Portuguese Manners for Business Travelers

When doing business in Portugal you’ll be surprised to find that business doesn’t really get going until about 10:00 a.m., although many businesses open at 9:00. Make appointments for late morning or mid-afternoon. Schedule all appointments about a week or two in advance but confirm the appointment before hopping a plane.

In many countries you’ll find a relaxed attitude towards punctuality and Portugal is one of those countries. You, as the foreigner, should arrive about 5 minutes late but be prepared to be kept waiting slightly longer than that.

Business dress is slightly more casual than in most countries. Sports jacket and slacks with or without tie are the norm. Do not wear short sleeve shirts with ties. Standard suits are perfectly acceptable, though. During a meeting, if you get too warm, ask if anyone minds if you remove your jacket before doing so. Unless you see others with sleeves rolled up refrain from doing so. Women should wear long sleeve shirts and blouses but pantsuits are acceptable in most cases.

Most business people in Portugal speak good English although slang and idioms are usually lost in translation. Some arm touching or shoulder patting may be done in the business world but don’t be the initiator of such gestures.

Avoid compliments during initial meetings or you’ll seem pretentious. Avoid topics like social or business positions, salaries, or personal questions about family. Speaking of your own family is okay as long as it isn’t too personal. Humor is fine but shouldn’t be applied immediately.

Names in Portugal can be extremely complicated with many people having five or six names. Usually the last name you hear is the name by which you will refer to the person. Pay close attention when introduced and ask for pronunciation again, if necessary. Use proper titles when known.

Gifts can be given soon after establishing a relationship with business associates. Gifts are opened and displayed upon receiving. At Christmas lavish gifts are given to associates and family. If invited to a home take a gift but not wine.

During the course of your business dealings you’ll likely find that meetings are not well organized. In addition, things often run way past deadline. Be flexible and willing to adapt. Final contracts don’t necessarily mean the Portugese won’t want to change their minds down the road.

When dining, lunches are usually for business, dinner for family and friends. Dining etiquette is not as formal and rules are much more relaxed than in some countries. Mind normal table manners, place napkin in lap, and don’t eat with fingers. Don’t switch silverware between hands. Use fork with right hand, knife with left.

It’s extremely crude, in public, to stretch. Never write any type of note or card in red ink. If you need to turn your back on someone it’s necessary to first apologize, but even better to find another way besides turning your back. When handing something to someone it’s the norm to say “please”, meaning “please take this”.

The most important thing you need to remember when doing business in Portugal is that things will not likely go speedily. Showing patience and cooperation will launch you in the right direction.

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