Where there is a folk, there are stereotypes or things that characterize the local people in a rather funny, than serious way.
When we approach a new culture, we have certain images of how the local people are, influenced by media.
Every single nation has its own stereotypes and awkward manners.
Stereotypes should be taken with humor! That’s the first rule.
This blog post is dedicated to the Lisbonese and stereotypes, that came our way, while we were living there for a year.
Things that we can’t understand about you
As rain is not so common in a sunny country like Portugal, people keep a distance to it.
While normal people wouldn’t even bother to use an umbrella, especially when the drops are so tiny that one could not even see not to speak of feel them, Lisbonese are armed with huge umbrellas, holding them like shields over their heads.
Is it their perfect hair and make-up, that is not allowed to get ruined?
If you’re in Lisbon, the easiest way to find out, whether there is a soccer match going on, is to have a look inside a bar, coffee shop or restaurant. All of these places are equipped with big TV screens, appearing just to be bought, in order to support their teams in every single match.
Although you personally don’t follow the match, you’re automatically involved, as their shouting – especially when their favorite team wins the match – can be heard miles away. And I thought Germans are the worst fans, when it comes to soccer.
Running and workout addiction
The real plague, if you walk around Lisbon are not the pigeons, what one might assume.
No, it is the Lisbonese themselves!
There is one special group of people, who seem to have a lot of free time.
Meant are runners and sport addicts, who like to go beyond their borders. Every single citizen seems gradually to get infected by the marathon virus.
Women in high heels and plateau shoes
Age doesn’t matter – especially not for Lisbonese women, when it comes to dangerously high heels. Whereas the female citizens wouldn’t notice that about each other, foreigners would straight away, when walking around the city center for the first time.
Of course it’s understandable, that young girls want to appear sexy and there is not more sexy about a girl’s outfit, than high heels stretching their legs, but grannies? Seriously?
Bacalhau (codfish) every day – everywhere
The Portuguese addiction to Bacalhau (codfish) can be best described by the country’s true story, about how much they loved this scary looking dry fish, that they fished their whole coast until nothing remained left. And even then, their hunger could not be stilled, so that they continued their hunt around Norway.
Paradoxically, the codfish you’ll see in every market, is not even a local product, just their recipes are. For every single day in the year Portuguese have another way to prepare the dish.
Lack of good real bread
How can it be, that there are padarias (bakeries) and pastelarias (candy shops) everywhere, alluring with delicious cakes and biscuits, while bread is a rare treasure? On our search to find bread, after we haven’t had it for quite some time, we failed tremendously.
Once, we thought we found something that looked like bread and had also the consistency of it, we were bitterly disappointed, when it just tasted like the other local so-called bread.
Dear Lisbonese, baguette, toast and brioche is not real bread!
The Portuguese are said to be easy-going folks and yes they are – at least when you walk behind one of them. A Lisbonese would never speed up his pace, even if the metro is about to roll into the station and there is still a slight chance to catch it.
But furthermore, what is worse: a Lisbonese would never make space to let you through. Sometimes it’s acceptable to slow down a little bit, but every day?
Students dressed like vampires
Sometimes you might see young men and women dressed up in black uniforms, like they belong to an elite college. This wouldn’t be a strange thing, if they wouldn’t carry a huge cape covered with colorful badges.
They are usually seen in the late evenings on the campus, holding secret parties. One can get the feeling to be in the midst of a cult ceremony, especially when they start shouting repetitive lines in a chorus.
Tá bem, tudo bem
That’s how a conversation between Portuguese sounds like: “Tudo bem?” – “tá bem.”
Translated it means: “Is everything ok?” – “It’s ok.”
If you don’t speak Portuguese, these sentences can help you a lot to go through the daily life. It seems like they repeat those words constantly, no matter if it’s in a talk or over the phone. You’ll hear them everywhere in Lisbon, what can be sometimes annoying.
When you walk through Lisbon, you’ll pass plenty of playgrounds for children. A playground here is like a cage. It even has a door to lock up the children so they can’t escape.
The parents here are kind of controlling and over caring. There is always a parent around the child, helping to slide down or pushing the swing.
It seems that Portuguese are helicopter parents, flying around their kids, controlling every move.
Small coffee cups
Sometimes I just like to sit in a café and enjoy a freshly brewed coffee. Until a certain point everything goes fine. I chose a friendly looking coffee place, order a coffee and can’t wait to take the first sip.
But then it happens! The coffee is served – at the same time my mood darkens. A small tiny cup not even fully filled up.
Sure, the coffee is strong and I guess a normal cup would have made my heart beat faster, but how about a decent caffeine coffee in an “adult cup”?
Sagres, Superbock…that’s it, seriously?
Cerveja (beer) is considered in many countries as a sanctuary, that has the power to build new friendships, tie existing ones or completely break them.
This doesn’t seem to affect Portuguese, as there are just two options: Superbock or Sagres – good or okay beer.
Apart from beer, the Portuguese drinking culture includes vinho verde (green wine), Porto (port wine) and ginjinha (cherry liquor).
I guess sardines are all right, if you eat them once in a while. As soon as you come to Portugal, you can’t save yourself from being confronted with sardines everywhere.
