2 522 km, 4 countries on the way and 13 degrees of difference. In June 2015 Portugal was awaiting as the big unknown. Tasted like a combination between scary and thrilling. How am I going to adapt there…??

After almost 2 years of my expat life in this beautiful country, I’m not afraid to say that all these ‘big cultural differences’ are a bit overrated. Poland and Portugal – believe it or not – have a lot of stuff in common. Here’s how I discovered them all.

The thing about complaining

One of the things we tend to say about Polish people, is that we really like to complain. About healthcare. About education system. About politicians. And bad roads. Imagine my surprise, when during a research about Portuguese culture, I heard: The first thing you should know about Portuguese people, is that we always complain. Wow. Seriously? Children, you know nothing about complaining society – I thought back then, ironically shaking my head.

Then, during one of the conversations over a Portuguese dinner, I heard how bad the labor market is, how crappy schooling became, and oh, Benfica lost a game yesterday. Apparently, lots of things don’t work as they should in this country (it’s like a déjà-vu to my ears).

Luckily, I’ve been around people who were the ambassadors of turning all those complaints into possibility to innovate and grow. Besides, hearing somebody spilling negativity – no matter if in Poland, Portugal or anywhere else – gives opportunity for an interesting, challenging conversation. Still, the complaining ‘habit’ is definitely something both Polish and Portuguese people have in common and can be felt while leaving here.

The thing about culture

Fatima, fado, football. Wawel, vodka, winter… Or however we’d describe the features of Polish ‘culture’. Both Poland and Portugal should be proud of their rich cultural heritage. Impressive history, legendary characters, unforgettable events. We both fought bravely for our lands and people. We both battled regime and propaganda with art and music. And I always like to think of Fernando Pessoa as Portuguese Adam Mickiewicz.

Still, there’s another side of this pleasant similarity. As much as both in Poland and Portugal we love to recall ‘the good old times’, and – besides all the complaining! – are really proud of all traditions and culture, we also like to think that we are very ‘unique’. When my Croatian friend was sharing his experience in Portugal, he described very well (and with all his cute irony), how much Portuguese people are convinced THEIR way of drinking coffee, watching football or cooking fish is very different that in other Mediterranean countries. You are not special! – said my Croatian friend, in front of our Portuguese mates, sitting there, hot under their collars.

This would be as funny for me as for him, but deep down I felt that Polish people behave like this too. We say that dumplings (pierogi) is our traditional dish, but in fact it was first discovered  in… China. Similar happens with barszcz or schabowy (in Portugal known as ‘traditional Portuguese panado’). On one hand it’s good to be proud of your heritage, but we both could just acknowledge that not everything is ‘only Polish’ or ‘only Portuguese’.

The thing about opportunities

In Portugal, current unemployment rate is 10,5%[1]. In Poland the number is not much lower – 8,7%[2]. We cannot disagree with the fact that there are other European countries, much better economically situated. That is why, both Polish and Portuguese people have a serious number if emigrants, leaving their land in search for a better life. Germany, Austria, UK, Ireland, Switzerland, France… these are the main directions.

This situation gets very personal, as in my own family we’re used to working and living abroad. But the real empathy happened when my Portuguese friend told me a story of her little niece, who lives in Switzerland with her parents, because the economic situation there is just so much better than in Portugal. My Portuguese friend’s goal was then to work hard in order to make sure Portugal will be ready to ensure her niece a proper standard of living.

I am happy to see that, despite of challenging environment, both Polish and Portuguese young people (at least among my circle of friends) decide to stay and improve their economy. It shows another similarity of ours – patriotism and hard work.

The thing about entrepreneurship

Talking about hard work… Poland and Portugal are surely one of the most surprising European countries when it comes to entrepreneurship. The startup boom began to change the way we think about employment, possibilities and growth. Poland is already known as a tempting place to start a business, and Portugal, with Web Summit exploding with glory last November, is equally awesome.

I think this comes from the fact that both Polish and Portuguese people like to think outside of the box and figure out unusual ways of solving challenges. Our ancestors had to learn it the hard way, few decades ago. The entrepreneurial gen was, luckily, passed to the next generations and evolved in what we now call ‘a startup ecosystem’.

Another similarity, connected with innovation, is about always looking for a way to go around the system. Very funny but still iconic situation happened the other way at work, when a Danish friend said he wants to get a coffee machine and then sell coffee for co-workers. Then, a Portuguese said, very passionately: And what if I bring my own coffee machine, huh? I will get coffee for free!

Yes, when it comes to cutting costs, we will always find a way.

POLtuguese living

Definitely, both in Portugal and Poland we have very contradicting characteristics. Complaining, yet very proud of our cultures. On one side leaving the country, but on the other staying and innovating for growth. Funny, that in the end all those features complement each other – that’s why it’s never boring.

Ridiculous sometimes, but not at all monotonous. Makes me feel like home, or rather – in the neighbour’s house, where you get served the same lunch, but on different plates. In Portugal, the plates would be with blue and white azulejos design. Pretty. Charming. Still exciting, but already familiar. That’s my favorite phase of cross-cultural experience of living abroad!




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