How an analysis of the size of beer can lead to a deeper understanding of culture

Since I was a child I was fascinated by the different cultures in the world, especially by the indigenous peoples and how those different societies work because it completely differs from what I am used to. That was one reason why I decided to take part in the MILSA Program. I wanted to get some more insights about what actually defines a culture. However, before my exchange I was not really aware about how difficult it might become to recognise the differences and to describe them.

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Bom dia – boa tarde – Obrigado – Desculpe – De nada

I have lived in Lisbon for 4 months now, but no, my Portuguese vocabulary did not expand at all. Every time when I go to a store and trying to be polite, my Portuguese conversation already ends after the greeting and unfortunately, I need to switch to English. Do I feel guilty and ashamed about it? Of course! But why haven’t I made any change yet? Shouldn’t I have an intrinsic motivation to do so? Isn’t it the first step of getting in contact with a new culture by learning the specific language?

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Public transportation and how it reflects the Portuguese mentality

When thinking about a cultural practice normally the first thing what comes to mind are prejudgments. Invalid, generalised assumptions and mostly discriminating in nature. When I was considering doing my exchange semester in Lisbon I automatically associated the Portuguese mentality with the mentality of southern Europe countries like doing “siesta”, being kind of lazy and taking the life with the attitude of “anyway, in some way everything is gonna be okay”. I believe we are doing this process of categorizing because we don’t like to be confronted with unaccustomedness. Therefore, we are using unjustified prejudgments to pretend to know something about a specific culture. As in every myth there is a little truth even in prejudgments there are too. But by looking at it from another perspective and experiencing the culture by yourself can lead you to different perceptions and insights.

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Becoming partly Portuguese – the story of familiarizing certain habits

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.

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Mais devagar, por favor!

I arrived in Lisbon with a humble knowledge of Portuguese. In other terms, I knew that the difference between obrigado and obrigada, which means thank you, is the gender of the person who speaks. Apart from this I didn’t know much more. As I am very interested in learning new languages, I signed up for a Portuguese course at the university in Lisbon. In the first weeks I learned a lot! Not only have I learned that Portuguese is quite similar to Spanish, although the Portuguese people find it difficult to admit, but I have also increased my Portuguese vocabulary. The similarity of Portuguese and Spanish can be explained by their similar evolvement. Both languages form part of the Ibero-Romance group that evolved from several dialects of Vulgar Latin. The closeness between Spanish and Portuguese gave me the opportunity to advance quite fast, as I had learned Spanish for several years. Often, I am told that I speak Portingnol – a mixture between Spanish and Portuguese. Continue reading “Mais devagar, por favor!”

Reflection on the term cultural practice in Lisbon, Portugal

The most striking cultural practice in Portugal is “never be on time”. It is the most common thing to settle a certain time only to spend hours waiting for the Portuguese counterpart to appear.

That is not my opinion. The statement made in these first two sentences is bluntly ignorant. However, it is a good point to start with when thinking about what a “cultural practice” is. That was the original idea of this text: to give an example of a “cultural practice”. However, due to some conceptual weirdness of the term “cultural practice”, the real example will not appear.

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