My parents just got back from 3 months of living in Portugal. Before they were went out there they decided that they wanted to integrate with the community as much as possible rather than living a reclusive life. Here’s their top 10 tips for mingling with the locals and making friends:
1) Always say hello!
Don’t be afraid of the language – make an effort to learn the basics. If you’ve got the time then take a language course or teach yourself! The Portuguese are extremely polite and will *always* say good morning, afternoon or evening as you pass them in the street or enter a shop or cafe, at least that’s true for outside of the cities. They might be a bit cautious of you to begin with but smile and break the ice rather than looking at your shoes. If you’re feeling particularly adventurous then ask them how they are. The Portuguese love talking about the weather just as much as the English do and they’ll also like to tell you about all their ailments.
2) Talk about the weather.
Everybody knows that the English love to talk about the weather. Exploit the stereotype! In the Portuguese countryside the weather is very important as they will rely on it for farming. But if your Portuguese doesn’t go that far then use your hands and wave them around – you’ll get far with a bit of charades.
3) Go for a walk.
I would say that this is the best way to meet the locals. We walk the dogs twice a day down at a nearby forest but it takes about 10 minutes to get there. During those 10 minutes we walk past lots of people who are also walking and say hello to people doing their gardening. We’ve had lots of people who will stop us in the street and try their English. There are also people who walk their own dogs in the forest and will stop and talk to us.
4) Offer some ‘trade’.
If you have an abundance of something then trade it for something else. This worked wonders for us as we managed to trade our bamboo poles for eggs and lettuce and met many new people in the process. Our intention was to give them as a gift but they insisted on trading them for something. Since then we’ve received eggs, grapes, tomatoes, you name it! We didn’t have much to give them in return so we threw a party instead!
5) Use the local shops and suppliers.
Rather than going to the large supermarket in the nearby town, go to the local shops. This is not only a great way to meet new people but it also keeps money in the hands of the local people and keeps the area wealthy. The only downside is that you might end up spending a bit more than you would in the supermarkets. Although, I got my hair cut in the nearby hairdressers for €14 and it was the best cut I’ve had for years!
6) Enjoy the cafe culture.
Like the neighbouring countries, Portugal enjoys a cafe culture. They’ll sit outside all day just drinking coffee and chatting. You can quickly find yourself having a conversation with the bartender or other people sat nearby.
7) Look out for local events and celebrations.
If you’re there for a few weeks or live there then I would advise making an effort to attend local events. My parents went along to the annual chicken festival. It can be very daunting if you don’t speak much of the language but you’ll find that a lot of the Portuguese would’ve learnt English at school and so you can get by.
8) If you are religious then go to the local churches.
The Portuguese are quite religious and Catholicism is the main religion over here. I asked my Dad how often the church bells ring a day to call people to worship and he said that they never stop ringing! In our village they ring at 08:45 on Sunday morning to call people to church, which isn’t very unusual, but if there’s a wedding then they’ll ring them for hours in the afternoon. My parents aren’t at all religious and they don’t attend church but if that’s your thing then it would be a fantastic way to meet people with similar interests.
9) Make notes!
This might sound a little silly but my parents met so many people who offered to help them with their house project that they reached a point where they had to write down people’s names otherwise they’d forget them! My Dad carries a little book around with him and used it for everything – i.e. useful phrases, people’s names and numbers, etc. A lot of people they met had their own trade, such as carpentry, so it really paid off when we needed some work doing on the house. We’ve now got a blackboard up in the kitchen that we update every week with new phrases.
10) Be open-minded!
Lastly, just be open-minded. If you’re going to a different country then you’ll meet into people who are different from yourself. They’ll have different perspectives and values that you might disagree with. But there are so many things you can learn from other people and experiences you can share. Be open-minded and that attitude will take you far and you never know, you might find a long lasting friendship :)