How to “Get” the Peruvians And Get What You Want From Them

Or the Cultural Intelligence Guide to Peruvians, or cross-cultural communication (to use the 1990s term for it). All this may be different now that COVID has erased some norms of meeting people in the same physical space. But, post-pandemic, I’m sure that these norms will return. (Note: First, the whiter, more male, and better looking that you are… the easier everything will be for you.) Now, on to the game!

If you really want to maneuver Peruvian society, and Peruvians themselves, the thing to know is… RESPECT. Not like how Aretha sang it, which was respect my human rights and me as a person. But, more like respect the societal rules, or the rules of deference. Peruvians know their place in their society and which class they belong to. They expect you to be respectful enough to treat them accordingly, and to behave in a way that reflects that you know the rules of Peruvian society. Capische?

Class structure. Understand how the Peruvians understand each other’s position in society. The class structure in Peru is by letter: A, B, C… (most people will say that they are B class as in B- but in reality they may be C++ class). As a foreigner, this will not really affect you but it’s useful to know how they deal with each other. When Peruvians who do not know each other meet, they ask three questions to help them figure where they belong in society.

1. They will ask you your full name to see if you have any connections. Peruvians have two last names from their father and mother, and if those names are distinctive, then they know WHO you are (imagine if you will that your name was Isabel Carmen Aliaga Varela — the Aliaga part could mean that you belong to the one of the original founding families of Peru. The Varela part could mean that you belong to one of the old money families of Lima).

2. Where did you go to high school. Most Peruvians do not go to university including the upper classes (even as recently as 20 years ago, upper class women were not encouraged to go to university — as they would not need a degree for a good marriage). If you went to one of the private schools like San Silvestre, Franklin Delano Roosevelt (the nouveau riche school), Italian School, Newton, and so on, then they can easily place you in society. Maybe they went to the same school. Then they have an instant connection with you. If you went to university abroad, in the U.S., England, or Spain, then you could be moving up in society. (Note on moving up in society: Education and overseas living experience are ways to move up in Peruvian society. Some families will send their children to public school 90 minutes away so that they have a better chance of moving up through the system. For example, a typical family of hairdressers and welders living in San Juan de Miraflores, a “conos” (projects or in some places shanty towns — squatting is a viable way to become a homeowner in these areas) housing neighborhood, will send their child to school in Miraflores, which is actually “San Miguel de Miraflores” but no one ever says that. By sending their child to public school in Miraflores, they are giving them an up and in into moving from C class to B class. Then the child studies abroad for university. When that person returns to Peru, they are now B class. To move from B to A class is a lot harder. A class tends to be families of old money and power. Even fame does not really help you move into A class).

3. Where did/do you live in Lima. As mentioned in the point above about school, your geography will determine your place in society. Peruvians who meet outside of Peru will ask where they lived in Lima. If the answer is San Isidro, Miraflores (not San Juan de Miraflores. Some will say this even if they actually grew up in the infamous one), La Estancia, then the other person knows that they are at least B class. Hence, everyone says Miraflores. If the person says San Borja or Barranco, it could be harder to tell. Even if the person lives in Lince, they may say San Isidro because it sounds better (people will even get dropped off in San Isidro and then walk the two blocks to Lince to make it look like they live in San Isidro… yes, it’s that important in Lima society).

Race. The color of your skin and your bone structure will also tell the other Peruvians where you are in society. Like in many other parts of the world, the women straighten their hair in Peru so that they will have less curly hair, but it can’t be too straight because then it’s too indigenous. But, they rely less on this than the aforementioned three questions. White, blue-eyed, and naturally blonde is upper class or foreign.

Another thing to understand about Peruvian society is…

Sycophancy – “pegajosa” or “sticky” is the closest word that I was given when I asked about brown nosing. But, since it’s not a bad thing -– it is simply the MO, modus operandi — way of conducting business -– it doesn’t have the same connotations that it has in English when accusing someone of being a a brown-noser. Peruvians don’t really talk about brown-nosing. It’s so normal for them that they don’t need to talk about it. There’s really no word for brown-nosing in Peruvian Spanish (sort of like how there is no word for privacy in Italian). It’s just how things are done. If you need something, it’s all — all — about who you know. It’s relational.

