When I first spent an extended time in Portugal I noticed a lot of little differences about the way people do daily life compared to what is commonly done in the US. Now that I have been living in Portugal for more than three years, I just take all these differences for granted. But my current trip back to the states makes me realize how much I have accommodated to my new life in Europe. I also appreciate how many of the customs in Portugal reduce water, plastic and paper waste that is harmful to the environment.
In Portugal the supermarkets and small grocery stores do not bag your groceries. You must bring your own shopping bags or buy one at the checkout. The bags you can buy are sturdy and generous sized so you can fit a lot into one bag. You yourself must stuff all the items you have bought into the bag at the checkout. This saves a mountain of plastic bags from ending up in landfills. I was saddened to see that in Albuquerque, where I used to live, the city council reversed a decision to ban those plastic bags.
Another practical innovation is the way you use shopping carts. They are typically linked together and you must insert a coin or a plastic token to release the cart to take it into the store. After you’ve unloaded your shopping, you return the cart, reconnect it and you get the coin or token back.
This is a simple way to ensure that carts are returned. In Albuquerque I was used to seeing shopping carts abandoned all over the place. On a windy day a rogue cart could damage your car. It was also probably a big expense for the supermarkets to lose them.
In a lot of private homes, restaurants and even small hotels in Portugal, it is common to see a sign asking you not to put any paper or other products into the toilet. In private homes it’s because they have a septic system that can’t handle large volumes of toilet paper. I’m assuming the restaurants etc have some similar problem. Anyway, you have to re-train yourself to put the TP into the small container next to the toilet. It took me a while to be consistent about this.
I have even found some bathrooms, such as at a train station or a shopping mall, where you have to grab a length of TP from a huge roll hanging on the wall by the sinks, BEFORE you go into the stall.
Of course men rarely have either of these problems.
A couple of other points about bathrooms. Most toilets in Portugal have dual flush options which save water. Bathrooms typically have hot air blow dryers instead of paper or cloth towels to dry your hands.
Time and temperature confusion
After more than three years of living in Portugal, I have become figuratively bi-lingual in matters of time and temperature. I am no longer flummoxed when trying to decide whether to take the train at 17:00 or 19:00, hint 5 p.m. or 7 p.m. Now, having to say a.m. and p.m. seems so inefficient. You also know immediately whether you’re talking about 12 noon (12:00) or midnight (24:00) .
I’ve also adjusted to using Celcius versus Fahrenheit when referring to the weather. I’ve become used to thinking that 20 degrees C (68F) feels pretty comfortable and 40 degrees C (104F) is nigh-on unbearably hot. Coming back to the US and reading that it’s 21 degrees I have to do mental gymnastics to remember that is really cold! Or, I could just stick my nose outside!
How far is that?
I must confess, I have not adapted so well to using kilometers versus miles, or kilograms instead of pounds. I used to be a very enthusiastic cyclist in New Mexico. There are mountains in NM but there are a lot of opportunities to ride on flat ground too. A 30 mile flat ride was considered pretty easy. I live in a hilly area in central Portugal and it is hard to find flat routes. Hence, a 30 km (18.6m) ride in my area is pretty tough!
I have to use grams and milliliters for European cooking recipes but I keep my bathroom scales on pounds so I still can’t tell you what I weigh in kilos. (I probably wouldn’t anyway!)
3 thoughts on “Useful things to know about life in Portugal”
Love this entry! Thank you so much, Rosalie, for sharing your experience about all the differences: time, temperature, weights, and the useful tip about bring your own shopping bag! I’ll pack mine for my 6-day trip next week! Fondly, DeWitt
LikeLiked by 1 person
Enjoy your trip. I talked with Steve Sinovic last week.