The Algarve enjoys year-round gorgeous weather, but you might want to think twice before donning your skimpiest bikini to wander round town. It can be easy to forget that Europe is so diverse in terms of its culture and customs, and many awkward faux pas can be avoided if you learn a little bit about the place you’re visiting before you go. We’ve compiled some useful information about Portuguese customs and etiquette to make sure you fit in and avoid offending anyone.
In terms of greeting people in Portugal, it is usual to shake hands with anyone you are not familiar with, including children, whereas friends and family tend to engage in an embrace and a back pat for men and a kiss on each cheek for women. Don’t assume that you know someone well enough for the embracing or kissing greeting too soon, as this may cause an awkward situation.
While many shopkeepers and business owners in the Algarve speak English, not all will, so it is polite to ask whether or not they do by asking ‘Você fala Inglês?’ (‘Do you speak English?’) before launching into a conversation. Even if you can’t speak fluent Portuguese, the locals will appreciate any attempt to speak a few words. We’ve compiled a few essential phrases to help you get by on your holiday to the Algarve:
- Hello – Bom dia
- Goodbye – Adeus
- Yes – Sim
- No – Nao
- Please – Por favour
- Thank you – Obrigado (male); Obrigada (female)
- I don’t speak Portuguese – Não falo português
Pointing can be considered offensive, and the Portuguese don’t tend to be very expressive in terms of hand gestures. Flamboyant hand movements accompanying speech are looked upon unfavourably by the Portuguese, so try to keep these to a minimum to gain respect. However, the conversational style is honest and direct, so try not to take offense if someone seems to be unreasonably blunt.
Tuck Yourself In
Despite the Algarve heat, it is far safer to dress on the conservative side, so it would be sensible to pack a sarong, kaftan or light beachwear to cover up when walking around the town. Use common sense and err on the side of overdressing when entering religious buildings. Portugal is a Catholic country, and the Algarve is full of churches, so you will be subject to disapproving looks if you go bare-chested or don a miniskirt to check them out.
…Then Tuck In
If you are dining in a large group, don’t start eating until the person who invited you says ‘bom apetite’. It is also considered very poor manners to show up to a dinner more than 15 minutes late. You should bring a small gift for anyone who invites you to a meal at their home, such as flowers or chocolate. However, if you choose flowers, reserve red blooms for your lover only, and be aware that 13 is an unlucky number of flowers. It is also polite to leave some food on the plate at the end of the meal, so be aware of this in restaurants.
With this information, you can make sure your trip to the Algarve goes smoothly, and you are sure to be a hit with the locals if you embrace their customs.