The Culture Shock Curve
During orientation, we had a talk about culture shock. It’s what happens when you enter a new culture for an extended period of time and are suddenly confronted with cultural differences. And they say it’s a curve that looks like this:
Well, the robbery plunged me down to the bottom of the curve. For the next week or so, I wanted to go home, I felt like everyone here was against me, like everything was unsafe, like just about everything was bad… I may or may not have caused a scene on the combi when I thought the cobrador was trying to cheat me out of my little bit of remaining money (it turned out that I had, in fact, actually pulled out a 10 cent coin and given it to him instead of the 5 sol coin that I’d thought was the only one in my pocket)…
Now I’m past all that, in humor phase and going upward.
But while I’m here, I’ll tell you about some cultural differences that can be shocking for U.S.-ians (I use the term U.S.-ians because America includes a lot more than just the United States – Peruvians are Americans too!):
- Most Peruvians walk veeerryyy slowly. I often find myself maneuvering around them to go twice their speed. And that’s just when I’m walking normally.
- They talk very quietly. Their version of speaking up/yelling is quieter than the average U.S.-ian’s speaking voice.
- Personal space is a very different concept. The clearest example is the combis; someone may be literally smushed against you and it doesn’t seem to faze them.
- Traffic in Lima: Lane lines are mere suggestions. Stoplights are slightly stronger suggestions.
- Students generally live at home through college rather than living on/near campus, which changes the college environment. Sometimes they live at home for many, many years beyond college. It’s not so rare for a 30-some-year-old to be living with their parents.
- There is no schedule for the combis. You just go to a paradero and wait until one shows up. What’s great, though, is that you’ll rarely have to wait more than 5-10 minutes for one, whereas in the U.S. it could be an hour. Also, fun fact, I realized the other day that despite leaving within the same 15 minute window almost every day, I have yet to take the same vehicle to school more than once.
- Toilets. You can’t put toilet paper in the toilet, you have to put it in the trash can. Apparently this is because of low water pressure.
- Peruvian time. Class officially starts at 10? That means it might start anywhere between 10:00 and 10:40. Friend says they’re meeting you at 6? They leave their house around 6. (I personally love this because it’s a lot closer to the way I function, and I find it much more relaxed.)
So, it can all be a bit shocking. But I’m starting to appreciate all of these things more and more. And I certainly would never say that my culture is objectively better, or vice versa. It’s just a learning curve.
(P.S. I have to correct something I said in a previous post, while I’m at it. When I mentioned the guys with clipboards who write down info about the combis — I called them frecuenciadores, because I saw one wearing a hat that said frecuenciador — I was wrong about exactly what goes on. According to our Peruvian Social Reality teacher, they’re called dataderos, because they keep data on the combis that pass. When a cobrador pays them a few cents they relay some numbers to the cobrador, who usually yells them to the driver. I’m still mystified by what these magical numbers mean — it’s 3 in a row, sometimes with the word “libres” at the end. E.g. Cuatro, siete, tres libres! If anyone finds out what they mean, please tell me!)
(P.P.S. My Peruvian friend told me that only the smallest vehicles are actually called combis, and the medium-sized ones that I usually take are called micros. We IFSA people just refer to them all as combis. Oops!)