Portugal Gift Giving Customs

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Capital: Lisbon

Official Religion: Roman Catholic

Language: Portuguese

Currency: Euro

Government: Parliamentary republic

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Portugal has become a popular vacation destination due to its location on the Iberian Peninsula. Because the western side of the country is bordered by the Atlantic ocean, there is plenty of beach for those seeking sun and sand, while the inland mountains offer skiing and mountain climbing for the sports enthusiasts. Whatever the reason for your visit, business or pleasure, taking the time to learn the proper greetings and Portugal gift giving customs will help create a good first impression with the Portuguese.

Family honor and loyalty are extremely important in Portugal. A hierarchical culture, the elders are treated with respect and dignity. Much value is placed on the immediate family as well as the extended family. If you will be visiting someone in Portugal, it may be a good idea to know the basic Portuguese customs concerning social behavior. For example, the Portuguese are relaxed about etiquette and punctuality is not that important. When invited to a large event or social gathering, it is customary to arrive half an hour to 45 minutes after the stated 'start time.' Arriving early or ‘on time’ might be perceived as impolite. However, when invited to someone’s home for dinner, you should arrive no more than 15 minutes late.

Gift Giving in Portugal

Host/Hostess Gift Giving Etiquette

If you are invited to a Portuguese home for dinner, Portugal gift giving customs suggest that a gift is expected. The gift should be small but luxurious, with a glamorous presentation. Good quality chocolates, candy, flowers or upscale souvenirs from your home country are good choices. Expect that your gift will be opened immediately and in your presence. If you did not bring a gift for the hostess, send flowers the next day. Gifts for the children are welcome, especially if they will be present at dinner. Thanking for a gift is usually done verbally but a written note, while not necessary, is always appreciated.


Hostess Gifts to Avoid

  • Wine - unless you know what wines your host prefers.
  • Lilies or chrysanthemums - they are used for funerals.
  • Red flowers - red is the symbol of the revolution.
  • 13 flowers - the number 13 is considered unlucky.

Dining Etiquette

  • Dining etiquette is formal and table manners are important.
  • Graciously accept wine or beer when offered by your host.
  • Remain standing until invited to sit down.
  • Wait until your host says "bom appetito" to begin eating.
  • The fork is held in the left hand and the knife in the right hand.
  • Your hands should be visible at all times. Never rest your elbows on the table.
  • Your napkin remains to the left of your plate while dining, not in your lap.
  • When you have finished your meal, place your napkin to the right of your plate and lay your knife and fork parallel on your plate, handles facing to the right.
  • Always leave some food on your plate.
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Business Gift Giving

  • It is accepted practice in the Portugal business culture to give and receive gifts. Gifts are considered a sign of mutual respect and not a bribe.
  • Expensive gifts can be appropriate depending on the status of the business colleague.
  • Quite lavish gifts are often distributed to customers at Christmas.
  • Liquor, especially whiskey, is acceptable. Avoid wine as the Portuguese believe their wine is far superior.
  • Gifts from your home country are appreciated.
  • Apparel accessories such as scarves or ties are acceptable.
  • Coffee table books are commonly given.
  • Gifts should be unwrapped immediately upon receipt.


Christmas Traditions and Gift Giving

The children receive Christmas gifts either at midnight on Christmas Eve or early Christmas morning. Shoes are placed near the fireplace as a receptacle for the presents. "Pai Natal" or "Father Christmas" delivers the presents along with the help of Baby Jesus. The family sets up a Nativity scene, called Presépio, with Mary, Joseph, the stable animals and the Three Wise Men. The Christ Child is not added to the scene until after the family attends Midnight Mass. On Christmas Day, the Portuguese visit friends and family enjoying a meal together, usually turkey, chicken, or lamb.

If you will be visiting Portugal, here are some tips to keep in mind:

  • People stand closer in conversation and have more direct eye contact than in the US.
  • Do not address someone on a first-name basis until invited to do so. 'Senhor' and 'senhora,' along with the surname, is proper.
  • Always shake hands with people upon meeting.
  • Handshakes should not be too firm.
  • Women often kiss on each cheek upon meeting both men and women. You should do this only if the woman offers her cheek.
  • Never speak Spanish to a Portuguese person. It is rude and you may be considered ignorant.
  • Never use your finger to point, as this is considered vulgar.
  • Never eat with your fingers or lick your fingers.
  • Appearances matter. Dressing well demonstrates social and economic importance.
  • Never write anything in red ink. Red is offensive – only teachers are allowed to correct school work in red ink.

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