Quirks and Oddities of Portugal/the Portuguese

For those who’ve visited Portugal, live/d here or had some kind of contact with the country or the people (could be as simple as listening to one of PP’s podcasts, as long as it gave you some kind of insight), what were some of the things you found unique, funny or strange, compared to your own culture? I like the exercise of looking at ourselves from an outsider’s perspective :smirk:


This is a very interesting question. I could write an article on the subject, but won’t. I will just offer some insights and will not write much in Portuguese!

The people seem very genuine. They are themselves and do not put on airs. They are helpful to estrangeiros in terms of directions and such, but quite unhelpful in language assistance. I got the impression they will be happy if you speak the language, but otherwise will prefer you don’t! Most will not help you learn Portuguese at all. Portugal is a very clean country (except for the graffiti), the city streets in Lisboa and elsewhere are cobblestoned and beautiful. The cobblestone is an ancient construction which is durable and requires very little maintenance. Some of the old apartments are centuries old and the keys are almost middle-ages in size, looks and feel. The architecture is ancient, yet modern and very, very beautiful. Multiple use of streets for rail, car, bus and bicycle is smart. Parking on sidewalks is a great idea! The use of “roundabouts” for traffic flow is better than traffic lights. The use of flowering trees and shrubs in the villas is appealing. The parks are perfectly maintained. The food is of much better quality than in America. The people are proud of their history (good or bad), they are proud of their language and customs, and it is very easy to melt into the flow of pessoas! Since I was born in Europe and spent my early years there, I appreciate the subtle and stark differences between here and there. I also understand and like the customs and easily fit into the flow of life. I am fortunate to have friends in Portugal.
I could find more to talk about, but this will do for starters.
Obrigdo pele pergunta. Harald


Believe me, I am not at all trying to be derogatory here! I seem to remember, when we first visited Lisbon around 2009, going to eat at a restaurant that advertised “traditional Portuguese food.” I remember being quite shocked, visually, when the waiter, before we even ordered food, put a plate full of something in the middle of the table that looked, to me–forgive me for saying this–like giant insects, complete with antennae! :flushed::flushed: These, of course, were huge prawns! I don’t think I had ever seen prawns of this size in the US, and the fact that they were completely intact, although cooked, was what did it for me! I’m guessing that this is a customary “first appetizer” of sorts. Is this a common thing? To me, this is a strange custom, but I completely understand!

Here’s another take - the overwhelming sense of history past.

I sense a justifiably proud people given their history of world exploration, but then having been supplanted by other countries in this respect. The architecture bespeaks that golden age, and yet has not been modernized. In some cases, it can seem suffocating to me in a way I’ve not felt in other European cities. I get over it quickly, but it’s the first thing I notice on arrival. I wonder if this is an aspect of saudade…

I say this from the perspective of the Porto or Coimbra areas. I’ve not been to the Algarve or south, so by impressions are based on the northern cities alone.

I have to chuckle!

I can just imagine what you must have thought, David. When something is advertised in another land as “genuine…food” one better be prepared for a surprise!

I am reminded of my friend who visited his Navajo friends on the Reservation in their hogan some years ago. A very savory stew was served…and the hostess smiled and said something like, “…dip deep…the puppy’s on the bottom!”

Try not to read this comment on a full stomach! Harald

Hi, @hscharnhorst! Oh, meu Deus! That would have been the end of me, for sure! It is fascinating, the foods that different cultures sometimes serve up with great relish and pride! Thanks for this note!

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A lot of these are just general Europe vs. U.S. differences, but here are some of the things that are funny to me:

  • People don’t eat dinner until really late, but most dessert places close early.
  • Most grocery stores close early too, so even though you end your day later, you have to make sure you planned ahead for anything you may need.
  • The first floor of buildings is floor 0 instead of floor 1.
  • Having to put special salt in the dishwasher.
  • A lot more people smoke here.
  • The intense rivalry between Porto and Lisbon.
  • The hot dogs come in jars, unrefrigerated, and there is an entire section in the grocery store for them.
  • Paying for water at restaurants.
  • Nobody walks up the escalators.
  • Nobody walks around eating or drinking here. I’m used to it being normal to walk around with a water bottle or coffee cup or eating a snack.
  • Why are the keyholes on the doors so low?

