Portuguese Culture: A Tale of Two Countries

venus clams in tomato saucePortugal is a European country nestled on the Atlantic Ocean with only Spain as a border country. The Portuguese people have a long and colorful history, one that stretches across the waters and heavily into the massive South American country of Brazil. Yes, it’s true. In fact, Portuguese, not Spanish, is the official language of Brazil.

Portuguese culture has been inspired by a variety of influences, as the slim coastal country of Portugal sits southeast of France, directly east of Spain and northeast of Africa. The Roman Empire and the invasion of the Moors from Africa are examples of powers that have impacted the history of Portugal.

One thing is clear whether you live in Portugal or Brazil, soccer is the No. 1 sport enjoyed by all ages. In fact, Brazil will be hosting the FIFA (Federation International Football Association) World Cup from June 12 until July 13 this year in various cities around the country, with the championship game in Rio de Janeiro. A lot of money is at stake for participating teams, with the winning team receiving a whopping $35 million.

Rio, Brazil, is also the host city for the 2016 Summer Olympics, so for anyone planning to go to the soccer tournament and/or Olympics, it’s probably a mart move to get an idea of what to expect on your visit or endeavor to see any of these sporting events with global appeal.

In addition, it’s good to learn the language or at least the basics of it so that you can partake of the food, traditions and events with ease. These short and fun sessions will give you the basics on the Portuguese language in Brazil. There is a bit of difference between the Portuguese spoken in Portugal and that used in Brazil. People that have experienced both places compare it to the difference between speaking American English and speaking British. The differences are mostly in the accent and the pronunciation of some of the words.

Whether you are going to the FIFA, the Olympics or a visit as a vacation option, it can’t hurt to get some background information on the country and find out how it has emerged as a popular international choice for conventions, sporting events and vacations.

For one thing, a lot of Portuguese people, who have a strong European heritage, immigrated to Brazil, so a lot of Portuguese culture is embedded in this vast South American country.

A Tale of Two Countries

Portugal is stepped in history dating back to the early ages, as evidenced by some of its archeological digs. You can find ancient paintings in the caves at Escoural, which are a far cry from the Roman influence in the cities of Conimbriga or Evor, where you will find the Temple of Diana, which reflects ancient Roman architecture. Go south and the influence is from the Moors in towns such as Tavira and Oihao.

If you visit any of the country’s museums, you will also find artwork from a vast array of other European artists from countries such as France and Italy. Portuguese explorers brought back influences from the Orient and eventually landed in what is now called Brazil, where they found an abundance of gold and jewels that were quickly snatched up to accommodate the decorative Baroque era.

The Portuguese fell in love with Brazil. Maybe it was the shared position of much of the two countries’ coastlines bordered by the ocean. Perhaps it was the fact, that like Portugal, Brazil was filled with people of different heritages. Indeed, the Portuguese did not hesitate to marry the natives of Brazil and a new race was born, called the Mestizos. In addition, Brazil is home to a lot people referred to as Mulattoes, which are a combination of the Portuguese and African slaves.

Brazil’s line of people has indeed grown to a blend of Portuguese, Africans and natives. Despite the fact that Brazil on the land side is bordered by Latin countries, the Latin influence is minimal in terms of culture.

Dance

One consistent aspect of Portuguese culture is its proclivity for traditional dance. Actually, the various regions have their own versions of many of the traditional dances, such as chula (which has a Spanish influence), vira, fandango, tirana and corridinho. Fandango is especially popular, probably because of the elements involved, which include a lively and rhythmic dance inspired by hand clapping, accordions and guitars. The European and Spanish mix is indeed obvious!

One more thing to note – some of these dances are part of courtship and marriage traditions, so they can be dynamic and even passionate. Much of the time, the participants will wear vibrant and flowing clothing to accentuate their movements.

Of course this aspect of Portuguese culture was carried over to Brazil and even more varieties developed considering the Afro-centric and indigent people that mixed with the Portuguese. For example, Rio and several Brazilian host their own version of Carnival, where people dance in the street to heavy African beats and Caribbean flavors.

Music

Whether you are in Brazil or Portugal, music is everywhere, from the traditional “fado” to modern pop, jazz, folk and even hip hop. Fado comes from the word fate, so it tends to have a melancholy nature to it. The Portuguese value fado as their own, and it was actually also recognized by UNESCO as a cultural heritage music in 2011. Love is usually the subject of a fado song and it can be heard in city streets at night as well as occasionally in larger city nightclubs.

Visual Arts

Portugal and Brazil are both also great places to see artworks. In Portugal, sculptures were once hugely popular, especially from the 15th to the 18th centuries. By the 1700s, it had carried over to Brazil, except the sculptures tended to be made out of wood rather than rock.

