Portugal is a formal, traditional and conservative country. At first, the extreme politeness will strike the more “liberal” Americans but you’ll get used to being addressed as “senhor” and “senhora”.
Family and customs
Portuguese are conservative and traditional. They maintain a high level of formality when dealing with others which is evident in the form of extreme politeness. Table manners are also formal.
Family is the basis of society and nepotism is accepted and even considered a good thing (employing people you know and trust is more important than anything else).
Portuguese culture respects hierarchy both in the family and in business. Rank is important and you must respect those senior in rank to you.
The extended family is quite close offering assistance when needed. Loyalty to the family comes before everything else, even business.
Appearance does matter, especially in the big cities. People believe that clothing indicate social status and hence are fashion conscious.
If you are invited to Portuguese home bring something to your host: flowers (but please avoid number 13 and avoid lilies and chrysanthemum; avoid red flowers), chocolate or candy. Do not bring wine unless you know what the host prefers.
The most predominant religion in Portugal is Roman Catholicism; about 84% of the population belongs to this religion, although studies show that only 20% attend the mass regularly but a lot more choose to be baptized and married in the church.
Although the state and church were formally separated even by the constitution, many Portuguese holidays, festivals and traditions have a religious origin or connotation.
Portuguese cuisine is a true Mediterranean cuisine although it bares the influences of former colonial possessions. Spices such as cinnamon and vanilla blend nicely with the Mediterranean olive oil. Wine is a common presence with all meals; Port wine being the most well known among travelers.
Fish and sea-food are important staples of the Portuguese cuisine. Fish is boiled, grilled, fried and even roasted. Bacalhau (salted cod) is the type of fish most eaten in the country. If you are into sea-food, you should try Caldeirada, which is a stew consisting of a variety of fish and shellfish with potatoes, tomato and onion.
Other types of meat are also eaten. A popular winter dish is cozido à portuguesa which contains whatever the chef can find and generally includes pig’s feet, beef, pork, ham, potatoes, turnips, carrots, chickpeas and rice.
You’ll also find a variety of cheeses, from the creamy little cheeses of Azeitão to the the “Queijo da Serra”, which is cheese made from sheep’s milk and happens to be the most popular cheese in Portugal.
If you have a sweet tooth, you’ll love Portugal. There are at least 200 types of pastries.
Tipping is customary and it’s appropriate to add 5-10% to your bill.