Oh, Molly, those are so GOOD.
I had trouble finding public restrooms in Portugal, so I plan ahead. I do the same thing on planes. Use the bathroom BEFORE boarding. Most people board FIRST, THEN use the biffy!
Why are the keyholes so low? So its harder to look in?! Some things seemingly have no explanation at all, but they are a delight and much fun can be had with them.
Tomadas (plug-ins) are different in Portugal. The plug-ins are ROUND, not slotted like America, so I was tipped off to carry an adapter!
Here more people seem to smoke, but the cigarettes are different, and Portuguese always ask your permission before smoking. OF COURSE I say Yes!
When I was in Portugal last year, a friend took me out for dinner to a place that served “made-to-order pizza.” I ate it with my fingers like I always do. He was horrified and let me know the PROPER way to eat was with a napkin! “Eat like Portuguese,” he said. I won’t make THAT mistake again! Harald


Interesting, I never had this impression in Lisbon! I see so many people who have no trouble littering or walking their dogs anywhere and not bothering to clean up after them… I think it’s improved a lot in recent years, though. I also think other parts of the country don’t have this problem to the same extent; I’d say it’s worse in big cities, which is to be expected, maybe.

On the other hand, I generally agree that there’s too much graffiti, but I don’t mind a few good ones in strategic locations. There is some really interesting art here and there.

I agree! I think it’s great, especially when you have a baby stroller or use a wheelchair or crutches. It’s also pretty safe to have to go onto the road because there’s barely any sidewalk left for pedestrians - you can trust the drivers to spot you amongst that mess of parked cars and to still have enough room to avoid hitting you without swerving into the opposite lane :rofl: To be fair, it’s not just about irresponsible driving, it’s also bad urban planning. Lots of buildings and apartment blocks without enough private or public parking space and way too many cars circulating, even when public transport is a viable option.

Hm, I don’t think that’s customary and I would be surprised if it were cheap. Seafood platter as an unsolicited appetizer? I’ve never seen it, haha. But maybe it’s customary in that particular restaurant, who knows. I agree with @hscharnhorst, one never knows what to expect from a “genuine local food” place!

Portugal is very proud of its history, indeed. I can see how it can feel overwhelming, sometimes, or even out of place, since their golden age is long gone and the country hasn’t been efficiently run for a long time. It’s interesting that you notice it so strongly even in the architecture.

Don’t tell anyone, but it’s a bit one-sided! People in Porto spend more energy dissing Lisbon than the other way around. Honestly, the country at large takes issue with the fact that Lisbon is always taking center stage and other regions are unjustifiably underserved. Porto can’t even complain all that much, as the country’s second city (and, in my opinion, nicer in some aspects).

What’s odd to me is when people walk past an escalator and then walk up flights of stairs. If you’re walking anyway, why not do it on the escalator, which will take you to the top twice as fast? It’s like they think the escalator is standing only, or that other people will slow them down so much that the stairs will pay off. It’s almost never the case.

Ahah, your friend’s remark is very debatable. You can eat pizza any way you want, don’t let them shame you! :laughing:

Thank you all for your comments, so far! I just commented on what stood out to me, but I’ve really enjoyed reading all of it. Let’s hope for some more input.

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I have thoroughly enjoyed the comments here. Obrigado, amigos, pelo participacao!

Portuguese drivers are pretty agressivo; taxi drivers incrivel!

