Tuesday, January 19, 2010

A quaint little custom

Several months ago Maribel and I were out walking and became hungry so went into a restaurant we hadn’t been in before. Every table was taken but as we were turning to leave, a waitress approached and said “la trampa is available”. Maribel declined and we went elsewhere. While we were eating I asked what the waitress meant by la trampa, and was told that la trampa is slang for ‘the tramp’ – a room where a married man takes a woman other than his wife for dinner and/or drinks. I’ve since noticed these rooms are fairly common in mid to lower range restaurants. The difference between them and a private family room is they contain one small table and two chairs and are blocked from public view on all sides. My awareness of la trampa gave a focal point to a subject that has puzzled me for some time – the openness of affairs in Peru.

Men won’t discuss the subject. They’ll joke about it – there are hundreds of standard jokes about roving men told by men and women, but they won’t talk seriously about it. Women talk quite candidly about the subject, which doesn’t surprise me because in my experience Peruvian woman talk candidly about anything to anyone. They discuss affairs with a surprising casualness.

No one is surprised or shocked to see a man they know enter or leave la trampa with another woman. The practice is too common to produce surprise. When these situations occur all parties pretend not to see the others. Women will not inform the man’s wife because “it’s not my business, and she could be a sister or cousin.” When a woman meets the man again both will act as if the incident never happened.

When asked about their feelings toward a woman who is seeing a married man, all disapprove but I don’t sense any real indignation, though they do have names for these ladies. Beside la trampa there is ‘la otra’ – the other, ‘querida amante’ – dear lover, and my favorite…’canal dos’ – channel two. When asked what would happen if a wife should come upon the husband and his ‘la otra’, most women agreed that a younger wife would probably confront the two of them. To the woman she would say something like…”Yo soy la firme y tu eres la trampa!” – I am the original and you are the tramp! Toward the husband her actions are less predictable. Maribel has seen one wife pour a bowl of soup on a man’s head. An older wife may choose to ignore the situation for the sake of the marriage and any children.

It’s not the affairs that surprise me…I didn’t just fall off the turnip truck. It’s the openness and attitudes that intrigue me. If I had to summarize the consensus attitude of the wives I talked with, it would be…”we don’t like it but boys will be boys. What can you do?” What was left unsaid is that for every one of the straying husbands there appears to be a willing channel two, so can we also say girls will be girls?

In any event, while researching for this post it was made abundantly clear to me that the liberal attitude toward this quaint little custom does not apply to married gringos whose wives are named Maribel.


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