There are various aspects of the Portuguese culture that will vastly differ to the culture that you are used to. And to be fair – you should expect differences. Anyone thinking otherwise would be a fool to think they could settle here if their intentions are to simply uproot and create a ‘home away from home’ ambience around them.
The Portuguese people are generally polite but reserved – until they get to know you. Once you’ve gained their trust (or respect) you’ll find them to be the warmest of friends and neighbours.
Further, the Portuguese place family above all others. You’ll often see entire families spending a day together, from the very young to the very old. Children are openly cared for and rarely, if ever, left at home when the adults go out anywhere.
This is very apparent in Portuguese culture and it's best you're prepared for it everywhere you go. Meal times can become noisy when seated next to or near to a family with young children but - that's the Portuguese. Once you remember where it is you're staying or living, you'll soon come to terms with it, if not embrace it fully!
The Portuguese religion is Catholic. It's near the 100% mark, though there is a wide disparity between practicing and none practicing followers. However, despite there being a marked drop in church attendance overall, that doesn’t change the fact that the church retains a strong hold on the Portuguese culture.
All the annual religious festivals are still rigorously observed. All Saints Day, Easter, Passover and so on are still afforded the same respect that they were 100 years ago. Traditionally, expecially in rural areas, widows continue to wear black for lengthy periods.
It is a quirk of the Portuguese, that so few physically practice Catholicism yes so many observe many of the more rigid traditions of the faith.
Generally Portuguese traditions remain intact nationwide. Cutlurally, there exists an on-going inequality, in relation to men and women. Portuguese men tend to head the family, much in the same way as the rest of the world once did – only most Western countries now hold with a more balanced view.
It’s not often that you’ll see a wife hanging out with her husband whilst he enjoys a drink – most wives and girlfriends are left at home. In short, Portugal remains a largely male dominated country so try to bear that in mind before you come. – and don’t let it upset you.
There is a marked difference between rural life and say – Lisbon. The capital is a melting pot of different cultures, modern urbanization and up to date technology. Whilst much of the city remains steeped in days gone by, just as much of it is thoroughly modern. And life (in Lisbon) reflects this.
However in the rural areas, life is slower, habitual – still a little stuck in the past. Old traditions remain upheld and observed, as does day to day life. Don’t expect speed and efficiency, expect more towards antiquity and convention.
All Portuguese is wonderful. It's always cooked from scratch and usually involves lots of olive oil, garlic and salad. Eating and drinking – here it’s almost a national pastime. Alcohol (usually wine) is always consumed and most places of employment hold with a two hour lunch break. It’s customary to wait for everyone’s dish to arrive at the table before you commence eating and conversation is a must.
When you’ve eaten, place your knife and fork together on your plate – a sign to the waiting staff that you’ve finished your meal. Another thing to consider – many people are smokers. Whilst there are many places that now prohibit smoking, many Portuguese simply turn a blind eye to the rule. So if you’re a non-smoker – be warned.
Portuguese Business Culture
The Portuguese business culture is something else entirely. No one seems to understand what ‘good customer service’ means or ever appears in a hurry to deal with paperwork. Equally, meetings are never punctual. I’ve known people be over an hour late, yet they’ve offered little above a ‘well, I’m here now so let’s get on’ – which can be a little infuriating but ... that’s Portugal.
However, once you gain the respect or trust of those you do business with, you’ll find that your business associates will go above and beyond to accommodate you. Again ... that’s Portugal and the wondefully quirky Portuguese culture!