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14 Things Us Portuguese Always Have to Explain to Foreigners

Portugal Student Work
by Sandra Guedes Sep 18, 2015

1. We aren’t rude just because we don’t say please and thank you as much as you.

We may go to a bakery and directly ask, “Ó vizinha, pode dar-me four caralhotas e six paposecos?” (Neighbour, can you give me four rolls and six buns?) It doesn’t mean we skip niceties or that we are rude. We are kind in our selection of words and the tone of voice we use to convey them. We also use a respectful and formal “you,” rather than an informal “you.”

2. Portugal is not Spain.

And Spain is not Portugal. We do see them as “nuestros hermanos,” even though during history we fought a little. But didn’t you fight with your siblings when you had to share the same bedroom? We had to share the same peninsula. Don’t be surprised if my mother’s French is much better than her Spanish, dinner is at 8 pm not at 10 pm, and we do not have churros for breakfast.

3. It is a discussion, not an argument.

Fear not, those people discussing their views loudly at the coffee shop are just very passionate about their opinions. Most likely, no blood will be shed.

4. We don’t all have huge families.

After 14 years of studying in Portuguese schools — including two years of pre-school, — whenever I introduced myself to the class I would always hear a faint “wow” across the room caused by the, “Hi. My name is Sandra, and I have four brothers.” However, while some Portuguese in their 40s might still have six or seven grand-uncles and grand-aunties, most Portuguese families that I know nowadays have one, two, or maybe three children.

5. Why we aren’t all fat if we eat five meals per day.

We have our share of Portuguese with extra calorie reserves, but the country has not reached morbid obesity levels (yet). Most likely, it is because of the Mediterranean diet. Or, because Portuguese nutritionists seem to let us know every day that it is better for your metabolism to eat many times a day instead of having just one or two huge meals. Otherwise, blame it on the sea. It’s a constant reminder to keep active, as we will head to the beach soon.

6. Not all of us like football.

Outsiders tend to look at Portugal through a sports monoculture lens and Cristiano Ronaldo has definitely helped to keep us in the spotlight for our football. But we also like basketball, swimming, athletics, tennis, gymnastics, futsal, taekwondo and many other sports. Of course, if the selecção nacional (national team) plays in an international championship, we will cheer them on, but who wouldn’t want their country to win?

7. How to greet in Portugal.

And I am not talking about the words we use. Women greet with two kisses (or two rubs) on the cheeks and occasionally shake hands in business meetings. While men also greet women with two kisses, they greet other men by shaking hands or patting their backs if they are close friends. You might see men kissing other men on the cheeks, but most of them will be fathers kissing their sons. We do not greet only the first time we meet, but every time we see each other. If you don’t, you might risk hearing, “dormi contigo hoje?” (Have I slept with you today?”)

8. How we survive without knowing the names of streets.

Because we do not really need to know names, we just need to know what we can find in them. Let’s say you are in the shopping centre in Caldas da Rainha and want to get to bus station, this is how we would put it, “head to the rotunda da rainha (a roundabout with a statue of a big queen), go up the street to the praça da fruta (a square where a fruit market takes place every day), turn left in the rua das montras (a street filled with shops and windows) and then turn right. See how easy it is?

9. We do not hear Fado all the time.

You might be disappointed if you were expecting to walk into a Portuguese home and hear Fado playing on the radio. Although it is the type of music that is more related to our history and cultural roots, it is not the most common music style we listen to. We also have Portuguese electronic music, pimba music, rock, metal, blues, reggae, ska, metal, pop, hip-hop, rap, kizomba, etc.

10. A red ‘tan’ is not sexy.

Or healthy. I know you want to make the most of our sun, but it would be a good idea to listen to the news and weather reports. Particularly, when we have heat waves, follow their advice and find a museum or a church between 11 am and 3 pm to cool down, even if you aren’t into museums and are not religious. Don’t get me wrong, we do like lobsters, but on our plates.

11. Salty cod is not our favourite national dish.

We brag about it because it is delicious. And we are proud of our 1001 ways of cooking it. But there is so much more: caldeirada, chanfana, arroz de marisco, cozido à Portuguesa, açorda alentenjana, etc. We have a whole gastronomic menu you must try.

12. We are not a Catholic country.

At least not officially. Don’t get me wrong, about 80% of the population is registered as Catholic. However, most of it is culturally expressed through family habits, local traditions or principles rather than going to church or praying. On another hand, you can still find some religious symbols in schools and other public buildings, even though on paper the church and the state went separate ways in 1976.

13. Winter is cold here.

You probably live in a country further north, heard the word Portugal and decided it would be a good idea to go to the beach in January. We couldn’t agree more! It’s 5º Celsius outside here, the car was covered with frost this morning and most of our houses do not have central heating. Ah, how we wish we were in the Brazilian northeast…

14. We are not conservative

Drop the “conser” and add “crea” to “tive.” In Minho, we created black gin, Renova also came up with black toilet paper in 2005 and most recently we even came up with an education program for 63 to 94-year-old’s to learn how to graffiti. As we say in Portugal “a tradição já não é o que era” (tradition is not what it used to be).

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