My Life in Peru

An Expat Mom Shares Her Experiences with Peruvian Life, Travel and Food

You Know You’re Turning Peruvian…

Posted on | March 9, 2012 | 20 Comments

After living in Peru for such a long time – April will make eight years for me – I’ve started to find myself more and more in a Peruvian mindset. There are lots of differences between the Peruvian and North American cultures and it seems like I’m slowing acclimating to the Peruvian culture.

So I figured I’d make a fun list of ways that expats in Peru know can know that they’re turning Peruvian. Of course, this is a list that may be more about living in Lima than in the rest of Peru, so if you gringos in the provinces want to throw in some comments about ways that you’ve adapted down in the comments, that’s cool too!

1)You complain about the cold when it’s under 70  degrees outside. When I first moved here, I thought people were crazy! It was barely under 70, and they were dressed fro an arctic expedition! People wear big down jackets, scarves and hats to go out in the winter, and it just seemed ridiculous. Until I’d lived here longer and suddenly realized how freaking cold it is! Part of it is the humidity, of course; it makes the mild cold seem bone-chilling.

2) You start showing up at least a half hour late for everything. I don’t like being late. And I’m not sure if I’ve adapted to the “Peruvian time” or if I’ve just given up on trying to get my husband anywhere on time.

3) You call everyone by endearing names. “Mamita” and “Cariño” are typical. The lady at the bodega says “Hola, mamita linda!” when I walk in – “Hello, pretty little mommy!” It sounds weird in English – both to say or to think that it would be acceptable, but in Spanish, it has a way of making everyone seem your friend.  What I don’t like is when people that you know are not your friends over use the terms to ingratiate themselves. There is a shade of hypocrisy to it sometimes.

4) You kiss everybody hello. Well, if you’re a woman you do. Men will with family and if not a kiss, do a formal handshake when greeting someone. There’s something so adorable seeing little boys meet on a playground and shake hands hello.

5) Speaking of the weather, we do! The weather is a constant source of conversation. Get in a taxi, and the driver will either comment on the heat or the cold. There is no in between!

6) You use the diminuitive for EVERYTHING! Peruvians love to make everything small and cute – it’s a way to “make life a little sweeter” says the Hubs. How do they do that? Well, in English we do it by calling a dog, a doggy; a horse, a horsie; a cat, a kitty.  In Spanish, they add -ito/-ita to the end of words. It words for people: I’m Kelita, Chato become Chatito.  I call the Hubs my “husbandcito”, he calls me his “wifecita” (there’s that Spanglish again!).  But it’s not just people – in a restaurant, I ask for an extra “platito” (the idea being it’s just a little tiny plate, I’m sure it would be no problem!) or maybe for directions to the “bañito” (the little bathroom – it just seems more polite). We drink a gaseosita, and eat cevichecito.

7) You argue the price on everything.  Whether you’re buying a kilo of fruit at the market or a pair jeans at Polvos Azules, you try to get that discount price: “Y por tu caserita?” (and for your favorite customer?) Y el mejor precio? (and the best price?)  You won’t step foot in a taxi without negotiating the best price you can and woe upon the bus conductor that tries to charge 50 cents too much!

8) You walk – A LOT.  Even with a car, you find that you often have to park a few blocks from where you want to go.  Take a bus, and the route may not go to your street. But most neighborhoods have bodegas and panaderias (bakeries) – and you’ll happily walk two or three blocks to get that fresh bread at 6pm!

9)You eat a lot of bread. I know I talk about how much rice Limeños eat, but they eat a lot of bread too. Our family can easily go through a bag of 15 pan frances (small French rolls).  The boys can put away four or five for breakfast. As mentioned above, most neighborhoods have a nearby bakery and it’s wonderful to be able to step in and get fresh bread all day long.

10) Your “Personal Space” has shrunk. Latin Americans in general have a smaller personal space than North American gringos. I’m talking about that invisible circle we all have, where once someone is inside we feel like they’re standing uncomfortably close. Before I came to Peru, mine was huge. I did not like people standing close to me. When I first got here, I would try to ride in combis without touching anyone – you can imagine what a lesson in futility that was! Now, I don’t care – I don’t even notice when the smelly guy next to me falls asleep on my shoulder!


How about you? Have there been ways that you’ve adapted to Peruvian life, or where you feel like you’re “Going Native”?

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20 Responses to “You Know You’re Turning Peruvian…”

  1. Hubert
    March 9th, 2012 @ 21:34

    Great post.

  2. Mom
    March 9th, 2012 @ 21:41

    Really Kellycita, I doubt that last one. Hahahahah

  3. Kelly
    March 10th, 2012 @ 00:06

    Ok, maybe not if he’s real smelly… 😀

  4. Cat
    March 10th, 2012 @ 05:52

    As a Brit I’ve always started every conversation with the weather anyway but I recognize the others except the bread – it’s more sweet corn and potatoes here.
    I’d also add
    – not stressing when all arrangements are left to the last moment.
    – Taking things as they come. Living more in the present, not worrying about planning for the future.
    – extra large hand (and arm) gestures
    – never giving a direct no
    – using exaggerated expressions of concern, interest and love to my in-laws. When I first met them I was really uncomfortable with the way they addressed me as if we were great friends and I thought it hypocritical of them. But now I get it and do the same.
    – Flapping my hand to get buses and taxis to stop
    – Not using please and thank you and polite language in shops to anything like the degree I would in the UK.

