drinking is a marathon, not a sprint here. It can start early in the day, but it is also interspersed with snacks and sparkling water, so pace yourself. In Portugal, drinking is a social event, more so than it is say in the UK or US. Getting drunk over a full afternoon barbecue is fine, but you’ll get some funny looks if you’re carried home after a couple of hours.
3. There’s No Central Heating
Portugal has one of the most pleasant climates in Europe — winter is mild and summer temperatures do not reach the scorching heights of Andalucía in southern Spain. As a result, however, many apartment blocks do not have central heating as there is simply no need for it for ten and a half months of the year. Despite December and January being warmer than in most other European countries, it can still get a bit chilly, so the purchase of an electric heater is a good idea!
4. Don’t Finish Your Plate
Finishing all of your food is polite and shows that you really enjoyed the meal, correct? Errado! (Wrong!) In Portugal, it is polite to leave some of your food on the plate, especially if you have been invited to someone’s house for dinner. This demonstrates that you have been sufficiently fed and don’t want anymore. Interestingly, if you do want more there is a sort of cutlery-semaphore signal to make. Place your fork diagonally on your plate and your knife straight, so that you form a triangle shape. Of course, you can also just politely ask for more.
5. Use That Cutlery
Portugal is a country where eating habits are taken seriously. You don’t need to know which fork to use for each course (just start from the outside, if you’re unsure), but it is important to know a few base rules. Number one is the importance of using cutlery: it is not acceptable to eat with your hands. Even if you’re eating a pastry or Prego (a beef sandwich), then use a napkin instead of your fingers. Of course, among friends this goes out of the window to a certain extent, but it’s always best to err on the side of caution. Similarly, if you are the guest at someone’s house then you should serve yourself first then pass the dish round, which may seem quite different to what you’re used to.
6. Dress Up
Strolling off to the beach in your swim shorts and flip flops isn’t really going to cut it around here. The Portuguese take style seriously and you will get a lot of respect for looking smart. There’s no need to go over the top, but business men and women should certainly dress conservatively and wear a suit or business dress. That said, even in social life, it is expected that men look smart around town, and you may find that the dress code for bars and clubs is a lot stricter than what you’re used to. It’s always a good idea to dress nicely early on in your life abroad. After all, nobody has ever laughed at someone in a suit.
7. Don’t Come Empty Handed
Unlike in Russia or even neighboring Spain, the custom of inviting people over to your home is not common, at least not in the first few months. If you are invited to your Portuguese colleague’s home, then this is a real honor, and you shouldn’t take it lightly. Make sure you bring a gift: flowers and wine always work well, as does expensive chocolate. A few things to avoid: lilies or chrysanthemums are funeral flowers, and any red flowers are bad luck as they depict the colors of revolution. Similarly, a return invitation to the host would be appreciated (even if they never take you up on it). The Portuguese really aren’t as hung up on etiquette as some others are though, so as long as you are polite and courteous you’ll be fine.
8. Portugal Is NOT Spain
Pay attention — this one’s important — Portugal is a completely different country to Spain and has been for a very, very long time. The language is very different (despite many Portuguese being able to understand some Spanish and vice versa), as is the culture. Of course, you already know this, but the mistake has been made before and it will be made again (it is among the top complaints of Portuguese about tourists)! In fact, it is very insulting to call a Portuguese Spanish or vice versa. If in doubt, go for “hello” instead of “hola”.
9. Keep Your Hands to Yourself
Portuguese culture is a lot more reserved than you think, especially when you consider how close it is to Spain and France, where life is a lot more animated. They might speak loudly, but hand gestures are not used much at all, and so it will look odd if you start talking with your hands. When meeting people, it is customary for men to shake hands or hug (if you have a close relationship), and women (or man to a woman) to kiss each other on the cheek. As with almost every other culture that does this, you shouldn’t plant a sloppy one on their cheeks, but instead kiss the air and make an enthusiastic sound.
10. Join InterNations
Moving abroad is tricky for anyone, so seeing a few familiar faces who speak your language can be both comforting and useful. We have no doubt that you’ll fly through life in Portugal in no time, but why not join us and attend some of our fantastic events and smooth the process? Here you can meet expats from all over the world who will have that little bit more experience and might give you that crucial bit of advice. You can also explore more of your new hometown too, as we have plenty of groups which go about seeing the best sites in Lisbon and Porto, as well as other major cities. Make life easier for yourself, and join InterNations to get settled in Portugal.