Before writing this article, I spent almost a month contemplating whether a person has the right to report any conclusions about the whole people of a country. I have been living in Portugal for six years now and speaking Portuguese since the day I stepped off the plane. During that time, I worked for big Portuguese companies and probably talked to at least a thousand Portuguese people - casually and in a formal work environment. I have carried out complicated projects with Portuguese people, have seen how they behave in difficult situations, how they rest, etc. Moreover, I have studied with them; participated in and won public speaking competitions in Portuguese. Therefore, I believe I managed to plunge into the deepest layers of the Portuguese soul and figure out what kind of people they are.
Nevertheless, I don't think anyone has the right to generalize and draw conclusions about millions of people based on personal experience. So instead of writing that the Portuguese are "good" or "bad" without having any basis for these words other than first-hand experience, I decided to make a list of concrete facts. These facts are either historical or cultural-social, which are easy to check and from which we can learn certain features of the Portuguese mentality. Therefore, I invite you to get acquainted with these facts and, if you can add something to the list, do so in the comments; together, we can get a better picture of the Portuguese character!
Fact 1: Good weather and social support from the state
Even if you have never been to Portugal, you probably know that this sunny country is famous for its good weather and beautiful beaches. From a purely practical point of view, even a person left without a shelter will not die on the street from the cold and frost, which is sure to happen in the Nordic countries. Add to this social support from the state - albeit not as significant as, for example, in Germany, but still. Being on the labor exchange and listed as unemployed, it is quite possible to receive from 500 to 1000 euros of benefits, and you can live well on this money, which is quite common among the Portuguese. In the country, people even use the following scheme: you work for a year, get fired on purpose and take a year off, receiving unemployment benefits, then work for one more year, and so on (it is since the right to receive benefits have only those who have worked for at least 12 months).
Needless to say, in many countries, one cannot count on the state, and a person left without shelter or salary is likely to die. However, this is not the case in Portugal, and locals take advantage of it. I think this is why you often hear the phrase "the Portuguese don't know how to work." I don't see it this way, and I would rephrase it as: "the Portuguese don't fight for work and don't make it the goal of their life." One reason is the social support from the state, favorable living conditions and climate, and another reason stems from the education system and the fact that the spirit of rivalry is not promoted among children, as in some other countries.
Some will say that this is bad and a disadvantage of life in Portugal, but from personal experience, I can only say that the Portuguese are entirely free of stress, phobias about jobs and their loss, which is why it is so pleasant to communicate with them. People live and enjoy life without thinking about tomorrow. Isn't it wonderful?
Fact 2: A housekeeper in every home
After a year or two in Portugal, I was surprised to find out that almost every Portuguese family has a housekeeper who does the cleaning and other household chores. It surprised me because, at that time, I was well aware of the level of Portuguese salaries. Knowing they are relatively small did not correspond to the fact that many families have a person who does the cleaning and other tasks for money. A housekeeper even comes to those apartments where 3-6 people rent rooms at once, which is widespread in Lisbon. That is, a person does not have the money to rent a separate apartment; they rent a room but do not clean it themselves because you can hire a professional to do it.
What does this tell us about the Portuguese? I think it's a good thing because they know how to delegate work they don't want to do. Why mop the floors and do the cleaning at the weekend when you can trust a hired professional to do it while you rest or spend time with your family? Of course, someone will say this is just lazy and absurd, especially when you do not earn much money. Still, I suppose this is a very clever approach because, as a result, a person does not waste their energy and free time on (frankly) not very pleasant tasks. Maybe many Portuguese don't know this word, but I think most of them are great hedonists, and their philosophy is about pleasure. Well, I support them in this. Keep it up!
Fact 3: Lack of news and global life changes
I'm not a fan of watching TV, but I've had to do it for years when colleagues would watch the news during lunch breaks at the companies where I worked. At first, I couldn't believe my ears. There were disturbing stories like the one about a father who had raped his daughter in some village, or someone had set up a camera in some little fitness club and filmed girls changing clothes. Such kind of news was broadcast on the main channels for several days in a row. The biggest news stories were the forest fires and the coronavirus from 2020, but for the most part, the news summary looks like a collection of minor crime stories. Why show this on the main channels, and what significance does it have for the country? At first, I couldn't understand it, but then my colleagues suggested that there was simply no other news in the country. Sending rockets into space, explosions in the subway, the collapse of the stock exchange, and great inventions are all over the channels in other countries. Portugal is a small country, and its news is correspondingly small. It applies not only to the state level but also to the personal lives of the Portuguese themselves. While the average resident of London or Madrid goes abroad on vacation and visits concerts of world-famous artists at the weekend, most Portuguese have neither the means nor the desire to travel, so they spend their vacation somewhere in the Algarve or simply at home. And there are few concerts or other world events in Portugal, apart from soccer and summer festivals, which take place in the country in great numbers during the summer. And then what do the Portuguese discuss, you ask? Everyday things and other people. During my lunch break, I silently observed as some discussed the boss's new girlfriend, someone else was talking about the neighbor who parked in the wrong place, and others about a wedding or a soccer game. In my first years in the country, I considered this fact negative, associated with gossip and cowardice. However, now I understand that it happens because both in the country and in people's lives there is often nothing more exciting than a wedding or the final match of your favorite team. And something needs to be discussed, so you just have to understand and accept that fact.
Fact 4: A small number of people who read or have a higher education
According to the Publico newspaper, in Portugal, only 34% of the population aged 25-34 have a higher education. Compare: in Korea, for example, the percentage is 69.6%. As a person with two university degrees, I can say that a master's or bachelor's degree does not always determine a person's intelligence level. However, universities help to develop many essential skills and promote broadmindedness. Of course, when most of a country's population does not have a higher education, it dramatically affects the overall social background.