Trendy packaged sardine cans in souvenir shops, sardine paper decoration in the streets, sardines on shirts, cups, bags.
After a trip to Portugal you definitely can’t see sardines anymore.
Drug dealers everywhere
“Shhhhh, wanna buy some weed?”
Don’t feel personally insulted, if you were asked such a question more than one time, walking around in Lisbon.
Especially when passing Praça do Comércio, Rua Augusta and Bairro Alto it can become a real freakshow.
The best way to approach those weirdos, is to ignore their whispering and just continue your walk.
Nowhere else than in Portugal, I stumbled upon so many obstacles, lying on the streets.
Loose cobblestones, sharp metals sticking out of nowhere, abruptly ending paths.
Besides there is so much dog shit, that you have to watch every step you take.
It’s one thing to say, that the Portuguese people are lazy and another one to say that they don’t make much more out of their opportunities.
If you walk around the neighborhoods, you’ll surely see all the abandoned houses, with concrete closed doors and windows. Some of them are still well preserved, so that it it’s not even a big deal to make them habitable again.
Instead, the people pay high rents for tiny apartments. Not only the houses, also their gardens and courtyards look as if they would barely take care of it.
Things that we admire about you
English is spoken well
Once I asked a Portuguese where he learned English, as it was miles better than mine, his answer was: from TV.
Already children speak excellent English. As their own language sounds to me like an accumulation of “Sh”s and swallowed letters, English is welcomed everywhere.
The people are friendly
Although Lisbonese want to be for themselves, the few ones I met were more than welcoming and helpful.
If you want to learn the language, you should join some language exchange meetings listed on Couchsurfing or foreign language platforms.
Old people are very active
It is not difficult to stay active and vital even in higher ages, if you are blessed with warm temperatures and sunshine throughout the whole year.
Old people here are often sitting in parks, playing chess or poker in oldie rounds, or walking around in their own neighborhoods.
At the same time, that I thought it’s peculiar to have so many amateur athletes running around, it can be also seen as a positive thing.
People here care more about their physics and health.
Portuguese from the surrounding towns come to Lisbon for work. Even if they don’t make much money in their jobs, they would rarely complain or think negative about their jobs.
Instead, they are proud to have a job and try to give their best. A lot of them also work at the weekends. For instance, those who work in shops, that are opened every day.
Care for their old parents
Portugal has still a mainly traditional household with up to three generations living altogether in a house. While the children stay with their grandparents, their parents can go working.
In exchange sons and daughters care for their old parents. Caring for each other and sharing utilities can save a lot of money though.
Living outside the city
To live outside of Lisbon can have plenty of advantages. Not only you can save money, as the rents are usually lower, you can also have a more quiet life.
Those, who live close to the beaches are the privileged ones. Sometimes you hear them complaining about the long commute, but the positive sides predominate.
There are a lot of dog owners in Lisbon, you notice when walking around the narrow cobblestone streets.
Shit everywhere! Like most of the Western European countries, they still haven’t learned to remove their dog’s bad smelling surprises.
What makes Bairro Alto or Alfama vivid?
Big occasional parties, like the Santo António fest in August.
When the narrow streets are filled up with people drinking, laughing and dancing.
Street music with traditional Fado and other folk sounds that go deep into your heart.
Colorful decoration above your heads. People waving with handkerchiefs from low balconies.
Mild summer nights that rarely end before the early mornings.
Mosaic streets and tiled houses
It’s always annoying to walk home by foot, if you missed the last metro and you don’t want to spend money for a taxi.
However, in Lisbon a walk can be fascinating and all you have to do is lower your head.
Normally the majority would tell you to watch straight when you are walking, not in Lisbon. Otherwise you would miss the beautiful mosaics under your feet.
Besides, not to forget are the colorful, wild patterned tiles on house façades (azujelos).
Yellow “beer beans”
Look out for yellow beans, that appear like bigger lentils, when you order a beer in a bar. In most cases you can grab some for free.
Those so-called lupini peans (Tretmoços in Portuguese) taste salty and are a good snack to go with the beer.
Before eating them, you have to peel off the skin with your teeth and then pop the bean into your mouth.
Some exercise is needed, if you want to be, as fast in eating lupinis as the Portuguese.
Very good health system
When I decided to move to Portugal, the first thing that came to my mind was, that I won’t have good medical care any longer. This was one of my biggest misconceptions, as I experienced a same or even better health system, than in my own country.
Especially, if you need dental care, there is no city with more dental clinics and specialists than Lisbon.
Every street I passed so far had a dentist. The only weird thing is, that their dental clinics appear like very modern business offices.
They even make advertisements for dental treatments, as if it is a product to buy.
Living the “Pura vida”
When you walk around in Lisbon’s old town or along the river promenade in Oriente, you’ll see what I mean with the Portuguese way of living – pura vida.
Portuguese are connoisseurs of fresh food, chic clothes, family picnics in parks and other ways to indulge in the bright forms of life.
They are laid back, less worried people who are definitely not reluctant to spend some money on their free time activities.
The people I met on Lisbon’s streets are wild scattered types.
