Monday, December 14, 2009

Behavioral Differences II

In an entry last month we talked about behavioral differences, touching on the lack of personal space, vehicle and pedestrian relationships, and women’s fashion. These are just surface issues. Now I’d like to tell you about some fundamental cultural differences it is important for you to understand if you’re going to spend any time in Peru, but first I want to emphasize this post is not about being judgmental. The context of this entry has to do with cultural differences – not good, bad, right or wrong. My advice is to leave your personal social norms and beliefs at home when visiting Peru or any other country.

Secondly, it may seem presumptuous of me to speak about Peruvian culture, but I have been in this country close to two years; have meet a lot of people and have been in many different situations. And while my experience has been in the north, I have had enough conversation with other expats in other parts of the country to convince me that I’m on solid ground for what I’m about to say, so let’s get started.

One basic difference I noticed early has to do with planning. The wedding in this photo was well planned, but there is a tendency among Peruvians to do things at the last moment. Say for example someone at a meeting or family gathering mentions a social occasion is coming up in one month. I am a planner…a list maker. I will immediately start asking questions about what, where, when, who and how. I don’t let it go until I understand the smallest detail. As the day of the event approaches I’ll inquire about the status of things. The response will normally be…’Well…we (meaning the family or anyone else involved) really haven’t talked about the what, where, when, who or how.’ It’s as if the previous discussion never took place. You see, to a Peruvian, one month before is too early to talk about anything. The proper time frame seems to be from 1 to 3 days – or even the day of. Right about now you may be wondering how it all comes together. From my viewpoint it sometimes doesn’t. Not enough chairs? People will stand or take turns sitting. Not enough food? Serve smaller portions and/or ask family members to share plates. The musicians showed up an hour late or not at all? So what? From my perspective everything has gone wrong. From a Peruvian perspective, nothing has gone wrong.

I just realized that most of what I’ve written above and what I think will follow can all be grouped under the heading of the Peruvian attitude toward time. More examples.

We had some printing work done at a local business similar to this one. When we showed up at the agreed upon time we were told it was not ready and to come back ‘same time tomorrow.’ Ditto the next day. We could have cancelled the order, but it would have been no different at any other printer. On the third day it was ready – but it was wrong. Which brings us to another basic cultural difference. A Peruvian will never admit to a mistake. Nor will they say ‘I’m sorry.’ In a case where either is called for, there will instead be an uncomfortable silence. If we had gotten angry with the man about the delay or mistake, he would not have understood our anger. To him this is business as usual in Peru…again, from his perspective nothing has gone wrong.

And finely, there is the Peruvian attitude toward schedules and appointments. If you agree to meet a Peruvian somewhere at a specific time, take a book or some other means to occupy your time. They will be late. If a governmental activity is scheduled, there is a chance it will start on time but probably not. If it is a private function it will absolutely not start on time. It’s a guessing game as to when to arrive.

On an intellectual level I have come to accept these differences. On an emotional level I’m still working on it because they conflict with my long held social customs. But that’s my problem….not the Peruvians.


1 comment:

  1. Your last sentence says it all - and it took me a couple of years to comes to grip with the fact that I was NOT going to be able to change Peruvians, so if I didn't want to lose my mind, I was going to have to adapt.

    I still won't put up with people running into me or butting in line at the bakery, though!! :)