Portugal-flag-240Portuguese business culture

Did you know about business culture in Portugal? Watch this video animation to find out some interesting facts:

Business Culture in Portugal is characterised by: business communication, business etiquette, business meeting etiquette, internship and student placements, cost of living, work-life-balance and social media guide.

Learn about Portugal:

The country covers an area of 92,072 square km and is divided into 308 municipalities, which are further subdivided into more than 4,000 parishes.

The population of Portugal was 10,138,111 as of Friday, June 24, 2022, which is slightly down compared to the previous decade when it was 10.562.178 million according to the 2011 Census conducted by the National Institute of Statistics. The capital is Lisboa (Lisbon) and the official language is Portuguese. The majority of Portuguese are Roman Catholic. There are small numbers of Protestants, Hindus, Jews and Muslims but the number  of Evangelic Christians is currently rising due to the large numbers of Brazilians and their descendants who emigrated  to Portugal in the early 2000’s.
Portugal is in the GTM zone and during March to October Daylight Saving Time (UTC +1 hour) is in operation.
Portugal has a maritime temperate climate with average annual temperatures of about 16°C. The North is usually cool and rainy, whilst the South is generally warmer and drier. In the past, Portugal was a world power. During the 15th and 16th centuries, the country l acquired many dependencies overseas and enjoyed significant prosperity. In 1910 when the monarchy was overthrown, a repressive government ran the country for the next sixty years. In 1974 a left-wing military coup initiated a set of democratic reforms.
At that time, Portugal granted independence to its African colonies. After 1974, Portugal set out an agenda for modernisation and democratisation.
Between these dates Portugal had a fascist dictatorial government and was the last country to release its African Colonies (Angola, Cape Verde, Mozambique, St Thomas & Prince and Guinea) in 1975, a year after they were granted independence on 25th April 1974.
In 1949 Portugal signed the North Atlantic Treaty (NATO) and in 1986 she  joined the European Community.
Portugal is now a parliamentary republic based on a Constitution drafted in 1976, . The executive is represented by the President, the Council of State (the presidential advisory body), the Prime Minister and Council of Ministers (the government).
The President is directly elected for a maximum of two consecutive five-year terms. The Prime Minister who is also elected leads the Council of Ministers.
The legislative body is constituted by the unicameral Assembly of the Republic (Parliament) of 230 deputies, who are elected for a maximum period of four years. The judicial power is vested in the Supreme Court, district courts, appeals courts and Constitutional Tribunal.
The main agricultural products of Portugal are: cereals, olives and their vineyards. The main industries are cement production, fishing, oil refineries, automotive and shipping machinery, paper injection moulding, electrical and electronics plastic products, textiles, footwear, leather, ceramics, furniture, and cork ( of which Portugal is a leading producer). In addition, in several areas across the country there are non-traditional technology-based industries: biotechnology, aerospace, and ICT sectors.

Xenophobia: being a foreigner in Portugal

Generally Portuguese people are very friendly and welcoming to strangers. They are  sincere and  usually mean what they say. Personal relationships are especially important in business and, in fact, very often are as important as the  products or services involved. In general, the Portuguese prefer to do business with those they can trust which is usually the result of having spent time in building a relationship. It is thus appropriate to have a mutual contact and to build up a certain degree of credibility before you start negotiating with the Portuguese. The approach in Portuguese business in general is also based in flexibility, sometimes looking forward to long-term business relationships rather than a single one off transaction. The Portuguese have a great respect for foreigners  and as such  usually welcome them and their ideas warmly.  In the 70’s anything that came from outside Portugal was seen as being  “new” a  fact that was probably  related to the fascist government’s prohibition of certain products or services.

Nowadays, due to the recession the Portuguese prefer to buy their own products, even though these are usually more expensive due to a smaller output in terms of product or service.

International business in Portugal

Some essential aspects of Portuguese life  have an impact on the way business is conducted. Without at least a partial understanding of some of the issues relating to Portuguese cultural attitudes and values, you may experience a ‘culture shock’  which may have a negative impact on your business activities in the country.

General education

Although the Portuguese education system is of an acceptable standard, it is still not as advanced as those of  many other western European countries. In the past the country’s poor educational performance when measured against the rest of the EC was particularly striking and could be seen as a legacy of Portugal’s long isolation from Europe and the repression of the period before the revolution of 1974. In recent decades, however, the Portuguese economy and society have undergone significant changes and many issues related to the education system have been addressed. Despite these changes, Portugal is still ranked as the lowest country in the OECD Educational Attainment index.