Peru is an extroverted culture with a preoccupation with “respect,” propriety, and formality — with obvious external audible and visible forms expected. The Peruvians are talkative people. They will ask you about your family, whether you are married, your age, and so on. Nothing is told in confidence. They feel free to share this information and to talk about you. Similar to brown-nosing, they may not really see this as a bad thing. They might just think they are being respectful to you by showing an interest in you. (Not that everything is benevolent. Peruvians seem to enjoy seeing slapstick or the failure of others.) Even if you don’t tell anyone anything about yourself, they might gossip about you anyway, even to you! Understanding that Peruvians gossip makes it easier for you to realize that this is part of the game of life in Peru.

Now, how to get what you want… here’s the secret! Make them feel that you are respecting them! Well, of course, you do, dahlin’. Make them feel like they are doing you a favor, even if they should just do their job. Always, always, make them feel like they have the upper hand. Then, make sure to thank them effusively, as in “muchisimas gracias” or “you saved my life” or some such hyperbole. These little thank yous will help you maintain the relationship for the next time you need something. It really is that simple. Be sort of sickly sweet. For men, just lower your voice a bit. Actually, men being men in a chauvinistic society, don’t need to kiss-up quite so much… depends on the class of the two actors.

Yes, really. This is the secret.

Now that you are in the know, here are some easy things you can do to make your way in Peruvian society easier. And to get what you want from Peruvians.

Speak Spanish. It’s respectful. Actually, the Peruvians speak “Castellano” or Castilian. It was the language of 12th century kingdom of Castile and Leon in Spain. The people of modern day central Spain speak this language to this day. Many South American countries call this form of Spanish Castilian. Of course, in Peru, there are colloquialisms. If you want to fit in, always use the term, “palta” for avocado. When giving directions, “siga defrente” or “sigue defrente” for “go straight” — I usually add a frantic chopping motion with my arm. If you mention “derecho” at all — at all,  the driver will start turning right. So keep “derecha” for your discussions of human rights. To sound friendly and intimate, say “porfa” for “por favor.” Also, Peruvians almost never use the word, “hola” when greeting people. But, they might say, “ciao” when departing. But it’s spelled, “chaw” if you are going to write it, but it’s better to use an emoji in Whatsapp.

Good day greetings — kissing on the cheek. Peruvians do one air kiss on each side, usually start on the right. If it’s a formal situation and the greeting involves a male, you can shake hands. But the cheek air kisses are okay too, while grabbing each other’s shoulders in a manly way. Most importantly, greet everyone! Seriously. Everyone. In stores, elevator, entering a conference, checking in, everyone. Every day at work, go around and greet all your colleagues, even if you saw them that long lost yesterday. At parties or events, you must personally greet everyone and say goodbye to everyone, individually. Peruvians are a people who want you to acknowledge them, each and every one, and that includes when entering a room. Even with your family. The way to deal with this is to show up on time for parties. So if the party is at 8:30 p.m., show up at 9 p.m. Then everyone who comes in after you, will have to come say hello to you. If you show up late, you have have to walk around and greet everyone. Then, stay till almost last. This way you won’t have to go around and say goodbye to everyone. Saying goodbye is an equal drama and it can take a long time. If you want to make a quick getaway, hug and kiss the hosts before giving the room a general wave and “Sorry, we have an early morning. We don’t want to cause a stir.” Then exit quickly. There will still be gossip, but at least you got away. The word for gossip is “chisme.” Women will sometimes start with “chisme, chisme, chisme…” when they want to tell you gossip.

Critically, start every interaction with a greeting. In shops, in email, on Whatsapp, on the phone — always start with a greeting. Always. On a somewhat related note, don’t barge straight into whatever you need or want. Even in a Whatsapp chat. Well, maybe if you are on fire, but I still think a Peruvian would start the call with, “Good evening, hope you are well. Could you be so kind as to help me? I’m on fire.” So, as I said, always start with a greeting. If not, you will look like a disrespectful boor.

