Monday, November 3, 2008

Portugal Vacations: Things To Remember

In the last post I told you about the great Pousadas de Portugal. They are an absolute great way to enjoy your Portugal vacation.

In the next few posts, I will tell you about interesting places in Portugal to make your Portugal vacation a memorable one, but first, I thought it would be a good idea to give you a few basic tips to help make your next Portugal vacation a good one.

The Portuguese are generally a very 'relaxed' people. Unfortunately, many of you may have found lists of do's and dont's on the Internet offering suggestions on how to behave in Portugal. Many of these tips tend to be either partly or completely wrong. I've put together a list of common misconceptions that I've found on other websites, and have added my perspective on each. This will be useful on your next Portugal vacation.

1) Myth: The Portuguese are loud.
1) Fact: Generally, the opposite is true. Portuguese tend to be soft spoken. That said it isn't unusual for Portuguese to greet each other from afar (often seen in small towns), it's just the Portuguese way. Otherwise, keep preconceptions to a minimum.

3) Myth: Never speak to the Portuguese in Spanish, as they will take offense.
3) Fact: I usually get a chuckle out of this one because it is absolutely far-fetched. The Portuguese are fairly comfortable with their National Identity. Many Portuguese speak Spanish and welcome an opportunity to try out their Spanish on a stranger. On the rare occasion that you have offended a Portuguese citizen, they will usually correct you and take the opportunity to tell you how Portuguese and Spanish are different, in which case you've made a friend or two.

But If you want to get a few brownie points, then I suggest learning a few Portuguese words. Although Portuguese is an infamously difficult language to speak, most Portuguese will take your desire to communicate with them, graciously.

4) Myth: The Portuguese love affection with strangers. You should expect them to touch and embrace you often.
4) Fact: I've seen this one scattered across the Internet, and I cringe every time I do. Becoming overly affectionate with your hosts is a sure way of, at best, getting a few mean stares and at worst getting yelled at. The Portuguese tend to show affection with with those they know ie. close friends and family, not necessarily with strangers.

5) Myth: Advise your children not to look at older Portuguese people in the eye.
5) Fact: Older Portuguese love it when younger children look at them, as long as it is done respectfully. For the Portuguese, family is highly valued and appreciated. The Portuguese will never find offense in a well mannered child's behavior.

Now that I've broken down some of the myths about the Portuguese, I'll outline a few basic rules, which will be of great value on your next Portugal vacation.

1) Be respectful. Respect is a universal concept and applies to any person, or country. By respect I mean not making rude comments about things that you may not enjoy. For example, if you don't like how the food you've been served tastes, kindly tell your waiter so, don't make rude gestures which may be interpreted as offensive.

2) Smile when you meet someone. The Portuguese are very people aware , and not smiling can often be taken as a sign of snootiness. Just smile, you're on vacation.

3) Always say 'excuse me' when asking for assistance or attention.

4) Men always shake hands.

5) Ladies, kiss on both cheeks. If you aren't accustomed to kissing a stranger, don't sweat it, the Portuguese haven't been living in a bubble and they know that not everyone lives by the same rules. But a small peck on the cheek isn't the end of the world and can be a great ice-breaker. It's the European way.

6) When you greet someone of the opposite sex, use your judgment on whether to kiss or shake hands. It's usually best to let the locals initiate and just follow suit. Once again, a small peck on the cheek isn't the end of the world, and can be a great ice-breaker. It's the European way. Steps 4 - 6 are directed at intimate gatherings and not done generally. ie. If you are invited to a new friend's home, or asked to join fellow diners at a table, it is perfectly fine. Kissing your waiter or porter is not ;-).

6) Display of anger in public places is frowned upon, just keep personal squabbles at home. The Portuguese, 'generally' do not openly express negative emotions in public. Be nice to one another, it will make your Portugal vacation a memorable one.

7) Politeness is key. Do not shove, wait your turn. Be gracious and accommodating to those older than you, and expect the same from those younger. It's just basic common courtesy which is still highly regarded in Portugal. In smaller towns, it is common to be greeted with a "Good Morning" or a "Good day", respond back and smile, much brownie points you will get.

8) If you ask for help while on your Portugal vacation, be prepared for an extra dose of it. The Portuguese love to help strangers in need. They will go out of their way to assist you. Thank them with a smile or a handshake and tell them what a wonderful person they are. If you are a man say "Obrigado" the ladies say "Obrigada" (It's Portuguese for Thank-You, notice the 'o' & the 'a' at the end of the word, the Portuguese language uses masculine and feminine to distinguish between men and women. The 'o' represents the masculine and 'a' represents feminine).

9) The Portuguese are generally very hospitable, and if you are in a small town don't be surprised if you are invited in to someone's home for a drink. Don't be alarmed, old world hospitality is still alive and well in Portugal.

10) Portugal is one of the world's safest countries, violent crime is virtually non-existent. Women traveling alone are rarely hassled. That said, as the saying goes "You are who you wear", and ladies, if you wear provocative clothing, don't be surprised if you are approached by young Portuguese men. That said, you will most likely get a 'talking to' from an older Portuguese lady first, so don't say I didn't warn you (This is applicable in small towns and not large cities). Either way, it may make your Portugal vacation an interesting one. ;-)

11) Most importantly do not to be too self-conscious, just be yourself within a respectful frame of mind, you will be amazed at how many doors will open for you. Respect goes a long long way.

If you remember to follow the above rules you will have a great Portugal vacation.

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