Lisbon: The Cultural Codes and Etiquette

BY Alex Couto

Lisbon: The Cultural Codes and Etiquette
Photography by Cristiana Morais


Lisbon has come a long way when it comes to dressing. Gone are the days where everyone wore a black suit with a matching tie to match the sombre mood of the fascist dictatorship. The country has gone from a long period of darkness into an era of golden glow.

Being ostentatious is another conversation. It’s problematic. The millionaire tourists that stroll down Avenida da Liberdade really sour the mood. They probably won’t be robbed, but Portuguese people cringe at their excess, especially when the minimum wage in Portugal is €740 a month. Posting TikTok videos about how you live as a digital nomad in Lisbon with just €3000 a month is also frowned upon, which shouldn’t come as a surprise.

Drinking alcohol on the street is cool, but drinking to the point of passing out on the sidewalks of Bairro Alto and Cais do Sodré is not. The neighbourhood associations are traumatised from puke-flooded streets and hanging car mirrors. Please keep the booze in your stomach with the help of Água das Pedras.

Locals host a lot of dinners at home and picnics in the garden. If you meet Portuguese or Brazilians (there is a recent influx of entrepreneurs from our brotherly country), there is a big chance they’ll invite you to their home for something delicious, accompanied by red wine. If that chance appears, take it. You’re in for a treat. The polite thing to do is bring at least one bottle of wine or a dessert. Also, ask about dietary options when it comes to dessert, because Portuguese people will slap 20 eggs into every dish. Showcase your good taste by choosing the right wine to pair with food, any good wine shop will help you with that (looking at you Rebel Rebel and Comida Independente).

If you’re at a bar or restaurant, it’s customary to tip, but not obligatory. Just be aware that waiters are usually paid the minimum salary and their bosses are depending on your solidarity to give them a fair living wage.

Defending hard right or hard left political views will almost always find you a debate opponent that may or may not be way too galvanised to keep physical distance. Please keep in mind that recent Portuguese history has seen terrible decisions from both sides of the political spectrum and discussions are bound to continue ad eternum.

If you see older locals spitting towards the floor like it’s normal, just know that the younger generations find it just as disgusting as you do.