Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Interesting Little Cultural Differences

It is probably assumed that the Portuguese culture is quite different from American culture; being a European culture in general, things go at a much more relaxing pace than the fast-food pace of the American world of course. Like most Americans, I grew up with the impatient tendency of wanting things done now, right away or even yesterday haha, so naturally, I had to adjust a bit when coming here, knowing that I would have to wait a bit for things. However, I don't think any American could ever be prepared enough to realize just how much WAITING you have to do here! And I mean for everything and everyone, but since I have slowly become adjusted to these slower things, waiting is not always bad.

"I have to PAY to piss here?!"
A perfect example is going out for a meal, which what would normally be 30mins-1hr for lunch and 1.5-2hrs for dinner in the US converts to 2hrs for lunch and 3-3.5hrs for dinner here. I normally enjoy these much more leisurely meal periods to begin with, being able to savor my food and wine as well as digest it properly by sitting longer. Though there are also times when meals exceed my patience limit, for example when the server is always nowhere to be seen when you are ready to ask for the check (keep in mind they will never drop the check at a table here, you must always ask for it) or when the company I am with have been sitting and chatting so long after even the drinks are gone and the check paid that I'm thirsty again and my butt is so sore I could scream, but maybe that's just me haha.

But enough about the waiting, there are other cultural differences that are actually quite nice to have and make us Americans seem quite rude! For instance, whenever you enter a building, shop, bus, even an elevator, you greet the people there with either Bom Dia (Good Morning), Boa Tarde (Good Afternoon) or Boa Noite (Good Evening/Night) and you do the same when you leave. This can also apply when just passing people in the street or going through a door at the same time. In many situations, an added Hello and Goodbye are used with the greeting. Now I must say, it has been a rare occasion for me in the US to get on an elevator and have everyone greet me and say farewell when they got off, and if you do something like that there, many times Americans will kind of look at you weird and think you want something from them, how sad is that?! Though I admit, I did feel a bit the same way when I first encountered that here and hadn't realized it was custom, and I also thought at first to be quite annoying to say hello and goodbye to strangers all the time. But now I've come to appreciate such politeness and many times it comes off more friendly than just polite and makes me feel a lot more welcome :)

But to add to this, one thing I still find odd and unnatural here is the custom of saying Com Licença ("Excuse me") when hanging up the phone after talking to a business or after when someone comes to my apartment door, be it my neighbor, servicemen or solicitors. It still makes me want to say "Excuse you for what?" like if they had just bumped into me or something, but what they mean out of politeness is that they are excusing themselves to leave/hang up. Americans only seem to do this when getting up from a table with a group of people to excuse themselves to go to the bathroom or take a call, etc, but it is meant because we are interrupting something. I guess I never thought I was interrupting someone hanging up the phone at the end of a conversation or going back inside my apt, and I will probably always find it strange but hey, it's never bad to be polite! hahaha.

So even though another country's cultural customs can be new and "foreign" and hard to adjust to at times, there are always good things that should be embraced. They have made me realize how much of a "typical American" I could really be, and glad to have my opened my mind just a bit more ;)


  1. Hello Andrea Smith

    I’m an American moving to Lisbon at the end of the year, but Portuguese is my first language (I was raised in Brazil). I had the same problem with “excuse-me, com licença”. The reason is licença the translation is permission. First time some one accidentally bump into me and say excuse-me, my reaction was why that person is asking permission to bump into me.
    Examples of Com licença:
    Com licença: May I have permission to come in?
    Excuse me = Perdão

    Keep writing and I will keep reading.

  2. Hi James,
    Thanks for the feedback, it's nice to know I wasn't the only one confused by this! :p

  3. Thank you for another great post! As an America who always says "hello" and "goodbye" and strikes up a conversation whenever she gets the opportunity, this will be awesome for me! I remember living in England and saying "hello" to everyone I passed on the street and they would look at me as if I was trying to steal their wallets. I definitely need to learn the language and from reading your other posts, this is now a TOP priority for me! Thank you Andrea and a big hug if you can have one and kisses on your cheeks! :)