Having now lived in Lima past the honeymoon phase, I thought I’d write about some of the “realities” of life here as a foreigner (as I did about Dhaka and Bogota. An aside: I continue my search for the perfect “chaleco”.). Most of the daily annoyances that I go through are due to my own personal peeves, but, as the song says, I yam what I jam.
- Indirect communication: that is the modus operandi here. As a direct person, I sometimes get tired of the indirect route. I like to ask upfront and not have to guess what is being asked. To the locals, being up front is rude. The twain shall never meet.
- Formality: The Limenos are formal people. They like things to be formal. It ties in with being “respectful” which I think might be more important to them than being “nice.” They like to dress formally. They like formal. Have I made it clear? If you can add more gold and more formality, the better.
- Class: Yes, they have classes here. Yes, there’s racism. This is not unique to Lima. I still find it annoying to watch people treating others differently simply based on where they live, or their accent, or what job they have. (Let me get off my soapbox… aaaaagh…)
- Time: There is the standard comment that people are “late” for everything. If the invitation says 8 p.m., then people will show up at 9:30. But, time, in another sense that I find culturally different, is that Peruvians are night owls. Therefore many things are not open until 10 a.m. and some businesses aren’t even open for lunch on Sundays until 2 p.m.! Also, many restaurants close for a few hours in the middle of the day. Sometimes I like to eat dinner at 5:30 p.m., and there are very few dinner restaurants open at that time.
- Paying upfront/business deadlines: I recently had a reminder of this cultural lesson. I like to pay for things upfront so when I had something custom made at a tailor shop, I paid upfront. This was wrong because it meant that the shop no longer had any incentive to get the job done or get it done in a timely manner. To top if off, when I got the item, it was not done properly.
- Making a scene: Peruvians, due to their preference for indirect communication, do not like it when people make a scene. I told the tailor (see above) that I thought he had terrible service, that I did not want to hear his excuses, and that I would not recommend him to others. This was a scene. But, the tricky part here is… that they were embarrassed for me that I lost my cool. Not embarrassed for themselves for their sucky service. So it’s a no-win situation. One has to simply use the “withhold payment” method (see above) to ensure that you get what you paid for (or will pay for.).
- Calling: Peruvians love to use the telephone. They call to double check that the email went through, they call to make sure that what one ordered online is actually what one wants, they call to tell one that things are not going to be ready on time, they call to tell one that things are ready on time, they call, call, call, call… and call. Eventually, you will too.
- The weather: In winter, there is no sun. I’m not sure one gets used to it. One gets through it. This may be one of the things that is unique about Lima (maybe also San Francisco, Seattle…)
- The air pollution and food poisoning: The air is bad. It’s clammy and almost everyone gets colds related to the clammy air or suffers from other lung related issues. It’s worse closer to the coast. Food poisoning or “intestinal” issues are sort of surprising considering the reputation of the Lima as a foodie city. But, it happens, and it’s not special to Lima. And it happens to the locals too.
- Security: Yes, it’s a big city of nine million. (The photo is actually from a place south of Lima, but I like the security measure for one’s purse. Or is it for the chair?) What I miss most is being able to wear a backpack in peace. If you wear a backpack on your back, and you walk in a crowd, you will most likely find that the outermost pockets have been picked. That’s just the way it is. It might not happen. But it might. Also, when paying by credit card, don’t let the card leave your sight. Most restaurants will bring the machine to you, but once in a while, you will need to go to the machine (usually at the bar or cashier).
- Traffic: Every city seems to want to win the “worst traffic” award. Lima too. Yes, the traffic is bad. It is what it is. I still think that the traffic in Dhaka wins for badness. It is rare in Lima that you will sit in one place for 90 minutes, swarmed by 500,000 bicycle rickshaws, all while being eaten by mosquitoes. In Lima, as the locals say, “se mueve” or “it moves” — which is true. The traffic is bad in Lima, but it does actually move, even if it’s only at five miles per hour. Glad that I could end this on a positive note.
Another time, I’ll write about the best things about living in Lima.