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Expat Life in Portugal: 49 Things That Seem Different from the U.S.

An arrow points from the words "49 Things About" to a Portuguese flag. 5 images of Chris are staggered in the picture. Four hold up ten fingers. One holds up nine. Melissa is in the picture, almost smiling.

We’ve lived in Portugal for five months. Chris has kept himself extra busy putting together his list of 49 things that he thinks are a little different about Portugal – compared to the United States. They’re not criticisms. Just observations.  

This is Chris’s list with my perspective peppered in:

  1. Azulejos. They are gorgeous tiles that decorate building interiors and/or exteriors. 
  2. Calçadas Portuguesa. Paved paths made of irregular stones. This sort of pavement is used on roads, sidewalks, and courtyards.
People mill about São Bento Train Station in Porto, Portugal. Azulejos adorn the station's walls.
You can see a marvelous display of azulejos at their finest inside Porto's São Bento Station.

A few foodie Differences:

3. Pumpkin bread is on the savory side. 

4. Bread is often too tall or too fat for the toaster. I have not had this problem, but Chris has. The brand he uses is Oroweat. Mine is Schar’s Gluten-Free. 

5. Hard-boiled eggs are common in sandwiches. They were on the first sandwich we ate in Portugal. 

A club sandwich with hard boiled eggs, tomato, chicken, and lettuce with a pile of potato chips at its center.
A Club Sandwich with hard-boiled eggs from the restaurant at Hilton's Se Catedral Hotel in Porto.

Lots of Grocery Store Differences:

6. Grocery stores have a lot of fish. A lot! Our Hy-Vee back home has a fish section, but it’s nothing like the fish sections we walk through here. 

7. Large slabs of cured meat hang, available for purchase, near the deli section. 

8. All four wheels on shopping carts rotate 360 degrees here. Chris thinks their maneuverability is superior. I didn’t notice. 

9. Grocery stores sell strange-looking sea creatures. We’re primarily land eaters from Minnesota. Sea Bass is exotic to us — take that for what you will. 

10. A huge variety of jarred hot dogs line dry goods shelves in some grocery stores.  

11. Malls have grocery stores. I think this is a brilliant use of retail space and that malls in the United States should embrace this concept. 

12. As one would expect, the main verbiage on grocery packaging is in Portuguese. There’s often English somewhere on the packaging in small print. Look for the letters GB (for Great Britain) or EN (for English). We wear our glasses at the grocery store way more often here than back home. 

13. There’s a lot of bacalhau seco (dried cod) available in grocery stores and restaurants. 

14. Continente grocery stores use what Chris calls “virtual line management technology.” When you stand in the checkout line, a voice calls out the number of the checkout lane you should go to. The number also comes up on a screen close to the beginning of the line. 

15. There are white strawberries for sale at the grocery store. I think this is something that is showing up at grocery stores around the world, but this is a first for Chris, so it’s on the list. 

16. Automated garage-like doors open to grocery store stock rooms. In the United States, they’re usually swingy doors. 

17. There aren’t a lot of pickle options in the grocery stores here. Sometimes there aren’t any pickles at all. 

18. There is no pumpkin pie filling AT ALL in Portuguese grocery stores. There are pumpkins and pumpkin jam, but no pumpkin pie filling. As far as we know, the closest place to buy it is at Costco in Seville, Spain. 

19. Portugal has exceptional meat slice presenting technology (Chris’s words). When you order deli meat, the person working the counter slices a piece and presents it to you on a fancy wooden spoon (that’s the meat slice presenting technology) to see if it’s the thickness you want. 

20. Lighter fluid is not used to start a grill. Instead, they have little flammable cubes. 

21. Charcoal is not formed into briquettes. Instead, when you open the bag, it looks like they burnt down a house, shoveled up the remains, and bagged them. 

22. There are orange juice robots in the produce section! That’s what Chris calls them. You can use one to bottle your own fresh-squeezed orange juice at some grocery stores. 

23. Milk isn’t always refrigerated here. Most of it is shelved in the dry goods area. 

a. Eggs aren’t refrigerated either. 

Back to food & Drink itself:

24. Fruits taste amazing here: strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, bananas, mangoes, and on and on.

25. Bottled beers are often little, as in just around 8 ounces little. 

26. Port wine is often served at the end of a meal. 

27. When you order a hamburger at a restaurant, there’s a good chance that it won’t come on a bun. 

28. Wine bibs exist. They’re like a cloth napkin with a hole cut out that drapes over a wine bottle. I believe the newness of this for us has more to do with the fact that we didn’t order wine by the bottle before moving to Europe. 

29. When you order a gin and tonic here, you almost always receive a fancy one. Specific garnishes and specific tonics are paired with whichever gin you order.

Portugal At Home Fresh Fruits on a Plate (sliced banana, strawberries, blueberries, and raspberries)
I love eating fruit by the plate here! We purchased these fruits at Apolonia, our go-to grocery store in the neighborhood.

things that have nothing to do with food or drink:

30. Fire blankets are posted near stoves and spots where fires are likely to happen as a safety measure.

31. Salon services can be lonely (for Chris). Chris is shy about communicating when there’s a bit of a language barrier. 

32. No mass shootings. 

33. Pharmacies fill prescriptions on the spot so long as they have the medication in stock. 

34. Prescription medications are a lot less expensive.  

35. Clothing is optional on the beaches. 

36. It’s warm-cold here. In Minnesota, it gets really cold outside, but homes are built with keeping you warm in mind. Here, homes are built for summertime. In the winter, when it’s a bit chilly out, it’s chilly inside too. 

37. Dryers are uncommon. If you have one, there might not be venting going outside, so then there’s a water tank to empty (which is super easy).   

38. Not all new cars have backup cameras. 

39. There are no big yellow school buses here. 

40. In hospitals, pharmacies, government offices, and similar places, you pick a number from a machine and wait your turn. The number often has a letter associated that relates to the type of service you need. 

41. Men do not to salons for haircuts. If they do, we haven’t seen them. They must go to barbershops. 

42. Those who seem to be policing are called GNR. Since posting Chris’s list on YouTube, we have learned that there are also PSP (Public Security Police). 

43. Bird sounds play from speakers in restrooms and other public places. 

44. Leasing a car is called renting a car. 

45. Cover music plays in most restaurants, like Muzak, but with singing. 

46. There are neon vests in the trunks of cars. When people make roadside repairs to their cars, they wear those neon vests. 

47. Sporting goods stores have lots of soccer balls but no American footballs. 

Okay, these final two are somewhat connected to food and drink…

48. Dogs hang out inside restaurants. Sometimes the dog belongs to an owner, manager, or employee; sometimes, it’s a customer’s. 

49. Cats lounge around restaurants. They seem to always belong to someone working at the restaurant. 

There you have it! Chris’s list of 49 differences. I do feel it’s important to point out that when it comes to dogs and cats in restaurants, they aren’t allowed in all restaurants, just a surprising-to-us number of them. 

Have you been to Portugal? Is there anything you’d add to the list?

Check out our What This American Learned After Moving to Portugal: 49 Surprising Differences! video for a full explanation of all of the things Chris noticed! 

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