Cultural Faux Pas in Portugal Through the Eyes of an Expat

Portugal is an amazing country with breathtaking landscapes, kind and open-minded people and a very long history. Annually more than 10 million people choose Portugal as their destination for travelling attracted by the rich culture and amazing nature.

We asked a local MeetnGreeter Wim about cultural differences and peculiarities of the Portuguese people. He shared with us his view onto the Portuguese culture and gave advice on what to do and not to do when you are in Portugal.

“The main “faux pas” in Portugal is to speak about “faux pas”

“Trying to blend in is not so difficult in Portugal at first sight. All it requires is cultural flexibility and a desire to be part of the group you meet, in other words to love unconditionally. It doesn’t take long studies to see how people dress, walk, talk, behave in a social environment. All it takes is respect and unconditional love for all sentient beings.

Faux pas is an expression based in separateness thinking. In thinking “us” and “them”. There is no such thing in reality. We are all the same, all souls having a human experience, all connected through the desire to “live the good life”, to restore balance, harmony and beauty. First within ourselves and then in the world around us.

1) Not respecting the way locals dress

Dressing as if you are on holiday or ready to clean the garden is an absolute faux pas in Portugal. In Lisbon, other bigger cities and religious or public buildings it is common sense to dress modest with a sense of quality and delicacy. Flip-flops are in general not the right thing for a walk in a park or a public space. Slippers and sandals will instantly label you as a tourist. A light shawl over the head or at least shoulders when entering religious buildings is common and highly appreciated.

2) Assuming that everybody should speak English with you or at least understand English.

Remember the days when Portuguese was the Lingua Franca in the civilised world?

3) For the females: going topless on any beach.

It is hardly ever talked about though frowned upon. It’s OK for men due to some mysterious twitch of fate, however it is a faux pas for women.

4) Speaking loud in public.

Gentleness in manners and speech is still common and appreciated.

And a counter-intuitive one:

5) Giving tips in bars and restaurants.

To some extent giving tips is considered an insult. The salary covers the best possible service. Though many in the business will disagree with the last statement.

6) Highlighting differences.

There was an Indian lady from London who, when stepping into the car at the airport in Portugal, put it so eloquently saying: “You guys are driving on the wrong side of the road”.

Coming from a country where people call the left side the right side and the right side the wrong side we can but have compassion for them, but don’t be surprised if some might find it “not amusing”.

7) Stressing your perceived superiority.

That same lady looked at the national palace in Sintra, a city not far from Lisbon, and said: “We call that a family home”.

So I took her to the National Palace in Mafra and told her that the cleaning lady of the driver of the gardener who worked for the carpenter of the local mayor lived there. For a brief moment she looked puzzled; then realised that even non-native English people can take the Mickey out of foreigners.

Interested in other faux pas? Find them on the link below:

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