I look at ten big contrasts between life in Portugal and life in the UK; some are perhaps obvious, others more surprising!
Perhaps surprisingly, the Portuguese do actually talk about the weather just as much as the British. However, as Portugal is such a sunny country, there’s not nearly as much sense of urgency with regard to getting outside on pleasant days. There are so many of them that you can keep a tan topped up by simply walking from place to place.
Attitudes to alcohol vary considerably between the UK and Portugal. Binge drinking “culture” doesn’t really exist in Portugal, but this doesn’t mean there’s not plenty of alcohol consumption, including elderly people drinking “firewater” with their morning coffee! However, the Portuguese have mastered the art of pacing themselves, of interspersing small beers with espressos and bottles of sparkling water. That’s why the youngsters are still standing long into the early hours in the summer when the British tourists are back in their hotels, having peaked too early!
Coffee is a national obsession in Portugal, but that doesn’t mean Starbucks and Costa, which you don’t see outside of the airports and the largest cities. Coffee is cheap, plentiful, and expertly made in even the simplest of snack bars.
The Portuguese are very friendly people, but true friendship can take time. You may be surprised how long it is until you’re invited to somebody’s home in Portugal. However, once you reach that point, you’re held in extremely high regard – practically on a level with family.
5. Work opportunities
Portugal is not an easy place to find stimulating work, and a plethora of rules and regulations can serve to crush entrepreneurial spirit. However, it’s essential to remember that many Portuguese people accept this as the way things are, and genuinely have a “work to live” rather than a “live to work” attitude. This is great if you can buy into it, but if you like variety and opportunity, you may find it frustrating.
Children are embraced (sometimes literally) almost everywhere in Portugal. You won’t find restaurants turning their noses up when you arrive with toddlers as can sometimes happen in the UK. Children are a true part of the family from birth, and often stay awake during the same hours as their parents!
Comparing attitudes to rules between the UK and Portugal presents a strange paradox. Subjectively, there are far more rules in the UK. If you were to try to set out outdoor non-smoking areas in Portugal, the locals would think it hilarious. On this basis, if the UK’s “nanny state” irritates you, you will like the way Portugal largely allows its citizens to “get on with it” and use their own common sense. That said, there is an overriding respect for authority in Portugal that means the rules that are enforced by police or government departments are taken extremely seriously.
Driving in Portugal is far easier than many people would have you believe, because traffic levels are generally quite low outside the major cities. However, this is counteracted by a rather aggressive driving style that’s strangely at odds with Portugal’s generally relaxed nature. People drive far more “by the book” in the UK.
Bureaucracy is far from perfect in the UK, but it is worlds apart from what you find in Portugal. Simple tasks that can be performed online in the UK can take days in Portugal, often with officials all interpreting the rules in their own unique way. In the UK, there does at least seem to be a general principle that the purpose of official bodies is to serve the citizen. This concept would seem bizarre in Portugal!
Life in Portugal is about good food and having the time to cook it, and good company, and having the time to enjoy it. It’s not about conspicuous consumption and ostentatiousness, which many Portuguese people find quite distasteful. This is generally a good thing.