The Portuguese Soliloquy of Complaint, and other Culture Shock Challenges

Culture shock is a tricky thing– just peek at the Wikipedia page on Culture Shock, and you’ll get an idea of how complex and interwoven it really is. I’d really love to (honestly) call myself cosmopolitan, but most of the time, I feel like my brain is swamped in an ongoing struggle to make sense of everyday encounters.

I struggle with this stuff on an intellectual and existential level…. but most days, I just try to keep my adolescent inner-self in check. 

Allow me to list some pet peeves in broad-sweeping, stereotype-laden and un-anthropological language.


The “Portuguese No” finger.

  • You’ll know when you encounter this one. You’ll offer a Portuguese person something at the dinner table, perhaps a beverage or some more potatoes, and rather than responding verbally, the Portuguese person will give you an absurd finger wag as though you are a toddler being chastised. This, apparently, means “no, thank you, but thanks for offering.” 
  • The “Portuguese No” also pops up in the course of normal conversation– politics, food, clothes, whatever. It simply means “I disagree”.
  • Most appropriately, it is used in interactions with small children.
  • RESIST the temptation to grab the finger (which is sometimes wagged dangerously close to one’s face) and to break it. Breaking the finger, as your instincts most certainly command you to do, would be very, very inappropriate.

The Portuguese Soliloquy of Complaint.

  • This is a doozy. When two Portuguese people have an interaction that involves some sort of social or physical mishap, and either one or both think the other is at fault, the offended person(s) will launch into a Soliloquy of Complaint. This involves mutually understood, though archaic, hand-gestures and an extended input of energy. The offended person(s) will lecture the other person on elementary manners, list the people the offending behavior may or may not have affected/affect in the future/are theoretically affected by at home , wonder out loud if the offender behaves this way in other situations, and sometimes continues on into another topic of seemingly unrelated conversation.
  • It is a soliloquy rather than a lecture because “lecture” assumes that someone is listening. Most often, both parties launch into the soliloquy without any apparent regard to whether the other person is listening. Often, if the two are in fact engaged with one another, the competing soliloquies merge into a sort of argument involving a great number of hand-gestures and folksy colloquialisms.
  • Impressively, the Portuguese Soliloquy of Complaint is a common occurrence between motorists. The fact that the two motorists cannot hear one another does not seem to damper the impetus to expound upon manners and perceived infractions to one another, and the hand-gestures are conveyed by use of rear-view and side-mirrors. The Soliloquies can continue for several minutes, despite driving at high speeds while tailgating, which apparently all motorists do.


  • This is standard behavior. I’ve seen extreme tailgating take place late at night, when there are only two cars on the road. I have no idea why this is so widespread. 

Long, Repetitive Conversations about Nothing

  • These normally take place in inopportune locations. For instance, if a group would like to figure out where to go next after a party, they will congregate late at night, in the freezing cold, in a parking lot, especially if the women are in very high heels and wearing short dresses exposing them to the cold. The conversation will not take a quick problem-solving direction. Rather, the same ideas and concepts will be repeated over and over by different people and unrelated issues will be introduced. This is in order to make sure everyone is as uncomfortable as possible.
  • This can also take place outside of restaurants at night (in the cold) while discussing why the person the group is waiting for is late. There is no way this conversation can take place inside the restaurant while waiting for the person who is late. 
  • The Long, Repetitive Conversation about Nothing can be about anything (nothing). The important thing is that it takes a great deal of time and focus and that it usurps the time/place of something that is actually enjoyable by all parties.

Adults Lecturing Adults as though they are Small Children

  • In my comfort zone, conversations between adults often includes advice. However, the advice is offered as one of many options, and there are usually conversational buffers involved. Here, no such thing occurs. There’s no softening of words, no buffers–You MUST do X. That’s it. You CAN’T do Y. It’s all very black and white and right and wrong, and it makes it quite challenging to gracefully maneuver out of an uncomfortable discussion using old-school techniques. 
  • For example, if you are pregnant and someone comes up to you offering unsolicited advice, you can whip out the generic “oh, thank you. What a good idea. I’ll talk to my doctor about that/ I might try that.” Here, however, the advice is an order, and the lecturer is eagerly awaiting your implied promise to do what they just told you to do. …alternately, you could engage in a lengthy discussion of why you don’t agree with the order/advice. Knowing how long a conversation will take, however, and given that you have probably already invested all the time you are willing to invest on this topic with this person, you don’t want to do that. 
  • The Lecture pops up in all facets of life– babies, pregnancy, dogs, house, money, food… I have yet to find a phatic way of excising myself from these lectures. Unnecessary confrontation seems rude to me, as does my own lecturing of the other person and giving them a condescending intellectual smack-down. I’m not interested in having lengthy discussions about germane topics with every person who lecture-talks to me. I respect that we all have different ideas, and that they are appropriate in different situations. I just don’t want to get into an awkward conversation about it. (I’m, like, SO unenlightened…)


There are ever so many more, but Grandissimo is awake, so I’ll have to vent later. 


We can’t always be culturally competent superstars 😛






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