Thursday, November 5, 2009

Behavioral Differences

So far we’ve talked a lot about the physical sights you will see in the north. What we haven’t talked about to any degree is culture and customs….behavior that may be different from what you’re accustomed to. So what is it that you are likely see getting off the bus or plane?

By far the most frequently mentioned difference by expatriates and visitors is the bumping and jostling. Gringos describe it as rudeness. There is no question that the concept of personal space does not exist in larger cities like Chiclayo, but it’s a situation that’s created because of large numbers of people living here and the design of the sidewalks, streets and buildings dating back to colonial times which forces competition for every inch of space, which is why some people in this photo are walking in the street. Bumping or being bumped into while walking, shopping, banking or whatever is normal. Unfortunately, that behavior carries over even in uncrowded situations when it’s not called for. It is not unusual to be nudged out of the way when talking with a store clerk or looking at items on a shelf, even when no one else is in the shop. Before living in the States Maribel accepted this behavior as normal. Now it bothers her. It doesn’t exactly please me but I’m getting used to it, even though I still grit my teeth and mutter a lot.

Running a close second is the realization that pedestrians do not have the right of way. The taxis, motos, busses and motorcycles will not deliberately try to hit you, but they will also not go out of their way to avoid you. You may think a walk light gives you preference to cross the street, and it does for stopped traffic, but not for those turning onto the street you’re crossing. They may blow their horn to warn you but that is all the courtesy you’ll get from them. Notice the people running out of the way in the photo. Even being on a sidewalk does not guarantee your safety if there is a parking lot or gas station between you and them. It is up to you to get out of the way….and quickly. After awhile you discover there is a rhythm to the chaos and learn to negotiate safely if not comfortably in traffic.

Along the same line, you are going to be surprised at the aggressiveness of the taxi drivers when you arrive at the airport or bus station. There will be many of them all shouting for your attention – some even attempting to take your luggage from you to force you to follow them to their taxi. I won’t even bother to describe the ride from the airport to your hotel, especially if it’s during rush hour. You need to experience it to believe it. If necessary close your eyes and keep repeating the phrase…”Tom said I won’t be killed.”

If you’re able to take that taxi ride with your eyes open you will probably notice the women, especially if you’re a man, just as the man in this photo is doing. In a country of beautiful women, Chiclayo is the mother lode. And they have a habit of dressing sensually – short skirts or skin tight jeans, spike heels and lots of cleavage showing. I’m told this is not something that’s done consciously and I believe it, though I see plenty of women who are undeniably in the “if you’ve got it put it on display” mode.

You wouldn’t believe how hard we (yes….me and Maribel) worked trying to get a photo to show to you. What we wanted was a candid photo of two or three beauties walking side by side downtown. Problem is either they saw us or something else happened to spoil the shot. But fear not guys; we will keep trying. In the meantime we’ll have to make do with this photo. By the way, if you happen to wolf whistle at these women – something that’s not unusual here, odds are they’ll laugh to each other; give each other a high five and continue on their way. Chiclayo women are proud of their femininity.

Another difference you will see is the widespread open show of affection. It is common for family member or friends to walk hand in hand or with their arms around each other. Maribel claims to be able to tell the difference but I’m still not sure when I’m seeing a family situation or a romantic thing. I have no doubt what’s going on with the passionate kissing that takes place any and everywhere, mostly between younger people. I have to admit that both the kissing and walking with arms draped around each other, whether family members or not makes me uncomfortable. Maribel and Brian tell me I feel that way because I am a “typically cold American.” Hmmmm.

Probably the only other “surface” difference you will notice early on is the one I am most reluctant to write about. Except in the downtown area urinating in public is common throughout Chiclayo. It is always men, and usually but not always moto or taxi drivers. Any vacant lot or dark area day or night is fair game. It is a custom that never fails to embarrass me when showing the city to visitors.

There are many other behavioral differences but they are less apparent and require a deeper familiarity with the people to understand and appreciate. We’ll talk more about Peruvian culture some other time.

Tom & Maribel

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