Besides, if we move away from dry statistics, in public transport or on the streets of Portugal, you will hardly find people who read books. From my point of view, this is even more important than getting an education at university because books allow an adult to get new information and develop spiritually. Admit it: you can see many people reading on public transport in other countries. And here, it is almost impossible to find them, maybe that's why books in the country are several times more expensive than elsewhere.
And what do we get? As a result, both a small number of people with higher education and the dislike of reading greatly impact the outlook of the Portuguese. Meeting a well-read, highly educated Portuguese with whom you can talk about history, art, and science is a rarity and an exception to the general rule. Generally, people talk about soccer and everyday things, such as what store is on sale or what your neighbor does. It is why many tourists have the impression of the Portuguese as very easygoing and sincere people, and it is true!
I immediately think of a small village in some country where people will welcome you, but don't expect them to talk about culture and philosophy. If you like simple people, Portugal is the country for you! If you are looking for culture and more sophisticated conversations, you will find them here too (e.g., in the circles of the Portuguese elite, entrepreneurs, start-ups, and artists), but you will have to try very hard.
Fact 5. 4 months of maternity leave or partying with a child
Maternity leave in Portugal can last from 120 to 150 consecutive days (4 to 5 months), and the working mother and father have the right to divide this period between them. Frankly, when I learned about this, the first thing that came to mind was, "how awful, these are inhuman conditions!" since women in some countries spend several years on maternity leave. After living in Portugal for six years, all I can say is that the rules in Portugal regarding maternity leave are more than elaborate. I worked in an office and saw that women were back in the team four months after having a baby, fresh and full of energy. They didn't lose their qualifications, social connections, or status. Yes, they worried about the baby who was in the nursery, but life went on! How many cases in other parts of the world are there when a woman, after sitting at home for years, completely loses her qualifications and identity by being a 24-hour nanny for several years in a row.
Another thing that surprised me was when I saw dozens of families with baby carriages and small children in restaurants, bars, or festivals taking place in the evening. That is, the presence of even a little child will in no way stop the Portuguese from going to a concert or festival because if the children are tired, they can easily sleep in the stroller. As someone who initially did not understand this approach, I have only now realized how sensible the Portuguese are. After all, the birth of a child is not an illness, and the child is not a burden! The parents can just as well go to work and have fun in the evening instead of locking themselves at home for several years. Well, as you can see, we've got a lot to learn from the Portuguese!
Fact 6: High prices for rent and gasoline
If you already live in Portugal, you probably know some Portuguese people who can't find a job in their small town but don't want to move. At first. I put it down to laziness, fear of change, and lack of desire to work. But after getting to the bottom of it, I realized something. Let's take a young unemployed Portuguese man who lives in a small village, in his parents' house. You see, he doesn't pay for his lodgings or gasoline. So why would he go many kilometers to Lisbon to earn 700 euros, only to spend on rent, gasoline, and food? Eventually, he will be left with 0 euros in his pocket by the end of the month, so what is the point of leaving his parents' home? If people decide to leave, they go abroad to work in France, Germany or another country, where they can earn good money. Therefore, the typical characteristic of the Portuguese as passive and reluctant to change their place of residence has well-founded economic reasons.
Fact 7: Salazar's Dictatorship
If you have read the preceding paragraphs and got a negative impression about some features of the Portuguese character, let us not forget that just 47 years ago, Portugal was liberated from a dictatorial regime, much like Italian Fascism. This period is commonly referred to as the "New State" (Portuguese: Estado Novo), and the country the dictator António de Oliveira Salazar ruled the country from 1933 to 1974.
Here are a few principles of the Salazar dictatorship:
- The ban on divorce;
- A married woman could not travel abroad without her husband's permission;
- A married woman could not work without her husband's permission;
- Homosexuality was considered a crime, an illness, and an antisocial deviation from the norm and was punished, including imprisonment.
Yes, all this was happening in Portugal only 47 years ago. So is it fair to expect a free, creative, or flexible type of thinking, acceptance of LGBT, and innovative thoughts from the Portuguese? If you are talking to a person who is 60 years old, they lived during the dictatorship, and if you are having a conversation with someone who is 30 to 40 years old, they were raised by parents who lived during the Salazar era. Too little time has passed for the Portuguese to recover from the ways of that time and embark on a more innovative, modern path of development. Sometimes you will hear mockery regarding LGBT people, there will be stories of domestic violence and mistreatment of women and other situations that blow a 21st-century person's mind. Let's have some patience and let the country recover from its historical past. Those who immigrated to Portugal 20-30 years ago say that the state has changed significantly since then. And there's more to come! So let's be tolerant.
Whether you are only planning to immigrate to Portugal or already living here, respecting the country's people, history, and values is essential. How simple it is to make a general statement and label an entire nation at once! "The Portuguese don't know how to work," as you often hear this phrase on social networks... And what do you say about those thousands of Portuguese who work on construction sites in Germany, France, and other countries tirelessly, putting in 200%, earning money to return to Portugal one day? Don't they know how to work either, or aren't they Portuguese? Evaluative judgments are dangerous, above all for us, so I hope I have avoided them in this article because I have backed up my personal experience with accurate historical and socio-cultural facts. People often ask me, "what are they like, the Portuguese? I can only answer one thing: they are human beings like you and me. We must acknowledge the positive and learn the best from other nationalities and their mentalities. Cheerful and carefree, enjoying life and loving their country... We indeed have something to learn from the people of Portugal!