Culture Shock in Portugal

Expats moving to Portugal are bound to experience some degree of culture shock, even if moving more for reasons of leisure and less for integration into a business environment.

Portugal is perhaps most well-known for its relaxed, slow pace of life that usually sounds appealing until it leads to frustration and exasperation. Bureaucratic processes can be long and tedious, often marked by redundant paperwork. This can be unnerving to expats first moving to Portugal when opening bank accounts, filing tax information or applying for residency. 


Language barrier in Portugal

Language is probably one of the biggest areas affecting those moving to Portugal. Thousands of expats live outside the main centres, often causing them to feel isolated and without recourse to social opportunities. In many Portuguese towns there are schools or organisations which offer free or low-cost Portuguese language classes, from beginners to more advanced speakers. The local tourism office, school or library will usually have details of these.

Most courses are held in the evenings, last between one and three hours, and are taught by a variety of Portuguese teachers in a number of different styles. In addition to helping new arrivals get to grips with the basics of the Portuguese language, these courses are also great for meeting fellow expats.

Learning the language is a key element to feeling more at home in Portugal, managing one's way through the system and, of course, being able to share conversation with the locals. It is also a key element to help new arrivals integrate themselves more smoothly and feel like less of an outsider.


Greetings in Portugal

Unlike most Western countries, Portugal still has a more formal approach when it comes to addressing individuals. The use of Senhor (Mr) or Senhora (Mrs) in front of a name is common practice, especially for the older generation. To be polite, expats should take care to address locals in this manner until on more familiar terms.

Shaking of hands and kissing on both cheeks is the common greeting. Men shake hands at even the shortest of meetings, and more reserved expats will find it odd that strangers will often kiss them on both cheeks. Men do not commonly kiss each other unless there is a great display of affection or joy.


Festivities in Portugal

Portugal has a predominantly Roman Catholic culture and local values are marked by strong familial ties. It is common to see large family groups gather to eat meals together or enjoy barbeques and any other celebration in each other's company.

The Portuguese are also very hospitable people and will often offer new neighbours food and drink. It is polite to accept and expats who do not accept invitations may find that locals will not leave them alone until they do.

In the summer, it is festa-time. From Carnival in February through to October, to every holiday and saint's day, there is a huge celebration. Almost every village in the entire country has a festa, and these can be elaborate affairs or simple ones, but the one thing that expats can expect is that there will be music, food and drink, and a good time enjoyed by all.

Festivities usually start in the afternoon, and continue until the early morning hours, but the people really only come out between 10pm and 11pm. New arrivals should make every effort to attend local festivals as they provide a unique insight into local culture, which shouldn't be missed. Even if expats find it overwhelming, attending local festivals is a great way to meet new people and immerse oneself in the Portuguese way of life. 

Dot Bekker Our Expat Expert

Dot Bekker runs her own website business in Portugal and has started an expat group of all nationalities called Portugal Friends. This group organizes social events for anyone looking to meet more foreigners in the country. Have a look at their website or follow their Facebook page for up-to-date information on local events.