Calling and Whatsapp. Lots of it. Use it. Use Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, and Whatsapp to communicate. Do it a lot. Peruvians like to feel the attention of those communiques pinging and vibrating on their phones. Preferably call. Peruvians want to feel the human interaction in every interaction. Nothing can be done quickly in Peru. There is no running in to buy a banana or a coffee. NO, no, no, NO. Peruvians would feel that they were denying you a respectful interaction if they did it too fast. They are not Scandinavians, who are famous for being efficient, if cold. For example, getting Internet set up in one’s home takes many phone calls and hours, sometimes days…

Dress and grooming. This is easy. Dress like Hans Solo. In winter. Google it. Or whatever the fashion dictates. A few years ago, every woman was showing up in white rabbit vests with gold accessories. In the summer, you can wear flip flops but really only when at the beach. Shorts are okay for men during the summer but best left for the beach town. Women are dressy. (A note: when you invite a Peruvian to an event, be it a food fair or theater outing, they will want to know the dress code. Peruvians are formal in terms of dress. Only in the last ten years have Peruvians allowed themselves to be seen outside a gym wearing sneakers. Yup.) Invitations will always state the dress code and for everything else, dress up rather than down. Wear jewelry. Critically, have your hair groomed and coiffed. Salons are open early (7 a.m. is very early to the nocturnal Peruvians) so that women can get their hair “blown” for the day. Women do not wash their hair every day (don’t be grossed out — they are clean) and they often go to the salon a few times a week to get it “done” for the next few days. Most women wear their hair long if they are younger and even if they are older. But, at some point, women of a certain age (no, older than that) will go for the short winged look in a shade of sandy chestnut color. I once sat at a salon and watch in amazement as the in house “blow-out queen” blew out woman after woman who came in looking like drowned rats… and then left looked like coiffed empresses ready to be driven in their Bentleys. Most importantly, women are coiffed when they go out. They will even carry a brush in their purses so that they can do a quick brush out if needed. Men generally have short hair but it’s okay to have a ponytail. I see few comb-overs in Lima. When bald, men in Lima seem to accept the baldness. Men can wear earrings as well (Back in the 1980s, men wearing earrings was a controversy — look how far we’ve come) but so far, most do not wear makeup (it’s a thing, it is — call it “tinted moisturizer” or “bronzer.” But, I digress.) Also, oddly, I’ve noticed some men who manage to make the white sock with birkenstock look okay. Wait, what am I saying?! Only Germans can pull off this look, and even then, not really. Peruvian men wear leather dress shoes or sneakers (as do lots of women). Again, word about sneakers. Until 2010 or so, no one wore sneakers outside of a gym. Now, everyone wears them.

Time. Most Peruvians will be late for parties or gatherings, even meetings. I find this a conundrum because being late is disrespectful. It wastes everyone’s time. The way to get around this is to be late yourself… no. One way to get around this is to host things at your own place. Or share a taxi to wherever you are going. And, have your phone loaded with other things to do… like Whatsapping all those folks you are brown-nosing, um, I mean, “chatting” with. If you are wondering how late to be for a restaurant meal, around 15-45 minutes is quite normal. For a private party, 30 minutes to an hour is normal. For business meetings, 10-15 minutes late is not late. Being late is all about “making an entrance” and the bigger a blowhard you think you are (but, I don’t think you’re reading my blog…), the more of an entrance you want to make. Drama!

Back to the idea of “formality” — yes the Peruvians are a formal people as I explained earlier. But when they mention “informal” — they are not talking about “casual” as in shorts and khaki. When Peruvians use the term, “informal,” they are talking about blackmarket or “under the table” prices or economy. But, if you ask a Peruvian, they will never use those words. It’s always the “informal” market. Peru leads in counterfeit (60 percent of things/ideas are “fake” or counterfeit in Peru). The informal attitude to copyright is part of the dichotomy that is only equaled by their sense of time. Unless one thinks of it as a form of flattery. About 70 percent of Peruvians work in the “informal” economy — from domestic staff to illegal commerce.

Finally, now that you know how to “get” the Peruvians and how to get what you want from them, remember this — don’t talk about this to them. Just as they don’t talk about the class system (yes, they have one), Peruvians, for all their talkativeness, don’t talk about their modus operandi. It’s not proper. Not polite. Shows a lack of respect.

Anyway, have I got a bit of juicy gossip for you… chisme, chisme, chisme…

10 Realities of Hotel Living

I have spent more than 300 nights in hotels in the past few years, and this experience has made me appreciate the joys of having a fixed home. Here are some of the experiences that I had while staying in hotels and being “on the road” for months at a time. It’s not all bad, and, it’s not all good. Even at the most expensive and fancy places.

