How to adjust to the local culture in Porto

Adjusting to the local culture in Porto
Updated 2023-11-12 07:53

If you want to truly embrace Porto's culture, then getting acquainted with the locals is a must! Once you're up for it, making new friends will be rather easy, as people in the northern districts (such as Porto) are famous for being the nicest, most welcoming, and most genuine in the country. Don't be shy; put yourself out there, and people will give you a proper welcome!

Socializing in Porto

Meeting friends for food, drinks and coffee is a very Portuguese thing to do. In Porto, people don't simply meet up to talk and catch up. There's always some food and drinks added to the mix. You will hear lots of friends agreeing to “meet up for a cup of coffee” and then not drinking coffee at all! They will end up having ice cream by the beach or simply going for a walk and wrapping it up with dinner somewhere. 'Having a cup of coffee' is just an expression used to agglomerate all the different options of conviviality, so feel free to suggest different activities any time someone invites you for a cup of coffee.

Getting to know Porto and its history is a very interesting way of understanding some of its people's features. Listen to Fado in a typical restaurant, eat a Pastel de Nata, try a Francesinha and go for a football match at the Estádio do Dragão. Stroll along the Matosinhos promenade during summer nights and throw a barbecue event at your place, add some beer to the mix, and there you go, a perfect feast.

One thing you must know is that most locals are more willing to embrace different activities, events or meetups during weekends or holidays. Therefore, you might have a hard time gathering people for some night drinks on weekdays.

Local festivities in Porto

Don't miss out on any of the local festivities, which will undoubtedly allow you to properly feel like you're part of the city, its culture and its people. Senhor de Matosinhos occurs in May, and São João (Celebrations of Saint John) take place in June — so be ready for a lot of grilled sardines, bell peppers and local music (we call it “Pimba”). Although June is the month when the city's most popular patron saint is celebrated, there are plenty of small-town celebrations all over the Summer months.

Regarding São João, the biggest party in the city, this is the perfect time to mingle with the locals since everyone goes out on the streets dancing and celebrating through the districts of Matosinhos, Foz do Douro and Baixa (Downtown). People will dance with you, buy you drinks, ask you to buy them drinks in return, and hit you in the head with plastic hammers (don't ask questions – it's tradition!). It may sound very unusual, but it is part of the fun.

Curse words in Porto

People in Porto are known to “use curse words like they are commas”. They are brash, harsh and loud, but that doesn't mean they are mad or in a bad mood. It's just the way they communicate! So once your Portuguese starts picking up, do not be surprised at the number of bad words the average “Portuense” spits out daily, as they tend to curse to express even good emotions, such as surprise, fun, happiness, and even to show affection.

Some don'ts in Porto

Don't stare at people. Staring is highly frowned upon in Porto, and you might get yourself in trouble if you do it too much.

Don't expect older people to speak English. Although younger generations generally have no problem speaking English, older people simply do not speak it. They will still try to help you, though!

Don't dare to compare Porto to Lisbon. Unless you are making Porto look better than the capital, comparing the city to its rival is a major no-no.

Don't approach locals in Spanish. Portuguese people speak Portuguese! Jokes aside, most locals will not find it very amusing if you simply assume Spanish is their mother tongue. Extra tip: Do not say “gracias” under any circumstance. If you want to thank someone, use “obrigado” (if you're a man) or “obrigada” (if you're a woman).

Don't stress how cheap you find the city. Listen, we get it that Porto can be considered cheap or affordable by most North American or Western European standards, but a lot of people all over the city are currently struggling to make ends meet, with a big share of the public blaming over-tourism and digital nomads for it. Enjoy, but be mindful.

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