    I think the only thing I haven’t adapted to is the way so many parents leave ridiculously young children unsupervised for large periods of time. It still makes me angry and sometimes I actually go out of my way to find a parent and shout at them although I suspect it only serves to ease my feelings and confirm them in their idea of crazy gringas.

  5. Juancho
    March 10th, 2012 @ 12:03

    Haha! Those are so funny, mostly because they’re true!

    I experienced it in reverse. When I came to the US I bugged my friends because I walked too close to them on the way home from school.

    Now, when I go back to Lima I am shocked at how unruly, even rude, parents let their kids be. (I’ve just thought of something: if Peruvian parents thought that *I* was out of control as a child, what kind of a kid must I have been…?)

  6. Kelly
    March 10th, 2012 @ 12:48

    @Cat – I will NEVER not stress about things left to the last minute. You’d think I’d learn, because the things usually seem to work out just fine anyway. (Well, except for my wedding cake, but that’s another story)

    @Juancho – That’s funny :) There was an old episode of Seinfeld about that – a guy that stood too close to people.

  7. Kelly
    March 10th, 2012 @ 12:51

    Another thing about the dimnuitives – I don’t know if it’s true for everyone, but I always feel like if I ask for an “anticuchito” or “kekecito” that it won’t be as fattening, even though it’s the same size portion in the end 😀

  8. Erin
    March 10th, 2012 @ 17:14

    LOL … my husbands friends tell me I am more Peruvian than he is. Yes, all of your 10 apply! … and I live in the US. LOL

  9. Kelly
    March 10th, 2012 @ 21:28

    I wonder how I’d adapt to living in the US again if we decided to move – apart from how much I’ve changed, things there have changed so much.

  10. David
    March 11th, 2012 @ 02:25

    Here are “my things”:
    1.- I wanna go live there
    2.- Coming from Belgium I thing Peruvians don’t complain too much about weather
    3.- I have my sip of Pisco at night while watching TV

  11. Kelly
    March 12th, 2012 @ 06:42

    @ David – Everybody should have a sip of Pisco before bed. :)

  12. Amy
    March 11th, 2012 @ 15:00

    I love this post! I can totally relate. I don’t think I will ever get used to the whiney talk here in Cusco. It doesn’t matter if someone is talking about what their child did at school that day or if they are actually complaining about something. Excuses are another fun one. Cusqueñans loooove excuses. Being a teacher, I get everything. I really like your blog! I am definitely going to follow it!

  13. Kelly
    March 12th, 2012 @ 06:33

    Yeah, that whiny talk used to drive me crazy too. I’ve learned to ignore it unless it’s coming from my kids, but they’ve pretty much learned that it doesn’t fly here in the house!

  14. Yanina
    March 13th, 2012 @ 16:37

    lol (I am Peruvian) as newlyweds my husband would say “Just ask me what you want, but PLEASE dont’s whine” I didn’t know I did that!

  15. Louise B. Crook
    March 22nd, 2012 @ 10:08

    Wow! I think I can’t stand if a smelly guy sleep in my shoulder. Well adopting to the culture is a must if you want to live a happy life in that area. :)
    Louise B. Crook´s last blog post ..Best SEO Company

  16. Eileen
    March 23rd, 2012 @ 09:00

    Wow! I didn’t realize we were on the same track. In April I will have been in Chile for 8 years. I can’t say I’ve become extremely Chilena (still show up on time most of the time), but yeah, definitely some changes. I even ate pasta with tuna and cream (I know, sounds horrible!) the other day, semi-willingly.

    Here’s to 8 more years and holding onto the stuff that makes us happy, no matter where it comes from! Chaito!

  17. Miss Footloose | Life in the Expat Lane
    March 24th, 2012 @ 09:19

    Very interesting. I love posts like this; you get a real feel for a place with this sort of insights from expats living there.

    What I found striking is that in my native Holland, we “diminutize” everything as well.

    Good luck, and continued strength 😉
    Miss Footloose | Life in the Expat Lane´s last blog post ..Expat Fun: Window Shopping in Rome

  18. Tamara
    May 9th, 2012 @ 18:16

    I lived in Brazil for several years and the list really seems to apply to the Brazilian lifestyle as well. I then married a Peruvian who can’t seem to be on time to ANYTHING except Breakfast. Which happens to be his favorite meal consisting of “chocolate oatmeal” and lots of bread! :)

  19. Kelly
    May 9th, 2012 @ 18:28

    I cyber-know a woman who blogs from Rio, and I’m always amazed at how “Peruvian” the things she writes about sounds! And chocolate oatmeal is a favorite here, too – I even kinda like it myself!

  20. Paola
    June 20th, 2012 @ 06:19

    Great post, make me laugh and I can totally relate. My nickname was flaquita (skinny) and my mom and grandmother always tried to make me to eat a lot in order to make me “gordita and healthy”. For some reason my mom believes that a cute gordito baby is healthy, she must be proud of me my son loves Peruvian Food.

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    I got tired of life happening while I made other plans, so I quit my job and came to Peru. I live here with my Peruvian husband, two sons, three dogs and various other family members, depending on the weather.

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