Little Things: Cultural Differences

On the plane from Miami to Bogota, I sat next to a girl from Colombia. She said that, among the things I might miss in America were the general cleanliness, order, and THINGS THAT WORK. Every day at the office we lose internet for a while. About twice a week we lose power. The water didn’t work in my apartment for two hours this morning. I wouldn’t have remembered to include this point, but the power went out for five minutes while I was typing this up.

I’ve explained how the food is more natural here. But of course Peru has obesity-inducing food and of course I ate it. One greasy staple is salchipapa. Salchipapa is a plate of french fries covered with a chopped-up hot dog, covered again with ketchup, mustard, mayonaise, and ají (ají is a spicy sauce made from peppers, eggs, and oil). Disgusting! Oh but so good and I ate it all.

One of the national dishes here is cuy – guinea pig. People tell me it’s really good. I tell them that, in my country, guinea pigs are pets.

Restaurants only give you one napkin. The napkin has less paper than the bev-naps I used to serve with a beer when we were out of coasters.

Lemon is used for almost everything. In America, every table has salt and pepper. In Peru, every table has salt and lemon. I’ve seen people squeeze lemon juice on Chinese food.

I bought a sack of potatoes this week. I assumed they were Russet potatoes because they were brown. Before cooking them, I washed all the dirt off and learned they were actually red potatoes. 

Pisco sour is the national drink. Pisco is a liquor distilled from grapes and, like cachaça in Brazil, is the national liquor but mostly unknown in the States. A pisco sour is pisco, sugar, lime, and a raw egg white. I found out about the raw egg after having drank several. Protein and Vitamin C! What other cocktail has protein?

Most luxury products are counterfeit. DVDs, CDs, Nike, Puma, Dolce & Gabbana, you name it. Fake. You can’t buy a legitimate DVD because the market is so flooded with DVDs for three soles ($1.08).

Burping and spitting is very rude, more rude than in America. On Saturdays, I watch the fulbito games with friends and drink beer. Not just beer, beer al tiempo – room temperature. So I burp a lot. One day I let out a burp and couldn’t not notice the shocked faces of my friends. It’s been a hard habit to break. I’m constantly explaining to people that not all Americans are like me. I’m a pig and caveman in America too. While playing fulbito Thursday night, I had to spit so I spit. All the guys laughed.

While typing last week’s blog post, I started to hear a rumble outside. It was slowly getting louder. I looked out the window and saw a crowd of 700 – 800 people in the street, screaming some chant. The all-male crowd wore red. They took up the entire street and sidewalks of my block for about five minutes. In front of the mob were police in riot gear. There was a soccer game that day and the local fanatics were going down to the stadium as a mob. Behind the crowd was a tank and a police truck. The police trucks are 70s-era Mercedes trucks. Behind the cab are benches facing each other with no doors, seat belts, or anything besides benches. You can probably load fifty cops on one truck. The crowd passed my building and that was it.

Public displays of affection are not a big deal at all. It’s common to see a couple pressed against a wall, sucking face in front of the world. America seems to be 50-50 on this issue. I was always in the camp that didn’t really care and, if I am in the moment with a girl, I’ll make out with her in a crowded bar, on the street, on campus, or wherever. But there’s a significant percentage of Americans who are offended or uncomfortable around that and they’re also the ones who don’t engage in it. Here nobody cares.

Also, you often see public urination. I assume it’s against the law to pee wherever you want, but it’s obviously not enforced as you can see it day or night, downtown or anywhere.

I learned Mexican Spanish in the US. I knew that Mexican Spanish is world-renowned for how much slang it uses, but I was still surprised at how different it is. I have to learn almost all the bad words over again. I can understand each country having different slang, as do the US and England. But it’s a little ridiculous when I have to re-learn some words that I shouldn’t have to (e.g. straw, soda).

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