Tag Archives: cultural habits

Portuguese culture, part 1: the shutters

We drive through small villages, all known territory. The road to Coimbra has been driven so often, but not so often at night. Between the small villages it’s pitch dark. The crescent moon is very small, it hardly gives any light.

All houses are dark. Shutters closed



That is not much different than during the day, then all shutters are also often closed. Sometimes you see a house with an open shutters, that is, a gap of about 30 centimeters at most, so that some light enters.

I have still not picked up the ins and outs of the shutter phenomenon

Once, I went with a colleague (20 years ago I worked in an estate agency) during the day to pick something up. “We’re almost passing by, it’s only a small detour, then you can see how I live!”

The atmosphere was like a castle in his house – in the semi-darkness you could still see the huge fireplace with two large armchairs in front. The rest was covered in mysterious shadows, because all the shutters were closed, obviously. “Wow, you live really nice!”

Shutters, incredibly popular in Portugal. Why do you have them and what do you do with them?

The whole concept is completely strange to me. I can’t imagine that I would ever live in a house with shutters. I would feel incredibly locked up, because you can’t just open those buggers.

An old friend (literally old) lived in a house with shutters. At the end, she hardly ever got to the top floor anymore, so it was almost always closed. I continue to find it strange to step into a twilight world, from a radiant day with an eye-pinching sun, where anything suddenly could happen.

We were always chatting in her kitchen, but one day she needed something upstairs. If I please would come with her. But of course, you just tell me what to do.

Upstairs I was struck by the same atmosphere that closed shutters apparently carry with them

That hint of mystery, that slightly exciting semi-darkness, the suspicion of amazing discoveries – I don’t think that a thriller is about to start here, but rather a psychological development of the main characters of this story.

And that indeed started, because everything that came to the surface brought back memories. From the old friend of course. Those shutters ensured that beautiful stories came out that afternoon.

In the Casa Principal of Termas-da-Azenha, where we started our history in our small village, we had wooden shutters. On the inside. That gives a very different atmosphere. You actively exclude the outside world. In the case of rain and storm that’s very pleasant.

When it is a full moon, you can leave them open and enjoy the soft light before you fall asleep

Closed wooden shutters do not provide such a mysterious atmosphere. Maybe because you know you can open them any time you want. And that is different with those nasty shutter straps.

All the shutters were closed to all the houses we drove past last night. I’m used to it now, but there is always the question of holidaymakers who don’t have the experience: “Are those houses inhabited?” Because they remain closed during the day too. And on the weekend too. They simply never open – and if they do, only for these 30 centimeters.

Just like me, most of our guests come from the country where people live in fish bowls – everything is always open. The Netherlands. When the sun starts to shine: everything will be opened. In the evening everyone in the living room with all the lights on: curtains and everything open.

I did exactly that in the beginning. But you are very quick to change that! When the sun starts to shine in summer: close everything, and go inside. Naturally the same with rain. The portuguese way: have lunch together: inside. Turn on TL, turn on TV, close shutters.

Every culture has its own brand. The Shutter phenomenon is just as Portuguese as bacalhau. The following applies to both: you must get used to it!



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We moved here in 2000 from Rotterdam, Holland to the Termas-da-Azenha, Portugal. A big step, especially with two small children. We are busy to rebuild one of portugals cultural heirlooms: Termas-da-Azenha, an old spa which has been turned into several holiday homes, rooms and campsites, with a lots of fun things to do: swimming pool, indoor and outdoor games like pingpong, petanque, a FancyDressingRoom and a small café. You’ll find mosaics and paintings everywhere.

The old bathhouse is going to be a museum, where you can see how things have changed. Since 2018 we call ourselves the first B&B&B in the world – Bed & Breakfast & Bathrobes. You can buy a home-made unique bathrobe/housecoat with us.

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Donkeycracy – special kind of portuguese democracy

Another culture, other traditions …

All cultures have their own traditions. Being from the Netherlands I didn’t know much about portuguese culture and tradition. I was only a tourist. Since my first steps in the country I noticed everything was different. Of course it is, that’s why we travel. To see new places, meet new people and discover new cultures.people-eating-on-a-terrace

It was a very surprising difference, it was very present

Together with my first steps came the surprise of meeting so many sympathetic people. Everywhere there were people laughing, they were friendly and they offered help voluntarily when I had a problem, since I didn’t speak a word of portuguese yet. 

A big difference from all those moody faces you see in the north, always stressed, always in a hurry. It felt like Rotterdam was on another planet.

I traveled with a group and all of us were surprised, in a very pleasant way. “We’ll see how it is in Lisbon. In the big city it’s probably different.” we said to one another.

But no. Everywhere people were friendly, amicable, educated, attentive.

I fell in love with a whole country

However, just like in a marriage, this changed. It became a profound love, in which you accept the cultural misunderstandings, while continuing to like the beauty and richness of the culture.

And I’ve come across these misunderstandings, but I’ve always managed to deal with it.

The only thing that really troubles me is the habit of not answering when a question appears to be difficult. When I want something that is beyond someone.

An example? In the beginning we needed a plumber but we didn’t know anyone (note: this was 17 years ago, the time without the internet). A neighbour sent over a friend and he made a provisionary installation. Afterwards I called so often he’d start saying: “Yes, yes, I’ll come by on monday”, but he never came by again. And afterwards he stopped answering my calls, he probably recognized my number.

Recently, I needed a seamstress

She came by, we talked, made some arrangements, I would contact her when the fabric arrived. All was well. I thought. But now … nothing. She doesn’t respond, doesn’t answer my calls, apparently she’s not interested.

Ok. I think it’s a somewhat complicated habit, since I lose a lot of time calling and I think everything was arranged, but no ….

But when elected officials also do this, it surprises me even more. And it’s not a pleasant surprise. A government official who doesn’t answer to your letters, because he’s probably not going to like what you have to say? It’s part of their job description, isn’t it?

We live in a democracy, don’t we?

I spoke to some friends, João said: “Sometimes I get the impression that all government officials do, is check if the rules are still there. Rules, rules, rules and more rules. They kill all initiative, it saps the citizens’ energy, leaving an apathetic people with no drive to do anything as they will be confronted with all that bureaucracy.”

Another friend says: ” If the Termas-da-Azenha belonged to the councilman, the road you’re fighting for at the moment, would already been taken care of … good asphalt, gardened sides, nice signposts, you name it …”

I don’t believe that’s the case. If we citizens have to follow the rules, so do they, right? Portugal is a democracy, isn’t it? Or is this a special kind of – the portuguese variety of democracy?

This confuses me. I stay here with a lot of questions. I probably have to live here longer before I understand it completely. But before that I have to resolve this thing about the road with the city council. And I won’t stop before it is resolved.


I truely hope my hope is justified …

If you have hope, or if you have trouble communicating with your leaders, follow us on facebook! Read our blog every week on sunday. It’s not always about bureau-demo-klepto-or other kinds of -cracies, it’s also about the good life in Portugal. It is an exceptional country, and far too modest.

Visite us at the Termas-da-Azenha – you’re always welcome!