Many French people are attracted to the gentle way of life in Portugal. France is also a popular tourist destination and attracts a lot of expats, but these two European countries differ in many ways: the climate, the landscape, the language ... They also both have strong cultural identities, with many particularities.
So what are the biggest cultural differences between France and Portugal?
Punctuality in France VS Portugal
In France, being punctual is synonymous with respect, both with regards to professional appointments and for everyday events (e.g. a meeting with friends). In some regions of France, people prefer to arrive a little early. For them, the adage, "Being on time is already being late" applies to everyday life, but is especially important for appointments, such as job interviews, business meetings or medical appointments.
The Portuguese are more relaxed and flexible. If an appointment is made with someone for lunch at 12.00 for example, people will often turn up at 12.15 or even 12.30. Appointments are also often rescheduled or cancelled at the last minute. The Portuguese take their time and are not stressed out by schedules!
Greeting people in France VS in Portugal
Kissing one other as a form of greeting is a deeply rooted tradition in both France and Portugal. And despite the obvious restrictions that Covid-19 has brought, it remains an important part of the cultural identity of both countries.
In France, the number of kisses exchanged depends on the people concerned and the context. In addition, the number of kisses varies according to the region, ranging from two to four, and even up to five in Corsica! The French greet their friends and family in this way, but they also greet colleagues, at work in the same way.
In Portugal, it's simpler, because regardless of where you are in the country the Portuguese greet each other by exchanging two kisses, one on each cheek, always starting from the right cheek.
In Portugal, men generally just shake hands with each other – even within a family. Women, on the other hand, shake hands very rarely except for example in a professional setting.
Addressing other people in France and Portugal
In both France and Portugal it is usual for people to address each other formally. This is particularly true in a professional context, when people show respect towards their superiors, older people or to strangers etc.
Addressing somebody informally is reserved for close friends and family, as well as for long-standing acquaintances.
In Portugal, however, acquaintances very quickly end up calling each other by their first names, so bonds between neighbours or colleagues are formed more quickly.
The Portuguese are also more expressive and less formal socially than their French neighbours and they are less tied to social conventions in their conversations. This is what gives neighbourhoods in big cities like Lisbon the air of small provincial villages, where everyone knows each other and talks to each other in the street and in the shops.
In France, depending on the region, a certain level of politeness is maintained in most everyday interactions, including between neighbours, colleagues or members of a community.
Cultural differences between France and Portugal in restaurants
When you arrive at a restaurant in Portugal, the waiters bring you water in a carafe, and put bread and snacks on the table, even if you have not ordered anything. However, you should be aware that if you eat what is brought to you, you will be charged for it (by on average 2 €).
In contrast, in France, when a waiter brings you something that you have not ordered such as bread, appetisers, water, etc., it is free of charge. In France, if you ask for extra bread to go with your meal, you will generally not be charged for it either.
French law actually stipulates that restaurant owners must provide fresh or tempered drinking water free of charge.
Answers to your questions about the cultural differences between France and Portugal
There are about 45,000 French expatriates in Portugal. Half of them live in the Lisbon area and a third are retired people, attracted by the country's quality of life and a cost of living well below that of France.
The most striking cultural difference between France and Portugal is undoubtedly the pace of life, which is generally busier in France than in Portugal. This difference is felt in attitudes to punctuality, as well as in social interactions, which are more spontaneous in Portugal than in France.
Portugal is a small country, but it is divided into seven regions, all of which have their own cultural particularities. Lisbon is very popular; as is the Algarve in the south, by the sea; the North is home to the city of Porto; the Centre is a temperate and pleasant region; the Alentejo, is a very large and diverse region; and then finally you have the Autonomous Region of the Azores and the Autonomous Region of Madeira, which consists of four islands.
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