In the 1990s, the illiteracy rate in Portugal was at about 15% – the major contributors to this statistic being older people. Another problem was the  low school enrolment figures after the primary cycle, especially in rural areas, where many children began work at an early age. The Portuguese education system also suffered from outdated facilities and equipment, poorly paid teachers, curricula unsuitably set and a low rate of university enrolments. Although many of these issues have improved significantly in recent years and the standard of Portuguese education system is continuously improving, for many foreign companies the necessity to address education-related issues is still quite common.

Nowadays, a skill that is growing rapidly among Portuguese people is computer literacy. Although not as high as in North-Western European countries, Portugal has a fairly good PC literacy profile, particularly among the younger generation. For managers of all age groups, it can be expected that they have developed PC skills, as the use of information technology is continually spreading within Portuguese businesses.

Educational standards

Having an high level of education it’s vital to find a job. In Portugal, only the 32% of adults (25-64 years old) have an high-school degree.

This percentage is lower respect the OECD average of 74% and. Anyway, during the last years governement are facing this issue reorganizing and modernizing its school system and offering better facilities for all.

Other issues

Topics that are particularly suitable for a conversation with Portuguese counterparts include: football, Portuguese food and wine, family, politics, the economy, movies, travel, music and literature. The colour red is usually seen as a symbol of the revolution, whilst green is a symbol of hope and  blue of royalty.

When planning appointments you should use the 24 hour clock [e.g. ‘09.30h’ for 9.30] in written exchanges but verbally ‘half past nine in the morning’ is ok. You should always write the date in the format ‘day/month/year’.

Portugal is a culture that respects age and position. In Portuguese society, status is of crucial importance. Car brands, executive remuneration, academic titles are all very important in Portugal. Interestingly, car brand is probably the most significant element of one’s status, Job title is of such importance that it is quite normal to see employees underpaid for the job they do  but still be happy because of its status.

Since the Portuguese place such a high emphasis on status, they have a great respect for their superiors, which is,  often exaggerated. Due to this approach, Portuguese workers are not used to asserting their own ideas or questioning management and so their bosses tend to be dictators. This culturally embedded unwillingness to challenge authority is probably the biggest drawback of the Portuguese workforce. In the workplace, it  usually manifests itself in a  low appreciation for team work, analysing only the personal interest in an action (what’s in it for me?) and not being keen on taking responsibility. Portuguese people are generally complacent and dislike confrontation. Disputes are typically resolved through discourse, negotiation or avoidance altogether. However, it is rare to see a Portuguese avoiding confrontation when their  values are called  into question. Cheating or loss of trust would be a deal breaker for the Portuguese. The workplace tends to be somewhat formal with even close colleagues using titles and last names. Very often Portuguese employees do not seek empowerment and are not used to accepting responsibility. When something goes wrong in an organisation, it is the fault of a colleague, a competitor, the government or the economy. For foreign firms therefore, it  may not be easy to find someone who will take personal responsibility for the carrying out of delegated work.

Another issue in Portuguese business culture is the non-fulfilment of commitments either on time or at all. For foreign associates it is advisable not to assume that a commitment will be fulfilled without constant attention and badgering. In Portuguese business, planning is often poor and deadlines are not held to be  very important  Also, the Portuguese tend to plan more than  they actually accomplish  – over promising and then under delivering.

On the other hand, Portuguese employees are usually experts in dealing with a last minute crisis. In a Portuguese business there is always someone who will find a creative solution to the problem.

Cultural taboos

Your Portuguese counterpart will be quick to let you know if you have introduced a taboo subject. Topics that are better  avoided include,  colonial wars or the fate of their victims. Other controversial topics such as religion, racism, discrimination or abortion are also best avoided.
It is advisable not to ask certain personal questions, for instance, about a person’s background, age, relationships, appearance or weight, or about their earnings and occupation. Behaviours that should be avoided are making overly exaggerated gestures and spitting in public. As the Portuguese generally dislike confrontation, it is advisable to ensure that your behaviour cannot be interpreted as  critical or ridiculing ofthis proud people.
As a golden rule, it is most appropriate to go for an atmosphere of mutual respect within  the country and culture and acknowledge the effort your Portuguese counterparts make to welcome you to  their country.

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