Culture and social etiquette in Portugal

Culture and social etiquette in Portugal

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Our guide to Portuguese culture will help you ease into life in Portugal.

Portuguese culture has been greatly influenced by the dominance of the Catholic Church and the traditional Christian values. This influence is still reflected in modern Portuguese society. The Portuguese people are traditional and conservative. They don't easily accept innovation and radical changes both in the community and the family. Life in Portugal revolves around the family and even in the 21st century, some traditions and ways of life remain unchanged, especially in rural areas.

Family in Portugal

In Portugal, the family is the foundation of the social structure. Individuals derive a social network and assistance from the family. For the Portuguese, family loyalty comes before other social relationships, even business.

Portuguese greetings

It is appropriate to shake hands with everyone present in formal situations, which generally means that you haven't met the person before; this applies to men, women and older children. The handshake, whether at a social or business meeting, is accompanied by direct eye contact and the appropriate greeting. One is supposed to shake hands again upon leaving. When greeting acquaintances and friends, men embrace and pat one another on the back, and women kiss both cheeks, starting with the right. , between women you only shake hands in very formal occasions, and if you don't know the person at all.

Body language

The Portuguese do not use a lot of gestures. Being overly demonstrative with hand gestures or body language gives a bad impression. As in a lot of cultures, pointing with your finger is considered offensive.

Communication style

The Portuguese tend to be direct in their communication style. Usually they will tell you the truth but in a polite manner. As one would expect, communication tends to be more on the formal side when in public and much less so in private. The Portuguese tend to speak quite fast and somewhat loudly. This show of emotion is quite common and part of the Portuguese character; rarely does it signify anger or displeasure. 

Portuguese dress code

The Portuguese dress conservatively. Women usually wear dresses, and men's clothing is based primarily around a jacket and tie. Business etiquette dictates suits and ties or sports jackets and ties for men. Women wear dresses, skirts and jackets or trouser suits. As out-dated as it seems, people are fashion conscious and believe that clothes indicate social standing and success. For this very reason, they take great pride in wearing quality fabrics and clothes and will invest their money in buying the best they can afford.

Personal space in Portugal

An arm's length is usually the appropriate amount of personal space to hold during conversations. The Portuguese tend to touch a bit when conversing with good friends and family, but such displays are quite inappropriate in business or formal situations. It is common to see people hugging in public; and couples kissing and women interlock arms with men while walking in the street.  Public displays of affection are considered normal within certain limits.

Gift giving etiquette

When invited to a Portuguese home for dinner, bring flowers, good quality chocolates or candy for the hostess. Do not bring wine unless you know which wines your hosts prefer. Also, count the number of flowers you bring--13 is considered unlucky. Do not give red flowers to your host. Reserve blooms of this colour for your lover or partner advises one Expatica reader based in Portugal. A return invitation to the hostess is appreciated. When you receive a gift, keep in mind that the Portuguese consider it polite to open the gift when received. Gifts are normally not exchanged at business meetings, but small gifts may be appropriate at the successful conclusion of negotiations.

Dining etiquette

If you are invited to a dinner, try to arrive no more than 15 minutes after the stipulated time. Being late between half an hour and an hour is accepted when you go to a party or larger social gathering. It is inappropriate to discuss business in social situations. Also, remain standing until invited to sit down; you may be shown to a particular seat. Table manners are Continental -- the fork is held in the left hand and the knife in the right while eating. Do not begin eating until the hostess says "bom apetite". 

Expat women in Portugal

Foreign business women are treated with respect. Keep in mind that going to a bar alone is frowned upon. It may attract unwelcome attention. It is advisable for a foreign woman to invite a Portuguese man to a business lunch rather than dinner. If you invite a man to dinner, it is better to ask if he would like to bring his wife. The innate chivalry of Portuguese men means they will not allow a female companion to pay for a lunch or dinner. However, it is acceptable to try.

The Portuguese are friendly people and will always welcome you and try to make you feel at home. Should you be unsure about certain customs and behaviours, your Portuguese acquaintances, friends and even business partners will gladly introduce you to their culture.

 

Expatica / Kirina Boykova

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4 Comments To This Article

  • hermina posted:

    on 13th August 2016, 18:49:47 - Reply

    I am Portuguese, I was born in Portugal, grew up in a rural area of Portugal, all my family in the last 5 generations are Portuguese born and raised in two of the most rural areas of the country (even today).
    and I do not agree with what you said not even close, so I would like to know your sources.
  • Craig posted:

    on 4th August 2016, 01:40:35 - Reply

    In Portugal, even more than in North America, saying what will be done does not have to mean it will actually happen. Which means in Portugal you don't have tpo keep your promises at all, which is normal in Portuguese society.

    Must dress appropriately and elegantly to work, but work schedule dies not have to be respected at all. Your time is important, not the employer's. When arriving to work being late between 30 minutes to an hour or a few days is normal. In Portugal communication between employee and the employer is unnecessary, which means if employee is not going to show up at work for a few days, it is okay to not call the employer about it. Same applies for any delivery of goods to home, services etc. - being always late is accepted and any criticisms are frowned upon.

    In Portugal employee makes employer happy by agreeing to work for them. Not the other way. Also, in Portugal, grocery store cashier can teach the customer a "lesson" if the customer, most likely a foreigner has done something unacceptable, for example started loading their goods onto a conveyor instead of waiting for the person, who left their full shopping bag on the floor near cash register, to finish shopping and come back to begin load their goods onto a conveyor. Please note that can take even several minutes and usually everyone is patiently waiting, sometimes with fan motion. In Portugal sometimes a long queue and one postal clerk working slow is normal, but don't forget you must dress elegantly otherwise people will frown on you and will behave with you like with a street bom and that will be done demonstratively, including being openly rude to you.

    And always, always watch your belongings. The best part is the beautiful sidewalks and architecture that I love most of all and the friendly people. Love Portugal.

  • saraiva posted:

    on 31st December 2014, 04:00:05 - Reply

    That "Bom Apetite" killed me lol thats ridiculous also being late half to 1 hour well if you have friends expecting you than when you arrive they will probably kill you.And whats has the catholic church to do with table manners probably you dont know about jewish influence...

  • Anabela Atanasio posted:

    on 25th August 2011, 12:26:02 - Reply

    Ola Kirina Boykova,
    glad to see the interest shown about Portuguese culture by expatica.
    Not sure how many years you lived in Portugal or what is the source of your "research", however, though some of the facts listed are correct, others could not be farthest from the truth. For instance, speaking loudly is actually considered bad-mannered, there is a lot more to be said about table manners (there are actually some very formal rules other than the normal holding a fork and knife correctly:)), found a bit strange your Dress code description, is like telling that Italians or French are conservative....I would rather find it as the Portuguese like to dress up elegantly and not so over casual like for instance the Dutch who wear jeans to weddings. Anyway, good attempt! Cumprimentos.