I find myself standing at the bar of a local coffee shop, drinking an espresso accompanied by a Pastel de Nata, a Portuguese egg tart pastry which you often dust with cinnamon. This is the traditional “lanche” snack which you take during your break in the morning. Mingling with the local people makes me feel more local in Lisbon and helps me to now call a place home that I had once visited as a tourist. Thinking about that reminds me of how quickly you get accustomed to an unfamiliar environment when you are open to new things and interested in learning habits and traditions of a different culture. For me, unfamiliarity is always something that awakens my interest. Because unfamiliarity to habits of places often teaches me that I need to have some openness in order to feel more comfortable in a place I don’t yet really know well. This openness towards the unfamiliar allowed me to get used to the timetables of the university that are different to my home university. Classes normally begin at 3 pm and last until 9 pm. Also, I became familiar with eating habits in Portugal, where you normally have your lunch break at 2 pm and go to eat meat with rice and chips. And consequently, I also meet my Portuguese friends later, because when we go out for dinner I meet them at 9 pm and that is still early for them.
When someone would have told me about some of these Portuguese habits before my exchange semester, I would have thought that I would hardly ever get used to all the customs of the Portuguese people. But now, after having lived in Lisbon for more than five months – I did! After a few months in Lisbon I even got used to the fishy smell in the back of the supermarket because they always sell Bacalhau, codfish – which plays a key role in the Portuguese cuisine. It is said that there are 365 different recipes for the preparation of codfish. Therefore, you can’t think of a supermarket that doesn’t sell this unique Portuguese speciality. A Portuguese supermarket that doesn’t sell Bacalhau is like a Migros that doesn’t sell cheese.
As you might see, there is not one single Portuguese habit that I familiarized myself with during my semester abroad, but several. This shows me that with time you can adopt new habits and include them in your everyday routine without even thinking that a few months earlier you would have never considered doing something like this! I can’t say after how many weeks some of my Swiss habits changed to Portuguese habits, because the change from the “unfamiliar” to the “familiar” didn’t happen at one blow but rather gradually. I can only say that I changed a few of my habits when I now, back in Switzerland, start to miss the “lanches” at the local coffee shop in my neighbourhood in Lisbon.
All in all, my exchange semester abroad helped me in my intercultural learning in a way that I now on the one hand have started to question customs we have in Switzerland and on the other hand have also begun to appreciate some Swiss practices even more.