All Articles

🇵🇹⚖️ Portuguese Scales

Language is not the only thing you will need to translate if you spend time in Portugal. After nearly five years in country, I have come to love this place and to understand that you need certain math equations on hand. I have written down the formulas so that you can study them before you show up one hour early at a dinner or make misguided plans around the renovation of a kitchen window like I did.

Social Timing

This can vary by culture and region in the United States, but folks generally arrive on time and leave on schedule - regardless of event.

Portugal will vary by event. Early in my time here I had a lunch planned with a German friend and two Portuguese buddies. The German and I arrived when we scheduled lunch to begin at 12:30. He had lived here for a few years at that point and looked at me and said “I am only on time because you are new and American. I didn’t want you sitting alone for 15 or 20 minutes.” And he was entirely right - we had a nice chat and then at about 12:45 our Iberian friends joined us.

To determine what time you should arrive at a given event, use the guide below to add the recommended minutes to the scheduled start time. For example, if you are invited to a group dinner that begins at 8PM, you should expect others to join you at around 8:45PM.

Shame still matters in this culture, but only individual shame. If you are meeting 1-1, your acquaintance will almost definitely be late but they will feel bad. In a group dinner, everyone assumes that they won’t be the last to arrive and so they don’t feel too bad. By the time the last person has arrived everyone else has opened wine and is ready to forgive them.

Event Time to Add
1-1 Lunch + 10 minutes
Group Lunch + 20 minutes
Afternoon Party + 45 minutes
Group Dinner + 45 minutes

Leaving

While Americans can tolerate being early - we’ll just pull out our phones - I think a bigger struggle is knowing when to exit. I attended a birthday party for the 1 year old of some friends of ours that began at 6:00 PM. I left at 2:30 AM after spending the last hour discussing cultural norms with the boy’s grandmother as we all tried to drink all the wine in the family home.

The idea of guests staying in your home after a party ends (much less till 2:30 in the morning) would terrify most Americans. We like to send people on their way and get back to our independence. Leaving earlier than 10:00 PM in many Portuguese social situations could be considered rude. The act implies you would rather be elsewhere than where they have graciously invited you to be. Or that they have offended you. Whereas in American contexts the act of leaving is something of a gift because you have enjoyed the company of your hosts and are now letting them get back to their time.

The math on this is too context-specific to provide guidance in a table so the guidance is more subjective: you are almost always at risk of under-staying rather than over-staying your welcome.

Dress Codes

While the Portuguese will arrive late, they will show up dressed better than you. Washington DC is the only city in the United States with a consistently formal dress code. New York has that in pieces, but not as consistently. In Portugal it is universal.

Level The US Portugal
Casual Jeans, t-shirt, maybe even shorts Pants (khaki or corduroy), casual knit button down, sweater
Cascual Chic Dark jeans, maybe a sweater, cocktail dress Slacks, a sport coat, probably a tie, dark-colored cocktail dresses
Semi-Formal Khakis, a sport coat A suit
Formal A suit A suit with tails (no joke)

Dressing for cold weather

Once the temperature drops below 65° Farenheit the Portuguese will dress like they are joining Shackleton on his voyage to the Antarctic. I routinely wear shorts and a t-shirt when walking the dogs at the park and encounter folks in scarves and thick overcoats. You don’t have to follow this pattern, but just be aware that if you look outside and everyone is dressed like it is about to snow you should check the weather forecast first.

Meat Temperature

Take your preferred temperature in the United States and bump it up by one in Portugal. For example, if you like a steak medium, tell your waiter in Portugal that you want medium well.

Construction or Repair Timelines

Take the estimate provided to you, double it, and then add one of the time units in which you received the estimate. For example, if you are told “3 weeks” then you can expect to wait 7 weeks (3 x 2, + 1 week). If you are told 1 month, you can expect to wait 3 months. This also applies to commercial real estate construction and public infrastructure projects like new metro stations.

Published Mar 15, 2024

Austinite in Lisbon. Emerging Tech at Cloudflare.Sign up for emails