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Culture Shock of Living in Portugal - Nordic Edition

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Culture Shock of Living in Portugal - Nordic Edition

Culture shock is a natural and often inevitable part of relocating to a new country, especially when the cultural differences are significant. And what could be a greater difference than moving from Nordic countries like Finland, Norway or Sweden to the south of Europe, as in Portugal? With around 4400km distance between Helsinki and Lisbon, let’s see what effects that has on the culture of these two regions. 

Climate and Weather Northern vs Southern Europe

One of the most striking differences that Nordic expats might experience when moving to Portugal is the climate. The Nordic region is known for its long, cold winters and short, cool summers, while Portugal enjoys a Mediterranean climate with hot, dry summers and mild, rainy winters. This shift in weather can be a pleasant surprise for some, but for many, it can be a significant culture shock. 

Nordic individuals might need to adapt to the intense heat and sun during the summer months, which can be quite challenging for those accustomed to milder temperatures. Sunscreen, sunglasses, and staying hydrated become essential. On the other hand, the mild winters in Portugal may not require the same level of winter clothing and heating, which can be liberating for Nordic expats, although you might miss the saunas!

Social Interaction and Communication

Portuguese culture is known for its warm and open social interactions. People in Portugal are generally friendly and talkative, often engaging in casual conversations with strangers. This can be quite different from the more introverted nature of many Nordic individuals. Of course, you as an expat, might already have developed this mindset and are ready to jump into embracing this culture. 

But even for the most outgoing person, one thing that often still comes as a surprise is the physical affection of the Portuguese. Hugs and Kisses on both cheeks is a typical form of greeting there and is even used in business situations. 

In Portugal, people value face-to-face communication, and it's customary to have long conversations over meals or during social gatherings. Nordic expats might find it challenging to adjust to this more expressive and effusive social culture. However, being open-minded and making an effort to connect with the local community, can be a key factor in overcoming culture shock and building lasting connections. Embracing the local culture and social norms can lead to more enriching experiences, as the Swedish Expat Helena tells us. Engaging with the community and participating in local events can help expats feel more at home in their new Mediterranean environment.

Work-Life Balance in Portugal

Nordic countries are well-known for their excellent work-life balance, with a focus on shorter working hours, generous parental leave policies, and a strong welfare system. In contrast, Portugal has a somewhat different approach to work. While work-life balance is important, long working hours are not uncommon, and there is a more laid-back attitude towards punctuality. This can be quite challenging when trying to plan ahead and counting on specific time schedules. However, the Portuguese value a strong sense of community and companionship in the workplace, which makes the time spent at work more enjoyable with extended lunch breaks and after-work get-togethers.

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Cuisine and Eating Habits in Portugal

Portuguese cuisine is rich, diverse, and heavily influenced by the Mediterranean diet. Seafood, olive oil, wine, and fresh produce are staples of Portuguese food. Nordic cuisine, on the other hand, is often characterized by its simplicity, with a focus on preserving and pickling due to the scarcity of fresh ingredients during the long, harsh winters.

As with any other culture, there will be food and drinks to embrace in the new country while missing the traditional cuisine one grew up with. But trust us, Portuguese cuisine does a great job of blending out those thoughts. On top, you can get good food for a really small price which makes eating out and exploring the food culture of Portugal so much more enjoyable. 

One thing Nordics and Portuguese have in common is their passion for coffee. While Finland, Iceland, Sweden and Norway are the countries with one of the highest coffee consumption per person, Portugal prides itself on having a unique and passionate coffee culture. If you want to know the ins and outs of Portugal’s coffee culture and how to order a good espresso, check out this guide

Language Barriers Between Nordics and Portuguese

Language barriers are probably the hardest hurdle to overcome when moving abroad. While English as a universal language is always helpful, it will only get you so far. To overcome this specific point of culture shock we encourage everyone to learn a bit of Portuguese during your stay. This is not always necessary at the workplace but rather when wanting to integrate, order something in the more local areas, or when dealing with official entities. 

Portuguese is a relatively easy language, however, it does not have many, if any, similarities with Nordic languages like Finish, Swedish, Danish, or Norwegian, so it might take you a little bit of extra effort. However, learning Portuguese can also be a rewarding experience, opening doors to deeper cultural understanding and connection with the local community. Portuguese people appreciate the effort made by foreigners to speak their language. Language barriers can be overcome with dedication and a willingness to learn.

Embrace the Adventure: Turning Culture Shock into a Cultural Learning Experience in Portugal

Moving from Finland, Norway, Iceland, Denmark, or Sweden to Portugal can be an exciting adventure, but it is not without its culture shock. The climate, social interactions, work-life balance, cuisine, and language are just a few of the areas where Nordic expats may find significant differences. However, with an open mind, a willingness to adapt, and an appreciation for the rich Portuguese culture, the culture shock can transform into a profound cultural learning experience. Living in Portugal, Nordic expats can gain a new perspective on life, build lasting connections, and create cherished memories in their new Mediterranean home.

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