Peak Translations

A fast-swimming Portuguese small fish in a big pond

Portugal may appear a small ‘peixe’ in the European economic pond, but it certainly doesn’t act like one, given that it is home to one of the EU’s fastest developing economies. With its gills puffed up, this unique and exotic ‘peixe’ offers a whole host of worthwhile national and international business opportunities, brandishing a reliable and young workforce, as well as low labour costs. It is also internationally recognised for its long-established Port and wine industry, which contributes a huge amount of revenue to the country’s economy, alongside other significant exports including machinery and mining equipment. Not forgetting its haven of valuable natural resources such as cork (world’s largest producer) and timber, reputedly the largest in Europe. It’s not looking such a small fish now!

And it doesn’t stop there. This fascinating country with its rich cultural heritage, stunning landscape and eclectic history is home to a diverse array of national treasures. For academics, Portugal is home to one of the oldest universities, whilst its capital, Lisbon, provides a magical sanctuary for bookworms, by housing the world’s oldest bookstore. With a 497-mile coastline, this magnificent fish also boasts one of the world’s best surfing locations. What’s not to love about Portugal?  So how do we best approach doing business with this charming European country? Three top-tips are as follows; embrace their culture, be at one with their way of life and learn their business etiquette and before you know it, you’ll be part of their Mediterranean shimmering shoal.

“Punctuality is the soul of business” … unless you are Portuguese
Whilst the Portuguese will not necessarily arrive on time (those in the south are less punctual than in the north), punctuality is expected of their foreign clients; it is preferable to arrive five minutes before the appointed time. However, do not be surprised or offended if they turn up 20 minutes later than scheduled, it is common practice. Although you have every right to show some discontentment if they turn up later than 30 minutes!

Outfits should be smart
Appearance is everything. Portuguese business attire is very much à la mode and formal. In other words, the dress code is 007; make sure you are suited and booted and dressed to kill!

Rules on social etiquette
As a general rule, the Portuguese are not weekday party-going socialites. They tend to entertain or socialise at the weekend, unless they have a foreign business associate visiting, whereby they might invite you to dine in a restaurant or at their home. Expensive chocolates and flowers are acceptable gifts for a home dinner, but avoid 13 in a bunch as it is considered unlucky, as well as giving lilies or chrysanthemums, which are associated with funerals. Don’t worry if you can’t quite finish your meal, it is considered polite behaviour to leave a little food on your plate once finished.

Talk is not just about business
Don’t expect to keep to your timely agenda in business negotiations. The Portuguese are all about building trust and long-lasting business relationships, rather than one-off business transactions, so it is more than likely that conversations during meetings will cover all kinds of topics other than the business at hand, as they want to get to know you, although refrain from getting too personal. Try and not be disappointed if decisions are not made during a meeting; it is more customary for the verdict to come afterwards.

Understand hierarchy
Similar to many western European cultures such as Germany, Spain and Italy, business in Portugal follows suit when it comes to hierarchy. Seniority and rank are major players in a business meeting, with little room for collaborative discussions and teamwork in negotiations.  However, unlike the Italians, the Portuguese are not all about demonstrative behaviour and expressive hand gestures; they prefer a more gentle approach. It is also advisable to leave the game of hardball behind as pushiness is considered rude and aggressive and will do little to help your business partnership take shape.

Give a little, get a little
The Portuguese love to give and receive gifts, considering gift giving as a sign of respect. It is customary in business to offer your present at the beginning of negotiations and preferably unwrapped. Nevertheless, if you were to receive or give a wrapped gift, it is polite etiquette to open the present and express gratitude immediately, as well as send a thank you note. Stand out from your competition and offer something unique to your country. If you were from Scotland, then a decent bottle of malt whisky would go down a treat! Refrain from offering wine; they are after all renowned for their premium wines and port!

Address is important
Don’t sink before you can swim. Help your business relationship sail steadfastly along the international voyage of negotiations by correctly addressing your  Portuguese counterparts by their proper honorific title, either with ‘senhor’ (Mr) or ‘senhora’ (Mrs) with their surname. Those with university degrees should be addressed as ‘doutour’ or ‘doutoura’ (doctor) with or without their surname.

Learn the language
Top tip; don’t assume that everyone speaks English just because it’s the world’s most spoken language. Embrace their language and learn some basic words and phrases, which firstly shows respect for your clients and/or colleagues and will also go a long way to building a stronger business relationship. However, Portuguese is the official language of nine countries across the globe, including Brazil, Mozambique and Cape Verde and comes in varying guises. Therefore, if you don’t want to feel like a fish out of water, impress them with the correct Portuguese. For instance, ‘Bom dia’ (Good morning), ‘Boa tarde’ (Good afternoon) and ‘Boa noite’ (Good night) is used in both Portugal and Brazil, but don’t be asking a local where to get a ‘trem’ (train), as ‘comboio’ is the European version. Likewise, avoid letting your counterpart know that you are pleased to meet them with the Brazilian ‘Prazer em Conhecê-lo/a’. Heartily greet your Portuguese client with ‘Muito Prazer’ instead. The differences may seem subtle, but it shows that you have taken the time to understand their language, just as if you were going to Brazil, you’d adopt the Brazilian way.

Don’t worry, etiquette doesn’t require you to become a fully-fledged Portuguese linguist, but the effort will be much appreciated. For help in the language area, it would be worthwhile employing the services of an interpreter in a business meeting, just as it would be advisable to have any business documents translated into Portuguese.

All in all, if you want to sail the seven seas and ingratiate yourself into the Portuguese crew, learn how they do business and orientate yourself to their culture.

By Madeline Prusmann, Project Manager, May 2017

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