Toe nails: There is nothing so sharp and hard as a toenail shaving. And they don’t shine like diamonds.

Beads: I have stepped on more random beads (is it Mardi Gras everywhere?) than I care to count. I suppose it’s the nature of them being round, usually small, and many.

Shampoo: All those little bottles. It gets tiresome.

Laundry: Some hotels charge $24 per shirt. There seems to be not consideration for those who stay in a hotel for more than a week, and do not have 30 changes of clothing with them. Traveling makes one miss doing laundry.

Take out: I’ve had lots of it. It can get tiresome not being able to cook for oneself.

Bored of the food: Related to the point above.

Microwave or stove: you miss a way to heat up food.

Tiny fridge: not the name of a band. Also, why? Why oh why are these tiny fridges so low to the floor?

Cameras: yup. They are everywhere.

No privacy: Living in a hotel, one is never really alone as there are constant knocks on the door.

Knock knock.

The Best Things About Expat Life in Lima – Or, It’s Always Avocado Season

In celebration of Peru’s independence days, “fiestas patrias,” (July 28 is independence day and July 29 is a holiday for the armed forces and police), here is my posting about what I think is great about living in Lima. As I did for some of the other places I have lived, I have already written about what I don’t like about living in Lima. Before living in Lima, I had visited more than five times as a tourist. The first time was immortalized in this blog posting. Now that I’ve been here for more than a food-frenzied weekend, the following things are what I like about living here.

The food scene: The restaurants. It seems like every week, there is a new restaurant opening, and thanks in great part to Gaston Acurio, the culinary scene has become part of the national identity. There are fancy-foamy-intellectual dining establishments, fast food franchises, family-run restaurants, neighborhood favorites, and hole-in-the-wall secrets.

The immigrants: This is one of the reasons that the food scene in Lima is great. Thanks to the Chinese (Chifa is a normal word here for a Chinese food and restaurant, and it is as ingrained in the local food choices as hamburgers), the Japanese (Nikkei is the word used for both the food style and the Japanese Peruvians — this month celebrating 120 years in Peru), the Italians, the Lebanese, and all the other immigrants who have been been contributing to the deliciousness in Lima. Thank you to the newest (those two Thai restaurant owners, those Pakistani and Indian guys, that American with the chocolate shop, and those three Swedish ladies, that Mexican guy, and the Venezuelans, and all of those others whom I have yet to discover… I’m looking at you, shawarma palace!). Plus, many of the Peruvians are domestic immigrants — from somewhere else in the country (bringing things like their delicious cheeses… which I’m told is called “country cheese”).

The Palta Fuerte (the palta fuerte is too delicate and buttery to be exported, I’m guessing): It is always avocado season. When buying an avocado, the vendor will ask the day and time that you plan to eat it so that they can sell you one that will be ripe at the precise moment that you plan to enjoy it. “Palta” is the word for avocado in Peruvian Spanish. No one in Peru says “aquacate” even if they may know what you are talking about. At a restaurant, you can ask for a side of palta and it’s totally normal, like asking for butter (but better).

The juice (plus fruit and produce in general): the lemonade (they offer it made with pureed lemongrass at most places), the passion fruit, the orange juice, the blackberry juice. Plus, the pineapples are delicious and the mangoes have a season (like Edwardian socialites). The Edward mango is especially yummy as it has fewer fibers.

The chocolate: Go to El Cacaotal. That is my one must-do for visitors, for newbies, for chocolate haters… now serving hot chocolate and coffee!

The cultural offerings and activities: cooking classes, chocolate tasting lessons, Cordon Bleu courses, surfing classes, dance schools, wine tasting lessons, the circus, theater productions, gyms, yoga, concerts, archery sessions, wine and paint classes, museums, open studio nights, expos, marathons, fairs, farmers markets, and almost any other activity that you can imagine in a metropolis (there is always something to do). Even comicon.

The walkability: they even have ciclovia. Yes, you can walk here. There are sidewalks, parks, and hiking trails.

The neighborhoods: I like that there are actual neighborhoods, farmers markets, barrios, districts, parks, malls (mega ultra modern and local “centro commerciales”), and the coast (its own microcosm).

