Being both within Europe, I expected not THAT many cultural differences when I moved from Berlin, Germany, to Portugal end of last year. Except for some things that I already knew, but considered prejudices, I discovered, that there is way more. The following 14 things are just an excerpt of my experiences here …
All pictures (c) NSFoto (me)
1. Regard “5 minutes” as actual 5 minutes on the clock
Although the Latin countries being not on time is a cliché – it is just as true for 90% of the inhabitants. On the contrary, Germans are known for their punctuality, and although personally not being the best example for that, I still was surprised here. If someone tells me “just a minute”, I expect them to take 10, maybe 15min, and if it takes them even longer to ask them what happened. Portuguese just regard time as something way more flexible than Germans. This does not mean that doctor’s appointments or working hours are flexible (a big mistake I made in the beginning), but nobody expects their friends to be at a bar for a drink before an hour after the supposed meeting time.
2. Drinking (American) coffees during the day at work or at home for waking up
The Portuguese espresso is undoubtedly one of the best in the world. Like Italian? Go to Portugal and you will be even more amazed. Moreover, drinking an espresso in a café, bar, or whatever is cheap. 60c is the basic price, and going for at least one espresso daily is a common social thing and nearly expected of you. Arriving at 11pm in a bar and ordering an espresso? Completely normal.
3. Bothering about my last name. Or, even my first name. Or, real names at all
And for a few reasons:
First, nobody cares much about last names, unless to identify a person (1000s of Joões and Anas, anyone?). Going there with unique looks and a unique first name, nobody cares about my last name. Unless they wanna try how to pronounce it to make fun of the German pronounciation.
Second, because of a way lower variety of both first and last names than in Germany, nicknames here are a given. Especially amongst men, I hardly know anyone usually called by his proper first name. Ranges go from last name, simple short versions, names considering appearances, to ridiculous names know one really remembers where they came from.
And third, as 99% are even pronouncing my (not even German) name wrong when they first try it, and some even keep failing after months, I got used to so many variations, that I basically listen to everything that KINDA sounds like my name. Not kidding. I turn my head thousands of times someone is shouting Gabi (short for Gabriel) instead of Nadin.
4. My view on meals
Back in Germany, I usually ate a big breakfast early in the morning (7am), a normal lunch, and an early light dinner at 6 or 7, maybe 7.30. The meals consisted of a lot of vegetables, a lot of spices, rarely meat, hardly ever fish, and the food was hardly ever typical German.
Portuguese love their whole culinary – they love their food, meals (at least lunch and especially dinner) are a social event. Their whole way of eating is very different: they don’t use many spices (and even those sparcely), they have this really strange habit of eating rice and fries together, cooked vegetables on the side is a special (although a salad with the meal is normal), and they eat their food cold a lot of times because they get caught up in conversations. Oh, and a meal without meat or fish is not a meal!
5. Being focused on one language
By now I can proudly say I am fluent on a “normal conversation” level in 3 languages, German, English and Portuguese. While in the beginning, I sometimes got confused with only 2 languages, now I can now switch between all 3 within seconds, and even understand a word of Turkish from my flatmate in between. This ability gets lost as soon as I get really tired, but gets doubled with a few drinks 😉
6. Cooking daily
Eating out is really cheap, especially compared to Germany. And I’m not talking about Fast Food, but whole meals. Plus, drinks are ridiculously cheap from my POV, so why not be a bit more lazy and enjoy a dinner out instead of cooking every day?
7. Actually answering when someone asks how I am
While Germans expect an answer when asking you how you are, and look at you waiting for an answer, the Portuguese “tudo bem?” and its variations is part of the greeting and nobody expects you to give a long answer, or even to answer at all. Seeing someone walking by on the other side of the street? “Olá, tudo bem?” and keep on walking. In Germany, you probably don’t even notice each other because you’re not really looking at who walks by.
8. Seeing my (local) friends once a week max
If I haven’t seen my friends here for 3 days, I’m wondering where they are. People here are socialising a lot, and going for a café or a beer daily or at least every 2nd day is part of the routine. In Germany, even living 15 minutes from one of my best friends, I saw her once a week on the weekend, if even. Completely normal.
9. Being able to go unnoticed
Forget it. Just, forget it. Apart from Portuguese people usually being pretty curious, as a blond blue-eyed girl speaking with an accent, you have all eyes on you within seconds. Especially in Berlin, it’s nearly normal that half of your friends have an immigration background at the least, here people looking like me usually are tourists. Like, 97%. That means that whenever I’m on the streets, I have eyes on me, naturally. Germany is full of tourists and foreign looking people, so nobody cares much about other people on the streets.
10. Vorglühen at home, club later
In Germany, you meet your friends for Vorglühen at home, a bunch of drinks before usually hitting a club later in the night. But in Portugal, a jantar (pt. for dinner) is the common thing to do here with friends, family, or, even more often, both. You invite them to dinner, have some beer and wine and go to a café / bar later. And if you happen to be really into it, you hit a club in the night. Getting drunk? Not something very usual to do here in general. This is for big celebrations only, not a weekend habit.
11. Thinking of people older than me as people with a lot of dignity and trying to uphold an image
A sorry here to all Germans, but it’s a fact: The major part of Germans is a pretty uptight bunch, at least from age 40 up. Having a woman (not talking about family) that could be your grandma making jokes with AND about you all day is not something I ever saw in Germany. Yes, you see them smile and everything, but gestulating a lot, telling funny stories, even making fun of you? A very rare image and no way anyone would even think of describing a German old lady. Germans seem to reach an age where they think they have to change and go through life with more dignity, they are “too old” for that “young stuff”. But does that really mean having fun in life?
12. Not traveling
Traveling here is cheap. And you can basically pick a random location on the map, and you’ll find something worth seeing. I hardly ever traveled in Germany – mostly because it was expensive and I thought most beautiful things are outside of the country. This view changed, and if one day I’ll have the time and money to travel around a bit, I certainly will.
13. Not knowing the real differences between German and other European cultures
It is interesting that you actually have to leave your own country to learn more about it, but it is true. Being confronted with a culture, that seems to be so similar on the surface, but is pretty different on the inside, every single day makes you aware of what being German actually means. You learn about prejudices, you understand the small quirks of your native language, the unique things of your culture, etc.
14. Sunny days are special days
When at the beginning of last December in Portugal there was a day without any clouds and a shining blue sky, I was baffled. In Germany, everyone would have left their house to basically “celebrate” that day. Here, hardly anyone noticed. And I soon saw why, it is just normal.
If the temperature in summer drops below 25, it’s frio. Having clouds on the sky? A bad day.