Three countries ago, I was in Finland, at the extreme North East of Europe. I have now arrived at the complete other end: Portugal. Comparing Finland and Portugal is a worthwhile exercise. They are each other`s opposite in almost any way you can think of. Read below story, imagine the opposite and you will know all there is to know about both Finland and Portugal.
Portugal`s language of conversation is - surprisingly - Portuguese, which has its roots in Latin and therefore closely resembles Spanish, French, Italian and Romanian. Even though Portugal has a population of only 10 million people, the Portuguese language is spoken by 200 million people scattered all over the world ? a heritage from Portugal`s glorious past as a seafaring nation.
`People forget that if they have the right to bend the law, other people do so as well`
Jo?o (22) tells me that Portugal character is most influenced by nostalgia. It is not only a country that honours its traditions, the Portuguese also believe that their national history is more exciting than where they are today. Jo?o tells me about a time when Portugal and Spain bribed the Pope so they could divide the world in two. Half of it for the Spanish, half for the Portuguese.
This battle to conquer the sees and discover new territories did not and up in Iberian hegemony, but it is for sure a reason why Portugal had so many colonies while being a relatively small nation itself. Once upon a time, the Portuguese empire included Brazil (South America), Angola, Guinea, Mozambique, Cape Verde, S?o Tom? (Africa), East Timor and Macao (Asia). The colonial past explains why so many people in the world still have Portuguese as their native tongue.
Food and Football
Food is another source of pride, and at the same time a perfect scale to measure other countries. If a country has a decent food culture, it must be a good place, and the opposite is equally true. The Portuguese kitchen includes a wide variety of ingredients and specialties that foreigners to the culture may not always be able to appreciate. Beside various animal organs, salt-dried fish and pig ears, the Portuguese do not refrain from using blood as a basis for many different dishes.
Football completes the list of things Portugal is proud of. The national football team usually do well in international competitions, even though Portugal has not yet succeeded to become European or World Champion. The nearest they got to success was the 2004 European Championship final against Greece. They lost 1-0, despite the advantage of playing at home, in Portugal. The best memory of the championships that still lasts today: improved roads and public transportation systems in the cities that hosted the event. Clubwise, Portugal has been doing better, with Benfica and Porto winning titles in the European competitions for clubs.
Football matches in Portugal are likely to be surrounded by minor violence, but nothing compared to the deliberate fights that oftentimes take place in Glasgow after Celtic and Rangers play each other. Instead, the presidents of the different football clubs are usually distantly or closely related to bribery, money laundering or other undesired behaviour behind the scenes.
It may seem to outsiders like Portugal is all about eating and football. According to Sofia (32), there are indeed not many other things the Portuguese feel confident about. `We do not like change`, says Miguel (26, photo). He continues telling about Portuguese people being selfish and disrespectful towards the authorities. `People forget that if they have the right to bend the law, other people do so as well`, he explains, `and we can always be very petty about details that do not really matter.`
One detail that does not really matter to many Portuguese people is time. While Nordic countries live by the time of the clock, the Portuguese way of doing things tends to be a bit more relaxed. Being an hour late when you meet a friend is not an exception. Being in time can even be taken as an unpleasant surprise. In both cases, the waiting time is a problem for the one waiting, not the one awaited. As a solution-slash-compromise, Portuguese people often set their meetings in public places, so the waiting person can at least take a coffee while anticipating the arrival of the rest.
Perception of time is not the only problem Portugal is facing. Unemployment is fairly high and even people with a university diploma may have a hard time finding a job. Sofia (32) tells me that jobs are likely to be distributed to the cousin of the boss, rather than a suitable applicant. Promotions run according to the same model. Making progress by merit is seldom, getting somewhere through contacts is more likely to lead to success.
The importance of family members is in no way restricted to the work floor. Portugal cherishes the experience of the old, more so that the adventurous spirit of the younger generation. Without having to appeal to cosmetic surgery, older people gain a lot of respect and if it is not given to them, they will claim it from you. Welcome to the grey-hair-o-cracy of Portugal!
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