The Alternative Peru team loves Peru (duh!) and we would love for you to come and visit us here and discover the wonders of Peru. But for most of you, Peru is also very different than what you’re used to in your own country. To avoid any big surprises, we’re preparing you with a concise overview of some of the culture shocks you can expect when you’re visiting Peru.
When visiting another country, it’s those seemingly small details that often cause the biggest culture shocks. Most locals wouldn’t even notice these details of their own culture, but for any visitor these form daily culture shocks. Even after having lived for a while in Peru, I still haven’t gotten used to many of these.
1. The Traffic
Without a doubt, traffic and the way people behave in traffic deserve the top spot. As my Peruvian husband admits: “Peruvians are really nice people, until they get behind the wheel, then they become animals!” I honestly dread taking roundabouts, since each seems to have its own rules. In theory, cars on the roundabout have priority, but in practice it’s just survival of the fittest. Nobody lets anyone pass and therefore no one is going anywhere. Try to figure that out if you use a roundabout for the first time (or for the 100th time for that matter)! I got stuck in the middle of a roundabout for 30 minutes once. Also don’t bother using your indicators; here we stick our hands out of the window to show where we’re going. If you’re in the passenger seat, be ready for a right turn!
2. The Food
I like to eat and I like Peruvian food, but I just cannot finish a Peruvian serving. I cannot count the times that I have asked “Just a little bit, please” and have ended up forcing myself to finish my plate because I didn’t want to insult the host. I need to add here as well that I’m still constantly impressed that there’s always enough food, even if you bring 3 extra people for dinner. Peruvian moms (because let’s face it, it’s still mostly women who cook for their families here) always seem to cook enough for an extra 5 eaters.
It might be a stereotype, but this one is a very true one. I’m not the most punctual person myself, I’m known for arriving 10 minutes late. But Peruvians give a whole other meaning to the word ‘time’. When discussing the time for a meeting or a dinner, I always ask: Is that the actual time we’ll be meeting or will it be ‘hora Peruana’? (Peruvian time). Invite people at 7 and expect them to arrive around 10pm (this is unfortunately not an exaggeration).
I’m not prude at all, but turning on the TV at 7pm and seeing half-naked women of the Kim Kardashian type climbing a rope or fighting each other in a family show, doesn’t seem right to me. These shows are the most popular programs and you’re not up-to-date if you can’t talk about yesterday’s show at the hairdresser’s or at the grocery shop.
5. Personal questions
Don’t be surprised if someone asks you really personal questions when you first meet him or her. For those of us that come from a culture where you usually refrain from asking questions such as “why are you not married?”, “are you catholic?” “how much do you earn?” at least until you really know somebody, it’s hard to not feel shocked or offended, but it’s just the local culture.
When I got married in Peru, I had to explicitly tell the guests to not bring extra people. If I had not, without a doubt some guests would have brought friends or family that didn’t have anything to do that night. They don’t get why I don’t want to join them to a birthday party or a wedding that I haven’t been invited to.
7. Security and Paranoia
I vividly remember the first time I arrived to Lima and my mother-in-law urged me to put my purse on the floor of the car “because they will break the window and steal it”. Great for a first impression! Since then, I have learned to never part with my belongings and keep them around my shoulder or on my lap at all times.
8. Personal space
Most of us learned as kids that we should respect another person’s personal space, which should be about the distance of our arms stretched, I would say. But other cultures have a different concept of personal space, and so does the Latin American culture. Personal space is a lot harder to attain, it seems, because most Latin Americans will give you at the most one foot. Don’t get confused, they do not have hearing problems or are trying to hit on you or kiss you, it’s their way of interacting with others.
9. Being nice just for the heck of it
Unless you do something very awful, people are just so nice all the time. You can ask directions to any police officer, he’ll be glad to show you in the right direction (if you understand each other that is). Waiters will go out of their way to make sure you go home happy, and they don’t necessarily expect a tip. This is my favorite culture shock!
10. A constant negotiation
Everywhere you go, you have to constantly negotiate prices and they automatically overcharge you as a ‘gringo’. Not only in the taxi, but also on the bus. Not only on the market, but also in the laundry place, the flower shop or even in some restaurants. Life in Peru is a constant negotiation, especially if you’re a foreigner. But… they are nice while trying to overcharge you.
Living in another country also makes you more aware of your own culture and the amazing thing is that, when you visit or return to your home country, you start noticing and even experiencing these same kinds of culture shocks. It really makes you appreciate each culture with its advantages and annoyances.