Whether you have your eye set on moving to Portugal permanently or just living in Portugal for extended parts of the year, it is important to know the cultural do’s and don’ts of the country. At present, there are over 49,000 Brits living in Portugal as its popularity as an expat destination continues to soar.
Portugal is famously dubbed Britain’s oldest ally, ever since English crusaders helped King Alfonso I capture Lisbon, the two nations have remained close friends. Yet, despite the bond of comradeship, there are cultural and social behaviours that differ greatly. So, if you are thinking of pulling anchor on the British Isles and setting sail for a move to Portugal, here are some handy tips on how to get along with the locals and blend in with the crowds.
As the old adage goes, first impressions are everything. With that in mind, let’s start with greetings and the correct way to make a good introduction. Shaking hands upon greeting someone may seem like a no brainer, but it is very important in Portugal to shake hands with every person you greet, not just one or two. This social construct applies to both men and women as well as older children and young adults, be sure to also maintain eye contact throughout the handshake. For acquaintances and friends, men usually hug and pat one another on the back and women kiss each other on both cheeks, starting with the right.
Cultural greetings such as these will become second nature when you’ve been living in Portugal for some time. However, you may have to do away with some bad habits you’ve learnt over the years. The Portuguese are not overly expressive with gestures, so over doing it with your hands and other limbs in general can be seen as a touch over the top. Pointing is also considered to be quite rude so when moving to Portugal, you may need to reign in those story telling arms. This is certainly more difficult for some than it is for others, so if you know that you may struggle to contain your enthusiasm to throw your arms around, get a friend or significant other to keep an eye on you when first starting out.
On the subject of reigning in some potential bad habits, let’s talk about table manners. It goes without saying that one should eat and drink properly but when living in Portugal there are a few unique rules of table etiquette to obey. First of all, it is poor form to actually unfold and use your napkin, this is generally considered a faux pas. The napkin should remain on the left-hand side of your plate while eating and be moved to the right hand side when you have finished. When it comes to finishing, be sure not to finish. Always leave a small amount of food on your plate at the end of your meal, resist the temptation to finish yours then lean over and tuck in to other people’s. If in doubt of your self-control, sit on your hands, this is also a handy tip to stop those over the top gestures at dinner too.
Upon finishing any meal or drinks, tipping is customary. The standard amount is very similar to the UK at around 10-15% at your own discretion. Service charges are not usually included in the bill so you can be safe in the knowledge that tipping in Portugal is very similar to home.
When first living in Portugal, there is every chance you’ll want to try and pick up the language. Most people, especially in the Algarve, will speak some amount of English and will be happy to help, but like many countries, making an effort to try and speak the language will be appreciated. It is customary to say good morning – bom dia, good afternoon / evening – boa tarde and good night – boa noite. If you really struggle, the simple phrase – “Fala Ingles?” meaning of course, do you speak English? should get you talking to someone who can help you.
Moving on to things that are probably a little less polite than you are used to, the topic of queueing should be mentioned. Or, not mentioned as the case generally is when living in Portugal. Queues are virtually non-existent which, as a Brit is quite possibly one of the hardest things to acclimatize yourself to. After a lifetime of politely queueing and insisting others go ahead of you, apologising for any potential cut ins and scowling at those who do it purposefully, I’m afraid it’s time to relearn all you have held so dear. Well, you could always keep to your traditional values but you won’t get far and you certainly won’t get served. This is the one area of etiquette to throw out of the window, it’s a free for all in shops as well as car parks so dive in and don’t try to form a queue.
If you are lucky enough to be invited to a native Portuguese family home for dinner, be sure to take chocolate or flowers as opposed to wine, unless the host has specified. Avoid handing over thirteen flowers or indeed any that are red as both signal bad luck in Portugal. On the topic of gifts, if you receive one, be it in a social situation or business, be sure to open it on the spot. Taking it with you unopened will be seen as rude.
When it's time to enjoy the sunshine
With the added bonus of the weather being far more pleasant when you live in Portugal, evening events inevitably start later. Meals and concerts will invariably start at around eight or nine pm, so you may have to get used to rejigging your body clock when you first move. As mentioned, the weather really is more pleasant in Portugal, but this comes with its warnings for us pasty Brits. Slowly build up to the heavy sunbathing and be sure to protect yourself from the harshest rays of the day.
To sum up, moving to Portugal should be filled with the excitement and jubilation that the gorgeous country warrants, but be sure to check your social etiquette when you arrive. Get those key phrases memorised, your greetings rehearsed and your queueing politeness completely extracted. You’ll have the time of your life living in Portugal.