The Things in Lisbon That Gave Me Culture Shock


Hey, and if you’ve followed for a while, you’d know I lived in Portugal for four months back in 2018. I do talk about it a lot, so I apologise if you’re thinking ‘oh not this again’! I want to reflect on my time there, as it’s been just over a year since I returned to the UK. There were quite a few things that shocked me when coming into the country, and I want to reflect on those. I want to compare it to the UK as well. My feature photo is of the Estádio José Alvalade, the home of Sporting CP.

I will preface by saying that it’s probably more of a culture shock towards Lisbon rather than the entirety of Portugal. I did visit Barreiro and Almada briefly as well, and I would like to do a round-trip of Portugal in the future.

The language

This, I’m sure, happens with every country you go into that doesn’t have English (or your native language) as its first language. I remember when picking up my luggage at the airport, the welcome sign was in Portuguese, with the pronunciation spelt out for you.

The language itself was interesting, and it’s easy to pick little bits up and have help translating via my friend Jeanette, who is fluent in Brazillian Portuguese (yes, there is a difference). I managed to pick up some of the language so that I was aware of the basics that I needed to get through the day (like ‘O saco, por favor’ – even though that’s horrid for the environment, it’s something that is needed sometimes).

The apartments

I lived in two apartments while I was in Lisbon. They were both intended for 3-4 people, with two bathrooms. You unlock the doors to enter by turning the key and then pulling the door before pushing the door open, and then they lock automatically when closed (I was locked out of my flat one time when this happened). In the UK, they remain unlocked until you lock them.

Next to the kitchens were laundry areas, usually locked off next to the balcony or in a cupboard. In the UK, we have our washing machines in the kitchen – we don’t have separate laundry spaces. I prefer the idea of having the laundry area in a separate area to the kitchen, it makes the space feel more organised.

This is something that is strange to me as a Brit – in our bathrooms, we have no such thing as electrical sockets. The only things that are electric in our bathrooms are the showers and the light. However, it’s common practice to have plugs in the bathroom for shavers? I don’t get it. Also in the bathrooms, you tend to find bidets. And holy crap (pun-intentional), bidets are awesome! When it comes to building my own house, I’m having one of those.

The Metro

I live in a town where the buses are awkward as hell. A much easier mode of transport in Lisbon is the Metro. It’s so quick and cheap – a single ticket costs 1.50€ (buses are priced the same), where a regular single bus ticket in Scunthorpe costs around £2.50 (I think). Metro trains come by around every 4-10 minutes, and that depends on the day. On weekends and Bank Holidays, there are fewer carriages on these Metros.

The Metro stations feature artwork in them, usually in the form of tiles. There is a tile museum in Lisbon, and Lisbon is famous for its tile production and implementation in buildings.

They can be hella cramped, but if you’re heading to Oriente on the red line, there’s a guy that plays the accordion with a small dog on his shoulder. I’m sure he’s been doing it for years!

The pastelarias

Portugal is jam-packed with pastelarias. Pastelarias are your typical bakeries and cafes, and they usually have a selection of cakes and baked goods in the window to entice you in (and it works). In Scunthorpe, you usually see charity shops or pubs or hairdressers on every street. In Portugal, it’s pastelarias.

And they are beautiful! I know it’s a huge staple, but pastel de nata is an amazing treat, and it’s definitely a tourist magnet, that’s for certain.

The weather

Oh boy.

So I went to Lisbon on the back-end of July 2018. Within the first week, we had text alerts warning us about wildfires in the area. The weather had jumped up from mid-20’s to mid-40’s in a matter of days, and I was pretty much dying. In the UK it doesn’t get too hot too frequently, so this was the hottest I’d ever been – outside, anyway.

In public buildings and workplaces, there is a thing called air conditioning, which us lot in the UK don’t have as a standard. But in Portuguese homes, they’re very good at keeping the heat out, due to their higher ceilings and building materials. It was very easy to keep cool during a summers’ night, even if the temperatures were 30 degrees in the middle of the night.

During autumn, the weather kept reasonably mild. However, in the houses, it gets very cold. Unlike the UK, we didn’t have central heating, so we had to make do with heaters or warm blankets. And it got quite wet around November. Very wet indeed.

The people

The people are generally very chill, I noticed while I was there. They seemed to take things steady in their approach to doing things. They are also very friendly – I recall mentioning going to Baku, the cafe near Entre Campos, and being made to feel so welcome, especially as a regular.

The paperwork

The paperwork in Portugal is a bitch. There is so much paperwork to fill out over there, and that doesn’t include residency (that was all covered by the company I worked for). Having a NIF number was fine, but at the same time, the one thing that struck me as the oddest (and at the same time quite sensible) is having to sign any documents in the same signature as your passport. So anything from work contracts to housing contracts had to be signed in the same pattern as your passport. I changed my signature since my passport, so I found that quite daunting to do, but it’s something you have to do over there, and I can agree with it I suppose.

Other bits

I wanna do some more bullet points:

  • We do get beggars in the UK, but not being able to understand a beggar that’s all up in your face is scary. I had to bolt.
  • NO BEANS! The only time I had beans in Portugal was in a hotel for my breakfast buffet. They weren’t great beans either.
  • There’s so much graffiti in Lisbon. In some places, you can’t leave a scrap of wall clean for too long. I know graffiti is commonplace in other places, but you usually see more graffiti in the most impoverished areas in the UK. In Lisbon, you can see it everywhere.
  • They drive on the wrong side of the road! It also meant nearly getting knocked down by a car a couple of times after looking right first instead of left.
  • You get tickets and have to wait for deli counters or appointments, and your number comes up when it’s your turn. Never have to do that in the UK, we usually queue.

Either way, it’s safe to say I won’t be as shocked when I return!

6 comments on “The Things in Lisbon That Gave Me Culture Shock”

  1. Most places drive on the right, not the left, if memory serves. If anything, I’d say the UK drives on the wrong side of the road 😛

    The biggest thing that was a shock to me in Spain — and I’m curious if Portugal is the same — was the sheer number of street vendors that were around. You typically only see them in the downtown area of big cities. But even smaller cities seemed to have them everywhere in Spain.


    1. Ahem, everyone else in the world drives on the wrong side of the road! 😀

      Also, Portugal’s great with street vendors, although they usually set up shop in gardens and attractions every once in a while, selling touristy wares. There weren’t as many as Spain probably has, but I enjoyed seeing them around when they popped up. You just had to catch them on the right day.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. it was really interesting to read your impressions about my hometown… and yeah, paperwork is crazy, I am local and sometimes it’s hard for me I just how hard it can be for you… anyway hope you have a great time the next time you return! abraço PedroL


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