In general, cities tend to be more congested and dirty. It sure that way in the US where some of our cities are worse than sewers. Even if Lisboa is not perfect for those who live there, I was really, really delighted. It was my first trip to Europe in years and it was a great experience. The next trip will be longer and more involved. I really want to see the rural aldeias and quintas. I love the surfing community (ondas) and have friends there even though I am not much of a surfer per se. Fishermen also would be interesting! I posted some 45 or more videos to my U Tube collection. Harald


Just lurking and enjoying this! Something I found strange was how people say “com licença” for things that I wouldn’t normally expect needed permission:

  • closing the door to your home as someone leaves
  • entering someone’s home after they’ve already been invited
  • hanging up the phone
  • a cashier taking your payment method from your hand

Also, after 7+ years, I’m still not used to people wearing shoes inside homes. I’m crazy and wild, as I like to sit on the floor sometimes if someone’s couch is full, or if there are adorable pets to play with, so why not keep the floor clean? And it feels like you’re home when you take off your shoes… not to mention that by keeping them on, you’re basically bringing in your home all the nastiness of the public street (including the high potential for doggy doo, as accurately referenced in this thread by @Joseph). Where are the benefits of leaving your shoes on? Rant over, mic drop :crazy_face:


Yes you’re completely right… and… I’m glad they are not walking around drinking and eating…just things you wouldn’t do as an adult…when I want coffee I´ll take a seat in a cafe and when I want to eat, the same… its just good European behavior


There is definitely a different culture here surrounding food. You are meant to relax and enjoy your meal or your coffee like a civilized human being. In the U.S., everybody is in a rush and nobody values their free time or wellbeing, so everything is about being overly efficient. I like the way of thinking here better… but I also think I could really enjoy my coffee as I’m strolling through the park or taking a walk through the city. Or maybe I’m just impatient… :smile:



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In Portugal, I developed an addiction for pasteis de nata. They they apparently do not exist in the US, at least not in New England where one can find other Portuguese foods. I am having severe withdrawal symptoms. Usually one can find almost any odd food from all over the world in the US somewhere. Also, I learned Portuguese when I spent a year working in Brazil. However, in Portugal the only people I could speak Portuguese with and understand were Uber drivers most of whom were immigrants from Brazil and a hotel keeper in Coimbra who came from Fortaleza.


The lesson here seems to be there IS a difference between Brasilian Portugues and Continental Portugues! I will bear it in mind as I have been involved in both.
The relaxed attitude towards food is a big plus in my book. That is a great European/Portuguese experience.
I am enjoying these nice comments, folks!

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Yes, at least to me there is a big difference between Brazilian and Continental Portuguese speech (in written form they have only minor differences). Although it seems to me that the speech in the north and even Galicia was easier for me to understand than Lisbon. I sometimes think that my previous experience with Brazilian Portuguese is hampering my study of Continental Portuguese.


I agree, I like the fact that meal time is sacred here! If people really need to, they’ll certainly drink or eat on the go. But it’s not the same as sitting down and taking some time to enjoy it :upside_down_face:


One thing that amuses and slightly baffles us is that the Portuguese don’t seem too worried about responding to emails. We were used to a frantic pace of communication in the UK and it’s taken a while to realise that the Portuguese seem to take their time answering emails, if they respond at all. Is this because they’re more used to face-to-face communication? A very nice man at the tax office once responded to my email by asking if I could come in and see him (an hour’s drive away). When I asked what was up, he explained that he needed me to supply my NIF number again. I couldn’t get away from work and emailed it to him, which seemed rather a daring solution. At other times we have waited weeks before getting a response from a business (that we wanted to buy something from), or people don’t reply at all.

I really love this more personal way of doing things, but it takes some adjusting to!


Welcome! It is VERY interesting to read your comments. I think you are right. I have had friends insist they told me something they didn’t, and many times they do not respond, but when I ask them later they say, “Oh, yes! I got it!” Like not being helpful in teaching estrangheiros Portuguese, it is just a quirk of the culture. It took me some time to get used to it! Harald