This week yielded an interesting insight into Portuguese culture. Here’s the background:
I teach Pilates in two locations, one to mostly British expats, and the other to mostly Portuguese nationals. My mostly Portuguese class fell on a holiday this Monday, so last week I asked the students if they wanted to have a class or not. Yes, they said. Great, I said, I’ll be there. But on Monday, two of the students who’d wanted a class did not show up.
When they appeared in class yesterday, they were genuinely surprised to learn that indeed there had been a class on Monday. Apparently, they hadn’t really believed me when I said I would teach on the holiday.
My wife confirms that this is a facet of Portuguese culture (though of course it cannot be generalized to all Portuguese). Verbal agreements don’t always mean much, especially when they involve setting dates or activities. Apparently, to make sure that everyone in the class knew that I really, truly meant it when I said I’d teach, I should have sent out an email confirmation.
I grew up in a culture where your word means something. If I say yes, I mean yes. (And of course, this can’t be generalized to all Americans either, or even all Oregonians.) The lack of belief in one’s word explains quite a few past interactions here, now that I think about it — such as the time we agreed to help a neighbor fence in her veranda. At the appointed hour we showed up at her door with screening and tools, and she wasn’t home. The next time she saw us, she made no apology nor even acknowledged her absence. She’d made the agreement, but either didn’t believe we meant it, or didn’t believe the agreement meant anything, or just didn’t care.
I can adapt to this, but it still leaves me scratching my head. How do people function when they don’t believe each other, or don’t keep their word? Isn’t that one of the basic foundations of a community?