PORTUGAL – Language, Culture, Customs and Etiquette

Capital: Lisbon

Population: 10,813,834 (2014 est.)

Ethnic Make-up: homogeneous Mediterranean stock; citizens of black African descent who immigrated to mainland during decolonization number less than 100,000; since 1990 East Europeans have entered Portugal

Religions: Roman Catholic 94%

The Portuguese Language

The 10-million population of Portugal speaks Portuguese, a Romance language which derived from Vulgar Latin. Galician and Mirandese, which are technically classed as separate languages, are spoken by a few thousand people in the north of the country, along the Spanish border.

Portuguese Society & Culture

The Family

  • The family is the foundation of the social structure and forms the basis of stability.
  • The extended family is quite close.
  • The individual derives a social network and assistance from the family.
  • Loyalty to the family comes before other social relationships, even business.
  • Nepotism is considered a good thing, since it implies that employing people one knows and trusts is of primary importance.


  • Portuguese are traditional and conservative.
  • They are a people who retain a sense of formality when dealing with each other, which is displayed in the form of extreme politeness.

Appearances Matter

  • In Portuguese society appearance is very important, especially in the cities.
  • People are fashion conscious and believe that clothes indicate social standing and success.
  • They take great pride in wearing good fabrics and clothes of the best standard they can afford.


  • Portugal is a culture that respects hierarchy.
  • Society and business are highly stratified and vertically structured.
  • Both the Catholic Church and the family structure emphasize hierarchical relationships.
  • People respect authority and look to those above them for guidance and decision-making.
  • Rank is important, and those senior to you in rank must always be treated with respect.
  • This need to know who is in charge leads to an authoritarian approach to decision- making and problem solving.
  • In business, power and authority generally reside with one person who makes decisions with little concern about consensus building with their subordinates.

Etiquette and Customs in Portugal

Meeting & Greeting

  • Initial greetings are reserved, yet polite and gracious.
  • The handshake accompanied by direct eye contact and the appropriate greeting for the time of day.
  • Once a personal relationship has developed, greetings become more personal: men may greet each other with a hug and a handshake and women kiss each other twice on the cheek starting with the right.


  • The proper form of address is the honorific title ‘senhor’ and ‘senhora’ with the first name.
  • Anyone with a university degree is referred to with the honorific title, plus ‘doutor’ or ‘doutora’ (‘doctor’).
  • Use the formal rather than the informal case until your Portuguese friend suggests otherwise.

Gift Giving Etiquette

  • If you are invited to a Portuguese home for dinner, bring flowers, good quality chocolates or candy to the hostess.
  • Do not bring wine unless you know which wines your hosts prefer.
  • Do not give 13 flowers. The number is considered unlucky.
  • Do not give lilies or chrysanthemums since they are used at funerals.
  • Do not give red flowers since red is the symbol of the revolution.
  • Gifts are usually opened when received.

Dining Etiquette

  • If invited to a dinner arrive no more than 15 minutes after the stipulated time.
  • You may arrive about 30 minutes later than the stipulated time when invited to a party or other large social gathering.
  • Dress conservatively. There is little difference between business and social attire.
  • Do not discuss business in social situations.
  • If you did not bring a gift to the hostess, send flowers the next day.
  • Table manners are formal.
  • Remain standing until invited to sit down. You may be shown to a particular seat.
  • Table manners are Continental — the fork is held in the left hand and the knife in the right while eating.
  • Do not begin eating until the hostess says “bom apetite”.
  • Do not rest your elbows on the table, although your hands should be visible at all times.
  • Most food is eaten with utensils, including fruit and cheese.
  • Keep your napkin to the left of your plate while eating. When you have finished eating, move your napkin to the right of your plate.
  • If you have not finished eating, cross your knife and fork on your plate with the fork over the knife.
  • Leave some food on your plate when you have finished eating.
  • Indicate you have finished eating by laying your knife and fork parallel on your plate, tines facing up, with the handles facing to the right.

    OBS. For more information, or for Business Etiquette and Protocol, please go to


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