Kissing Etiquette in Portugal

To Kiss or Not to Kiss?

European Portuguese greetings - kissing etiquette in Portugal

There’s more to Portuguese greetings than just what you say, so let’s talk about the cultural aspect as well, plus some other phrases that may come up during introductions. There is quite a bit of variability in appropriate greetings within different contexts, so you can’t rely on any strict rules, but we’ll cover some of the general expectations of kissing etiquette in Portugal. This is a very subtle aspect of communication that you’ll get more comfortable with over time.

Informal Contexts

In informal contexts, generally two kisses on the face are exchanged between a man and a woman or between two women. Meanwhile, men usually shake each other’s hands, which we call aperto de mão paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio handshake. Another common term is passou-bem paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio , as in Dá aí um passou-bem! paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio Give me a handshake!,

When kissing, we always give our right cheek first and then the left. These so-called “kisses on the face” are often not actually on the face. Some people, usually women, bring their lips close to the face to kiss lightly, but most of the time, we just touch cheek to cheek and make the sound, kissing the air.

Some people choose to just give one kiss on the face instead of two. This is particularly true of people with a certain higher social and economic status.

Before or during any of these Portuguese greetings, what is said depends on the context and our level of intimacy with the other person. For example, friends and acquaintances can say a Tudo bem? paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio Everything's all right?, a question that is often more rhetorical, similar to how What’s up? or How’s it going? can be used in English.

Meeting for the First Time

In case you meet someone for the first time, you can choose to say Olá, sou o João, prazer paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio Hello, I'm João, pleasure with the prazer part being short for prazer em conhecê-lo paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio pleasure to meet you (speaking to male) / prazer em conhecê-la paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio pleasure to meet you (speaking to female)

Large Groups

Greeting someone physically is widely used, but it’s optional, of course. With large groups, it might be preferable to just say boa tarde paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio good afternoon or a Então, tudo bem? paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio So, everyone good? than spending a minute kissing and reaching out to everyone. It may also happen that we meet someone more shy and less comfortable with physical greetings. When in doubt, wait for the other person to move forward with the hand or take the first step.

Greeting Family

Regarding greetings between family members, they vary a lot. For many families, they’re the same as those between friends, but with probably more hugs involved. For others, kissing is the chosen greeting between male family members instead of handshakes.

Professional Contexts

In a professional context, a handshake is the form of greeting used by both men and women. Among men, the handshake is always more firm than between a man and woman, and you can even expect a strong shake from someone more enthusiastic.

Now Ignore Everything We Said 😷

At the time of writing, because of the health measures imposed due to the novel coronavirus, nobody should be kissing or touching other people’s hands. For now, only verbal greetings will be used in order to follow “Pandemic Etiquette“. Once the pandemic ends, at least you’ll be aware of how Portuguese greetings work, and hopefully be able to put into effect what you’ve learned here.

Comments

  • I don’t feel estranged after reading about Portuguese greeting rituals. In an Arab context, we do greet in the same way,be it with friends, family or professionals.

    • I probably don’t know one soul that hasn’t had an ‘accident’ at some point because of giving/getting the wrong cheek first 🙂

  • You are always on top of updating your lessons and references to keep up with current events and practices, such as pandemic impact. Absolutely love your product and PLEASE keep it up! And, for what it’s worth, you should share (or partner) with other language teachers (i.e. French, Spanish, German, etc.) to replicate your service. You really do have something very special here, and I hope that in the next year or so I will be proficient enough to type all this in Portuguese! Bom dia!

  • COVID was a relief to me in terms of greetings. I’m from Sweden, and Nordic people are much more reserved. Quite often (before the pandemic) I would forget the kissing and give a lady/woman/girl the hand instead. It got a bit awkward at times.

  • Haha I have to agree with this. Now it’s much easier to decide how to greet someone. Even after almost a decade, it still feels very intimate to lean into someone’s face to kiss them on the cheek, and feels very forced (which makes sense since we aren’t natives to the culture). A slightlty-less-awkward elbow tap with a “COVID, you know how it is!” smile seems much simpler 😉

  • Nice, always helpfull to know what’s common locally. So what do we do as gay men (post-covid…)? Follow the girls with the double face kiss? Or will that make people faint? 🙂

  • Haha this is a great question. You’re right, it’s not heteronormative for males to do the double-cheek kiss, aside from sons and fathers greeting each other. So men greeting each other this way will probably have onlookers making assumptions about their sexuality. But hey, this is 2021! If anyone is uncomfortable, that’s their issue to sort out. Maybe they need to see more of these simple displays of affection to expand their horizons a bit. This kind of sweet gesture between 2 male friends is the kind of thing that can help move things forward and also encourage others to be more brave and open. If straight teens can be snogging on park benches for hours without having someone come spray a firehose on them, I think the culture is ready for two men doing the cheek kiss as a greeting, even if it’s considered less “traditional”.

    Of course, it’s absolutely fine whether one decides to “blend in” or not, since we are all at a different stages of self-acceptance and out-ness (definitely not a word). My understanding is that (like pretty much anywhere else), in Portuguese cities, non-heteronormative-activity is more easily accepted for than if you’re living in a very rural area where a lot more folks are closeted. In Lisbon, Rui and I have never really had any problems, even while being out in publicly taking care of our baby daughter. And that’s all thanks to others who came before us who were brave enough to challenge these types of heteronormative traditions! “Beijinhos!”

  • As I was reading, I was hoping you would add something in regards to Covid times and I appreciate you adding that at the end. As someone who is very much use to the traditional ways of meeting people in Portugal with kisses and such, I was interested to know how people are greeting one another now in Portugal since I have not been back since the pandemic started. Obrigada!

  • I really had to laugh about the kissing between gentlemen it brought back a memory from a long time ago. Many Italian men certainly those from southern Italy kiss on the cheek at greeting each other much like Arab men often do too in the Middle East. So at a birthday party I attended there were some Portuguese guy friends who were very confused by all this on meeting some Italian guys. It was a good memory so thank you. Their expressions were priceless !

  • In the US and Canada there is *never* any kissing, not as part of the typical informal greeting ritual at least. Just handshakes and hugs, and a lot of people are uncomfortable even with hugging.

    Husbands/wives and boyfriends/girlfriends kiss of course in greeting, but usually on the lips, not the cheek.

    COVID definitely threw a kink in all of this though. Hopefully things will get back to normal someday soon…

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