Portugal: Appointment Alert!


Making appointments

Appointment Alert!

Office hours: typically 9.00 am-12.30 pm and 2pm to 6pm. The lunch break is sacred and lunch is itself often a key business activity (see Entertaining – meals). There is no “siesta” tradition in Portugal.

Best times: avoid making appointments earlier than 10 as people do not tend to arrive at work on time and need their first “cafezinho” (espresso type coffee) to get going. Appointments as late as 6pm to 7pm are often OK, even where dinner is not involved. The best times of the day are probably 11am or 4pm.

How far in advance: In general, people do not like to make appointments a long time in advance (that is, more than a week) but where you or your contact have to, it is a good idea to reconfirm a few days before.

Punctuality is not an important cultural trait. It is courteous to arrive five minutes late and definitely bad news to arrive before the agreed time. Quarter of an hour late is not usually noticed. Over half an hour begins to be rude. Nevertheless, the Portuguese are usually aware that foreigners operate differently, so I would still recommend being on time (plus five) and phoning in if you’re delayed. Just don’t expect your contacts to follow the same rules.

On arrival at the meeting place, do not be surprised, offended, or even read in any power games, at being kept waiting for up to 20 minutes (although I’d be worried about the organization and cultural awareness of a new supplier doing that to you as a potential overseas customer). Over half an hour is too much and it would be understood if you showed your irritation.

Social engagements timings: the rules are much more lax. Often a verbal invitation will not specify a time but rather “in the afternoon” = any time after lunch up to about 6pm; “in the late afternoon or evening” = any time from 6pm to around 9pm; or “at night” = any time after about 9pm. Even so, ask for a specific time and apply the following rules of thumb to know when you should arrive: meeting at a restaurant or bar – 5 to 15 minutes late; lunch/dinner party at someone’s house – 10 to 20 minutes late; party/drinks 15 to 45 minutes late (never less than 15); meeting a group at a bar or night club for a night out up to 60 minutes late (or more).

Lunch in Portugal is usually set for 1 pm, dinner for 8 pm. Most night clubs don’t open before about 11pm and don’t warm up until around 2 to 3am

Date and time formats: use the 24 hour clock (e.g. “09.30h” for 9.30am and “17.00h” for 5pm) in written exchanges but “half past nine in the morning” and “five in the afternoon” verbally. Dates are always day/month/year.

Shopping times: normal town stores are open 9.30am-1pm and 3pm to 7pm Monday to Friday, closing at 1pm on Saturday and all day closing on Sunday. Supermarkets and hypermarkets are typically open 8.30 am to 10pm (or later) 7 days a week. However, by law, very large stores have to close on Sundays at 1pm. Stores (except for the Sunday restriction on big stores) in shopping malls are typically open 9.30am to 10.30pm or later. There are very few 24/7 stores, other than convenience stores at some gas stations. Every town and neighborhood has a duty roster for 24 hour pharmacy services. Any pharmacy (and there are lots, it’s a good business here, as even aspirin can only be bought in a pharmacy), will display a list showing the pharmacy on duty.