The Portuguese profess a deep love of the arts (music, theater, dance), good food and great wine. Generally helpful, they possess a sense of humor and an earnest appreciation for anyone who attempts to speak their notoriously tricky language. They talk quickly, loudly and directly, in a show of emotion and are rarely shy in showing affection toward one another.

Nostalgic, polite and sometimes rather formal, people in Portugal are notably homogeneous and have been throughout the country's history. A single religion and a single language have created unity here.

Portuguese is the official language spoken throughout the country, however English is often heard in the major tourist areas.

Though there is no official religion in Portugal, many Portuguese identify themselves as Roman Catholics. The country's holidays, along with some societal customs and beliefs, reflect a strong Catholic belief system. Other worldwide religions are also represented in smaller numbers.

Greetings err on the formal side in Portugal and good manners are essential. As on many beaches in Europe, it is common for women to sunbathe topless in Portugal. As a show of respect, it is polite and appropriate to cover shoulders and knees when visiting churches or religious monuments. Rural households still make an annual two-day ceremony of the killing and preserving of the pig.

Meat, fresh fish and seafood take the main stage on the Portuguese table, where soup is a staple as a first course. While each region showcases its own traditional dishes, dried and salted cod (bacalhau) has been a national dish since the fifteenth century and Cozido à Portuguesa, a Portuguese stew, is ubiquitous.

Regional favorites include grilled sardines and caldo verde (a kale and potato soup served with spicy smoked sausage) in the north; fish (including octopus, squid, and eel) and locally made cheeses in central Portugal, and, in the south, a form of gazpacho soup made with bread and smoked pork.

For dessert, sample from an array of pastries or take comfort in a dish of traditional rice pudding (arroz doce) flavored with cinnamon.
In a country the Romans immediately associated with God of Wine Bacchus, the wines from local vines are often touted as some of the best in the world. Port wine -- thicker, sweeter and fortified with brandy -- makes a fine aperitif and is produced exclusively in the northern provinces of Portugal.

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