You can find almost every type – fashionistas, geeks, hipsters, gays, punks, artists, hippies, bums, gypsies and so on and so on.
As the city has a wide spread cultural face with loads of different interests and tastes, the city is shaping permanently.
As a result, new locations, activities and trends develop, making Lisbon rich in experiences for alternative tourists.
As soon as you arrive in Lisbon, there is one thing, that will surely not happen – you won’t find yourself alone at the airport or train station.
If you travel solo, it’s a good spot to meet other travelers and maybe do some trips together. Although the majority of backpackers continue to the Algarve and the surrounding towns, there are still some, who stay in the city a while.
As there are plenty of hostels and cheap restaurants, Lisbon can be seen as very backpacker-friendly.
2 comments on “Lisbonese: A peculiar folk – What we hate and love about the Lisbonese people”
I’ve lived in Lisbon for two years. Liked your article. Made a nice change from the unexamined myths that the alfacinhas propagate about themselves.
1. Rain. Yes very funny. Get the golf umbrella up if a small cloud crosses the sun! To be fair though, when it rains in winter, it’s often impressively torrential.
2. Runners. Only annoying down by the river. No worse than anywhere else. Ditto for pompous knobs on bikes. Lisbon has the advantage though of narrow pavements, hills and cobbles. Far less bike friendly than UK. Good.
3. Bacalhau. Jesus! Why turn good fish into stinking compacted sawdust? We’ve had refrigeration for a long time now! Rest f the cuisine is generally pretty good.
4. Bread. I’ve got used to it. Not French bread but not too bad. The Portuguese are very proud of it. Then again they are deluded by a number of other things.
5. Slow walkers. Infuriating, especially when you are trying to get to work. The tourists are just as bad though, maybe worse.
6. Children. Better behaved than brats from the UK.
7. Coffee. Come on! Portuguese coffee is superb. Every time.
8. Beer. At least it’s cheap. Drink wine. Cheap bottles are better quality than the equivalent in France.
9. Drugs. You forgot to mention Avenida da Liberdad, another excellent place to buy oregano. As oregano or baking powder are the only things “drug” dealers have on them, the police can’t arrest them. A judge told me this. If you insist on real drugs, they are stashed in secluded hiding places.
10. Loose, slippery, beautiful old cobbles. Did you notice the enormous proportion of the population moving around on crutches? High heels can’t help either. I don’t find dogshit to be a problem. Much worse in rural/suburban UK where people only pick it up if somebody’s watching them, then later throw it in a tree.
11. Abandoned houses. A disgrace. A mixture of greed, inheritance law and apathy. Rent is cheap though for a capital city. It has to be; wages are pitiful.
12. Everybody speaks English. In general the Portuguese speak very good English. Subtitling TV programmes rather than dubbing them plays a large part in this. However, a lot of, especially older people, don’t speak a word and even with younger people, don’t assume (and why should you?) that you can have a conversation much more complex than “I’d like a beer”. I know, I’m an English teacher.
13. Friendly people. Sorry, I think this is perhaps the biggest myth about the Portuguese, though they are much friendlier in the countryside. I’ve travelled a lot and I find Lisbon just about the rudest city outside of London, NY or Marrakesh. Paris, where I lived for some years, is much more civil (well, if you don’t assume they will speak English to you.)
14. Old people being active. True. The weather helps enormously, as you say.
15. Hard working. Generally very true, apart from the ones in dead end, low paid jobs, who are untrained, rude and bone idle. (Can’t really blame them)
16. Looking after elderly parents. True. Personally I find the closeness of families claustrophobic but that’s just me.
17. Bairro Alto. Famed for nightlife. Pain in the arse if you live there or nearby and have to listen to drunken screaming till 6h. Police are trying to crack down on it after complaints from residents. One can’t really just blame the Lisbonese for this though.
18. Azulejos. Beautiful but disappearing due to theft and restoration on the cheap. If you get offered “original tiles” (ie old ones) as souvenirs, contact the police. Fortunately, they take it seriously. http://www.sosazulejo.com/?page_id=97
19. Tremoços. We have different tastes! Portuguese potatoes though are the best in the world. Yeh, I know they’re not bar snacks. Just wanted to mention them!
20. Health system. Takes quite a long time to get an appointment with a non-private doctor but very thorough treatment. Dentistry is fantastic. And unbelievably cheap.
If you want to extend your blog, I’d extend it to cover these:
– Terrible, dangerous driving.
– Traffic jams (especially the ridiculous toll system when coming into Lisbon from the south).
– The Mourinho complex. As I said, I find the alfacinhas far from friendly. Arrogant, defensive (be very careful when saying anything negative about PT!), know-alls.
Thanks for a very amusing and perceptive post.
thanks Paul for letting us know about your special Lisbonese approach 🙂 this is probably the longest comment we’ve ever got and it honestly flatters me! It’s great how many peculiarities you found that are equal to ours 🙂 and yes the markets are very much worth mentioning! Anyway I am always getting nostalgic when thinking back about vanished days, strolling around those cobblestone streets, fragments of a Fado chanson filling the mild night sky, whispers of a timeless city…Lisboa amo te!