The Alternative Peru team loves Peru (duh!) and we would love for you to come and visit us to discover the many wonders of Peru. But, for most of you, Peru is also very different than what you’re used to. To avoid any big surprises, we’re preparing you with a concise overview of some of the culture shocks you can expect when visiting Peru. This list was composed by Alternative Peru co-founder Natalie, a Belgian native, from her own experience when she first came to Peru.
10 culture shocks you may experience when visiting Peru:
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!” Honestly, I’m scared every time I have to pass a roundabout because apparently they each have their own specific traffic 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 in Peru 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 indicators; in Peru, we just stick our hands out of the window to show where we’re going. If you’re in the passenger seat, be ready to assist in case of 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 three 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 five lunch guests.
It might be a stereotype, but this one is a very true one. I’m not the most punctual person myself, I often arrive 10 minutes late when meeting with friends. 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). If you invite people at 7pm, then you can expect them to arrive around 9pm (this is 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 kind of shows are the most popular primetime TV. You can’t talk along at lunch with colleagues or chitchat at the hairdresser’s if you’re not up-to-date with the latest intrigues of these shows.
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?”, it’s hard not to be shocked or even offended. But don’t be! It’s just a cultural difference.
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. Similarly, my friends or family-in-law do not understand why I don’t want to join them to a birthday party or wedding I haven’t been explicitly 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 shoulders 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. This depends a bit on how well you know someone but for strangers, it’s polite to stay at about stretched arms distance. But this personal space is cultural. Therefore, other cultures, even within one country, may have a different concept of personal space. So does Peru. Personal space is much more limited here and most Peruvians 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.
9. Being nice just for the heck of it
Unless you do something very awful, people are just so nice all the time (except when they’re behind the wheel!). 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. In addition, 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. Surprisingly, 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.