Portuguese people culture reveal – 15 things you need to know!

Portuguese people are lovely and very good hosts, but we can have some strange customs. Whether you are coming for a visit or moving to Portugal, here is a list of the 15 things you should expect when interacting with local people in Portugal.

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1. Time has a different dimension

What is time after all? Portuguese people say 9 PM and show up at 9:30 PM, same same. Punctuality is not our strong suit. By the way, that also applies to professional meetings! If your landlord is late don’t think that’s rude. Being15-20 min late is being on time in Portugal. You would actually come across as rude if you complained about having to wait…

Sunset at the beach
Time is relative (Photo by Raquel Caeiro)

2. Kisses are mandatory

Grown men shake hands. Any other social interaction (man-woman, woman-woman, family, kids) requires a kiss! Are you meeting someone for the first time? You still have to kiss them on the cheek! Twice, actually, to keep with the Portuguese culture. When you catch up with a group of people, you must kiss every individual person (twice). And when you are saying goodbye? Kiss everyone again! Of course, with the COVID-19 pandemic, this proximity has been lost fora while, but it will eventually return!

3. Eating is not just a necessity, it is a ceremony

Portuguese people take meals very seriously. It’s like a social ceremony. During the week, lunch lasts around an hour and on weekends easily 2 to 3 hours. We do have fast food options but we rather take it slow and enjoy the company of whoever we are eating with. Family and friend meetings don’t make any sense without being around a table full of food.

4. Food controls us

A common conversation topic of Portuguese people at lunch is what we’ll have for dinner.Yes, that’s right, we have food in front of us and we talk about more food to come. We basically plan our life around our meals 😅

It’s also common to have an afternoon break for coffee and snacks between 4 and 6 PM. And I’m not talking about kids.

Portuguese People and food
Portuguese People and food (Photo by Mercado da Romeira)

5. Coffee is life for the Portuguese people

Portuguese people drink coffee all day long. The average Portuguese person has coffee at home when they wake up in the morning and then again with their colleagues when they get to work. They also have coffee after lunch, after work, and sometimes even after dinner.

Even if you are not a coffee person, you will end up joining in the cultural tradition of getting a bica (espresso - style coffee) and a Pastel de Nata (heaven’s on Earth under pastry form) at the local café (coffee shop). It makes for a cheap little break and the most common day hang-out.Tourists pay up to 1.50€ but the standard price for an espresso at a local café is 0.65-0.70€.

6. Dinner is late

Having dinner before 8 PM is crazy for the Portuguese people. We did just have an afternoon snack at 5 PM after all. It’s also common to have sports and activities between 6 and 8 PM. Considering we don’t start dinner until 8:30-9, it’s normal to still be sitting at the table until 10-11 PM.

7. Drinking outside is legal

After a “late” dinner, going out at night can start very late. 11 PM is a perfectly normal time to meet your friends in Portugal. As it is legal to drink in the streets, Portuguese people often grab a bottle of Super Bock or Sagres beer and meet at a square or street for an impromptu “party”. Especially in summer, it is common to find hundreds of people doing it and that is the typical night out. Some, then follow to a club afterwards but if you are in a club before 2AM you’ll probably be alone or surrounded by tourists.

Portuguese night out in Pink Street, Lisbon
Portuguese night out in Pink Street, Lisbon (Photo by Swati Agrawal)

8. Portuguese people eat weird parts of animals

(Warning to the vegetarians and vegans) Portuguese gastronomy is incredible but most of typical Portuguese dishes were created in the poorest areas of the country. That resulted in a number of dishes that include very weird parts of some animals. For example, the pig is eaten completely in Portugal, including ears, nails and blood. Some people love fish cheeks and some even eat fish eyes.

9. We leave everything to last minute

This is a very strong characteristic of the Portuguese people. Not everyone, but many Portuguese leave everything to be taken care of last minute. And that can be seen in group projects in school or simply packing bags to a family trip. It may be because we like to live life intensively, but the truth is, we are definitely the kind of people that will prepare anything with much time in advance!

10. We’ll try to speak your language

A lot of Portuguese people will, very often, try to speak your foreign language and many do it very well. At school, we have at least 5 years of English, but we also learn Spanish and French. Tourism is a really big industry and a great motivator to learn other languages well. We also don’t dub TV programs and there are a lot of American shows on air. We are very modest about our language abilities, though, it might take us a few minutes before we show you how well we can actually speak your language.

11. Portuguese people love Portugal

What we don’t mind to show off is Portugal. Portuguese people are very patriotic.Whether we are talking about our food, culture, or something else, we will go along way to defend our “colours”.

Our pride in our country also makes us really good hosts. We love to show a visitor around and share our homes and towns with you. If you are a first time visitor, be warned, it will become our personal mission to make you fall in love with Portugal.

Portugal people love Portugal! (Photo by TravelB4Settle)

12. Portuguese people love contact

This is something that some tourists take some time to get used to, especially those who come from Northern Europe. Portuguese people like to touch each other. It is perfectly normal to physically interact with people we are talking with, so don’t take it personally if it happens with you!

13. Football is sacred

Football takes up a lot of Portuguese people’s lives. You will hear football talk every night that you go out and football-related TV news are always on.

The three major teams, supported by most Portuguese people, are FC PortoSL Benfica, and Sporting CP. Sometimes, if people don’t agree, the conversations can get very heated, see the next point. Regardless of which team we support, when the national team plays we are all behind it. FYI, we do like (and talk about) other sports too, but liking football will be beneficial to your social life.

14. Portuguese people always find a way to do things their way

Portuguese people very often try to bypass rules and do things to their advantage. It can be infuriating to a foreigner, but it’s just a really strong characteristic of our people.

Take the “all-you-can-eat” buffets for example. We must make the most of our money so we over-eat to the point of indigestion. Some people even order tonic water (agua das pedras) before or during the meal to help digestion. But we would never eat a small serve and leave without feeling bloated, that wouldn’t be taking advantage of the system!

A woman diving into the ocean
Turning the world upside down (Photo by Ellie Smart)

15. Loud and rude or justPortuguese?

In Portugal, people are direct and expressive in their communication. What looks like an argument to you it’s probably just a regular discussion. Football and politics can get us fired up but it’s still just a friendly, very loud, discussion.

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