Culture Shock in Portugal
Portugal is perhaps most well-known for its sluggish approach to life; a relaxed, slowed down pace that usually sounds appealing until it can start to lead 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 expats moving to Portugal. Thousands of residents 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, and last between one to three hours, and are taught by a variety of Portuguese teachers in a number of different styles. They are usually worth attending to help you get started, and often will provide you with some social contacts, as other foreigners will also attend them.
Learning the language is a key element to helping you feel more at home, managing your way through the system and, of course, being able to share some conversation with your local neighbours. It is also a key element to help you integrate more smoothly, and feel like less of an outsider.
Local customs in Portugal
Unlike most Western countries, Portugal still has a more formal approach when it comes to addressing individuals. The use of Snr (Mr) / Sra (Mrs) in front of your name is common practice, especially for the older generation. To be polite, you should take care to address them similarly until you are more familiar with them.
Shaking of hands and kissing on both cheeks is the common greeting. Men shake hands at even the shortest of meetings, and more reserved people will find that strangers will also kiss you on both cheeks. To clarify: men do not commonly kiss each other, unless there is a great display of affection or joy.
Festivities in Portugal
Portugal is predominantly Roman Catholic as a 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. They are also very hospitable people, and will offer you food and drink if you are nearby. It is polite to accept and if you do not, they may not leave you alone until you do, as they are generous people.
In the summer, it is Festa-time. From Carnaval in February through to October, for every holiday and Saint's day, there is a 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 4am the next morning, but the people really only come out between 10pm and 11pm. If you are a foreigner, and there is a celebration happening near you, go along and join in. The music will keep you awake, anyway, and even if you do not know anyone, with a smile you are bound to meet your neighbours and find yourself included in the festivities.
Social life in Portugal
One of the harshest consequences of culture shock is the difficulty expats experience in forming friendships. This issue still presents itself as a challenge in Portugal, despite the locals' reputation for being overtly hospitable and friendly.