The knowledge of cultural aspects of your Portuguese partner can help you to overcome potential difficulties in communication. Relevant issues when you start business relationships in Portugal you should know some basic rules of business etiquette such as punctuality, gift giving, dress code.
Corporate social responsibility
Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) in Portugal is mainly focused on fighting exclusion and poverty and on corporate community Involvement. The main environmental issues are soil erosion and air pollution caused by the emissions from industries and vehicles, water pollution is also significant in particular, in coastal areas.
In general, Portuguese people are unaware of CSR, because there is a lack of information, publicity, media involvement and CSR regulations,
Those who are familiar with CSR work in companies where it is a focal point or because they are interested in the topic generally; public debate on CSR doesn’t exist.
Sustainable products and sustainable consumption are still unknown to Portuguese society, however in the last few years companies have started to consider sustainability as representing a possible competitive advantage.
Politics of CSR should be promoted by the government, because it can be a powerful instrument with which to address social exclusion and favour more transparency in companies’ activities.
In Portugal punctuality is not seen as important. Interestingly, people from the North are usually more punctual than those from the South. In fact it is polite to arrive five minutes late. The host usually arrives “on time” but all others are usually late although. more than 30 minutes late, is generally considered to be rude. For foreigners, the best practice is to be on time, probably 5 minutes late. If you are running late, is it advisable to telephone your business contact and advise them of your delay. To sum up, it is essential to bear in mind that the Portuguese do not share the same concept of time with other western European nations.
When you arrive for a meeting, do not be offended if you are kept waiting for up to 20 minutes. This is usual practice in Portugal. If you are kept waiting more than 30 minutes, then it would be quite normal to express some discontent.
The Portuguese will often specify the time arrangements in a somewhat lax way, for instance, by saying ‘in the afternoon’ (meaning between 1PM and 6PM), ‘in the late afternoon or evening’ (from 6PM to 9PM) or ‘at night’ (after 10PM). Thus it is recommended to ask your Portuguese associates to specify the time. Business wise, it is common to say “By 15h” which can mean anything from 15:00 to 15:20m, more than that is rude. Bear in mind that the Portuguese use the 24 hour clock.
Most people will have dinner outside their homes when socializing, older generations however will stay several hours at someone’s house, from afternoon to after dinner time or from lunch until late afternoon.
In the Portuguese business environment it is normal to give a gift to customers and partners. To reject a gift is seen as offensive. Also, as gifts are considered to be a personal gesture, it is not polite to re-distribute a gift to staff.
For the Portuguese, gifts are a sign of respect, not a bribe. The usual practice is to present gifts unwrapped and to give them at the beginning of a business encounter. If you receive a wrapped gift, it is polite to open it immediately and express gratitude. It is not polite to give a gift in return at the same time.
Although it is sufficient to say thank for a gift, it is recommended that you also send a thank-you note after the encounter.
Particularly suitable gifts for Portuguese business partners include gifts from your own country or region. Spirits, whisky, French brandy (Cognac) or Port wine, coffee table books, personal items such as ties or scarves are also acceptable gifts. Flowers are unacceptable..
Excessively expensive gifts can be accepted only if they are really appropriate for a particular business situation and if the person involved has a high position within the company. At Christmas suppliers usually distribute gifts to their customers.
Similarly, your company’s gifts should be representative of your country and their value must be able to be clearly perceived by the recipient. If you are invited to your Portuguese host’s family, apart from the almost compulsory flowers or a box of chocolates for the spouse, it is advisable to bring along some gifts for his/her children, however, some knowledge of their age range would be beneficial here. Giving wine in Portugal is best avoided, stick to spirits.
When giving a bouquet, it is considered unlucky to give 13 flowers andavoid giving lilies or chrysanthemums as these flowers are only used at funerals. Red flowers should also be avoided as red is the symbol of the revolution.
Business dress code
In Portuguese society in general, appearance is very important. Portuguese people are usually well aware of current fashion trends and clothes are often used to express one’s status and success. When going out to a social event, it is advisable to choose your dress carefully and ensure it is clean and your accessories are coordinated. When invited to a meal, men should wear a tie. When going to the opera or theatre, a tie is also the best option.
Business dress is usually rather formal. Casual dress is still unusual in Portuguese companies, even in modern or creative industries. In some cases, however, companies allow their staff to dress down on Fridays. However, a standard business suit is still the most common form of dress among businessmen.
Male Portuguese business associates normally wear long sleeved shirts since short sleeved shirts are considered too casual. When in a meeting, it is fine to take off your jacket if you are hot, however, it is advisable to check first whether the other party minds. Rolling up your sleeves is not acceptable, unless your companion does so first. However, even if he does, be careful since the rules concerning the ‘right fit’ of jacket; shirt and tie are quite complicated. For women, it is advisable to dress well but not to overdress. Conservative fashion is preferred for business meetings. Trousers and trouser suits are also acceptable as a part of women’s business attire.
Bribery and corruption
Portugal has a slightly higher level of corruption than other western European countries. Corruption is an important political and economic issue and still represents an enduring characteristic of Portuguese business culture.
Most cases of bribery and corruption are reported from the public sector. They are related mainly to concessions, unclear approvals of contractors and specific economic lobbying or job offers to friends and family members. However, corruption is usually not identified as an obstacle by foreign firms doing business in Portugal. It is tax evasion that currently represents a major problem. The situation is continuously improving though, mostly as a result of the government’s efforts to combat corruption before it reaches the highest levels. Portugal has ratified the OECD Anti-bribery Convention and incorporated it into domestic legislation.