Paintings, contemporary art and a unique concept became popular in the 17th century called Azulejos, or the art of glazing tiles. These beautiful, artistic tiles began to grace the walls and floors of palaces, mansions and churches.

In Brazil, art dates back to the native inhabitants renditions of pottery. Art as defined be Western Civilization was introduced by the Portuguese and especially the Catholic Church. Today, Brazilian art encompasses a myriad of influences, from colorful Afro-centric paintings and murals to sculptures and pottery with their base in the tribes of the country before the Portuguese “invasion.”

Architecture

When you talk about Portuguese culture, you have to explore the history of its amazing architecture. The influences are Spanish, Roman, Moorish and even Gothic. Lisbon is, the capitol city of Portugal, is home to several great examples of the country’s fascinating architectural history. These include monasteries that are centuries old and still standing solid, massive cathedrals that reflect the Roman influence and Moorish mosques. The Moors controlled Spain, Portugal and parts of France for centuries, so their style of building is common in residential as well as business and religious structures.

In Brazil, as with Portugal, there were a variety of influences, such as the colonial style from the Europeans, and specifically the Portuguese who brought the ornate Baroque style from across the waters. However, Brasilia, Brazil’s capitol city is extremely modern with glistening skyscrapers and state-of-the-art office and government buildings. Much of the city was designed by renowned architect and Rio native Oscar Niemeyer (who just passed away in December 2013), who was one of the major designers of the U.N. headquarters in New York City.

Rio is home to an enormous piece of exclusive art – the Cristo Redentor or Christ the Redeemer, which is considered Art Deco. It stands 130 feet high and the arms stretch across 92 feet. It took nine years to build. Located on top of Corcovado mountain area, it overlooks Rio.

The Food

One thing is for sure; the food that comes with Portuguese culture is nothing short of amazing. Again, the blends of different countries and influences, along with the fact that both Portugal and Brazil have major ocean access, provide options to satisfy any taste. Portugal is one of Europe’s highest fish consumption rates per person, so fish is definitely a staple. Cod is extremely common and it is cooked in every way imaginable. Cod is usually dried and salted and then soaked in milk to make it tender. Other popular fish include sardines, octopus, squid, crab, shrimp and lobster. Because of the influence of the Spaniards and the Moors, spices are an integral part of preparing most seafood, such as chili pepper, black pepper, saffron and cinnamon. Most fish is cooked in olive oil along with herbs such as garlic and coriander.

The Portuguese are also meat lovers. In Portugal, the favorites include pork and cured meats. You can find dishes made out of goat, pork and beef, and often they are combined with a portion of seafood as well. An example is carne de porco a alentejana, which is fried pork with clams.

Common vegetables include tomatoes, onions and cabbage, served with a meat or seafood (sometimes both) and a helping of potato or rice.

The Portuguese love sweets. That is believed to have come from the Moors as well as, believe it or not, the nuns of the Catholic Church. Eggs are the base of many of Portugal’s desserts, as well as flavorings of vanilla and cinnamon. Probably the most popular is an egg custard called leite-crème, which is covered with a layer of hard caramel.

Brazilian dishes are of course influenced by the Portuguese, but Brazil has also developed its own version, such as caldeirada or fish stew. Because Brazil is so vast, in addition to its seafood access, it has large ranches, so beef is readily and cheaply available. A Brazilian tradition that has spawned copycats in the U.S. is called Brazilian steakhouse or BBQs. The concept is to eat until you explode. Seriously, a real Brazilian steakhouse will put any modern day buffet to shame, even the massive buffets at the big name hotels in Las Vegas. First you are given an array of vegetables to choose from. Unless you are a vegan, go easy on the veggies. Once the meat starts to come, it comes and comes and comes until you can’t fit anymore of it in your body. Every imaginable meat, including turkey and chicken, are cooked over open flames and then served on a skewer. You take as much as you want of the myriad of meats that are offered. That generally includes about 16 varieties.

Other must haves include pao de quijo, little rolls of bread with cheese baked right in, and coxinhas, which are filled with chicken and a creamy cheese.

Travel Well

Whether you want to explore the amazing history of Portugal and sample its multi-ethnic influenced cuisine or head to Rio this summer for the World Cup or the Olympics in 2016, be prepared. Take the time to familiarize yourself with Portuguese culture as well as the ability to travel well. This course can help you sharpen your travel skills to make sure that you get the best out of your journey.

Also, no matter where you go or how high-end you think your hotel is, there are some things you need to know to stay safe. Although Rio, for example, is a hugely popular destination, because of its international appeal, it can also be a bit of a dangerous place. Take the time for this refresher course on the ins and outs of traveling and staying safe.

And remember, although Brazil is surrounded by Spanish-speaking countries, its primary language is Portuguese. Please enjoy all the wonderful nuances of Portuguese culture.