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5 Words or phrases you shouldn’t say to a Portuguese and what to say instead

a sign in front of a brick building

When visiting any country, it’s important to be mindful of cultural norms and etiquette to ensure respectful and positive interactions with locals. The Portuguese people are generally very laid back and known for being great hosts and even to adapt a lot to their visitors. But it’s always nice to make an effort to acknowledge the culture of the country you’re visiting.

Language plays a significant role in communication, and understanding what to say and what to avoid can make a difference in building meaningful connections.

In this article, we’ll explore five words or phrases you should avoid saying to a Portuguese person and offer alternative expressions that will help you navigate conversations with cultural sensitivity.

bandeira no poste ao lado do prédio durante o dia

1. “Spain” instead of “Portugal”

This is an ancient battle, and the Portuguese are always sensitive of it. Portugal takes great pride in its unique history, culture, and distinct identity. Referring to Portugal as “Spain” can be seen as a disregard for its individuality. Instead, use the correct name and acknowledge the country’s rich heritage by saying “Portugal” when referring to this beautiful nation.

Cristo Redentor, Brasil

2. “Brazilian Portuguese is the same” instead of “Portuguese is different here”:

While Brazilian Portuguese and European Portuguese are variants of the same mother language, they also have distinct differences in pronunciation, vocabulary, and grammar. Avoid making generalized statements that imply they are identical. Instead, show interest in the local Portuguese dialect by asking questions like, “Are there any notable linguistic differences between regions in Portugal?” (and yes, you bet there are!).

uma praia rochosa com água azul

3. “Spain has better beaches” instead of “I’ve heard great things about Portuguese beaches”:

Portugal boasts stunning coastlines and beautiful beaches that are a source of pride for the Portuguese people. When there’s a lot to be frustrated about in our day to day lives, our sunny and amiable weather and gorgeous sealine really helps to take our minds off of it. Comparing portuguese beaches unfavorably to another country’s beaches can be perceived as dismissive. Instead, appreciate Portugal’s natural beauty by saying, “I’ve heard amazing things about the beaches in Portugal. Which ones would you recommend?”

estátua de concreto cinzenta sob o céu branco durante o dia

4. “Portugal is poor” instead of “Portugal has a rich cultural heritage”:

Portugal has a long and storied history, known for its contributions to literature, exploration, and cultural achievements. It has had its ups and downs and it’s no news to any Portuguese that you encounter, that economically, we are in an unfavorable position at the moment. Stereotyping the country as economically disadvantaged can be offensive. Instead, acknowledge Portugal’s cultural wealth and historical significance by saying, “I admire Portugal’s rich cultural heritage and its contributions to the world.”

pessoa desconhecida escrevendo na lousa

5. “Your language is difficult” instead of “I find Portuguese challenging”:

While learning any new language can be a challenge, it’s best to avoid stating that a particular language is difficult. This may unintentionally discourage the person you’re speaking to. Instead, express your enthusiasm for learning Portuguese by saying, “I’m enjoying the process of learning Portuguese. It’s such a fascinating language.” Also, no one will judge you if you make mistakes, the Portuguese usually love to see someone making an effort to learn our language and we will acknowledge that it’s difficult in both pronunciation and grammar. Go for it, make mistakes, you’ll also make more friends this way.

In conclusion, cultural etiquette plays a vital role in fostering meaningful connections and demonstrating respect while interacting with locals in Portugal. By adapting these five phrases that may be considered insensitive or dismissive and opting for more positive and appreciative expressions, you’ll show a genuine interest in Portuguese culture and language.

Embrace the opportunity to learn from and engage with the Portuguese people, and you’ll create memorable experiences during your visit to this culturally rich and welcoming country.


PS: Have you booked your trip to Portugal yet?

Did you know we have full and half-day tours in Lisbon and Porto, and also walking yours, and partner with experience providers? We bet that whatever you’re looking for, we’ve got it. And if you can’t find it on our website, you can always reach out to our friendly and expert team.

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