The positive attitude toward expats/foreigners: Generally, as a foreigner, I don’t feel hate or suspicion from the locals. The Peruvians are,  generally, pro-American culture, and certainly pro-European culture. While most Peruvians don’t approach/talk to foreigners, they also don’t harass them and follow them around (as would happen in other countries where I have lived)… It’s funny, the little things one appreciates. As a foreigner, one can have a life here without being a circus act.

The security: I am completely amazed to see people out jogging, with headphones on, at night. Granted this is along the more patrolled streets but I am still amazed. Utterly. Amazed. Every. Single. Day. Really. Still. Ah-maze-ed.

The view of the ocean: Yes. It’s amazing. Beaches too. If one likes sand.

The public toilets: Almost all grocery stores and malls have public toilets. One has to remember to not flush the toilet paper, but, at least they have toilet paper, although, not always in the actual stall — so get it beforehand.

Delivery: Like in Bogota, almost anything can be delivered.

The taxi prices: $2 for a basic short ride of a few miles. Sometimes $7 for an hour’s ride.

Help: there is always someone to carry the groceries, the taxi drivers help with luggage, the doormen help with stuff, and domestic help is a normal part of life here. I’ll write more about that in a separate posting. Aside from the domestic cleaners, there are nannies, gardeners, drivers, porters, dog walkers, DJs, caterers, dishwashers, movers… you name it. I have an “event tech” whom I hire for parties. I may change that title to “event engineer” as engineer seems to be the new generic term for “trained” (I was chatting with a taxi driver who told me that he used to be a “production engineer” — he potted yogurt in a lab. He chose to drive a taxi because the yogurt potting only paid $670 per month, double the minimum wage, but he makes double that as a taxi driver, even though he works double the hours. But, at least, he is his own boss).

The prices for dental care: as with most things, one can pay lots of money for dental care, but one can also get good dental care for $17 (cleaning and checkup). But, if one wants to pay $170, one can. Many of the dentists have trained in other countries and their certifications in those countries may not be valid here.

The prices in general: from picture framing to groceries, to clothing alterations, to the above mentioned items.

And, did I mention the palta?

The Realities of Daily Life in Lima

5w0Le4c3gUB-osQE6MMgGGbOfjezYOM8Nad9KXoQUfHW67HHlzLLjh0GcfyK7b_WAu4MVraRef6mzVW2-Amql6Eyn0FLuIJ9hK6xVcsyQOoOl6JD4PSyUQbrzoMx--339vnks78wXrKc50ifZlOBvKnJSQYSS-GFXzdCSNoS9CPbOejGM_pdZqPzWl-oBSYppia6BoEdD4w4-wk_KKm1W4BZOl1FHcmHaving 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.

Resources for Expats Living in Peru

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I’d say the most “famous” is Living in Peru started by a Dane, Carsten Koch: Living in Peru.

Live In Peru: for finding real estate in Peru. The hot spots are Miraflores, Barranco, and San Isidro, but I’d go for Magdalena La Mar and Lince, if I was looking.

Expat Peru

Internations

Transitions Abroad

Escape Artist

Expat Woman

Expat Focus

Expat Exchange

Life in Peru

Pink Pangea

American in Lima

Matador

Life in the 3rd World

No Sleep Till Peace

The blog of an expat.

 

For concerts: http://conciertosperu.com.pe/agenda-conciertos/ (including free ones  or “gratis” in Spanish)

And because food is one of the major delights of living in Peru (picarones shown below):  Peru Delights

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Big City Bogota – The Realities of Daily Life

Just as I wrote about the realities of life in Dhaka, I thought I’d post about Bogota.

Bogota is a big city with nine million inhabitants. The traffic is that of a big city. Muggings and robberies are normal here. Again, it’s not going to happen every day. I’m not sure what the crime rate is compared to New York, but Bogota doesn’t “feel” dangerous. It’s best to not go out alone after dark (male or female) and take the usual precautions that one would take in a big city. The rich neighborhoods are not free of muggings, sadly. There doesn’t seem to be anywhere really safe. That’s the main difference, I think, between, here and there (where ever that might be).

The people are big city people so they are not always perceived as the friendliest in the world. Outside Bogota, the people of Colombia are very friendly. Also, the friendliness level may change depending on if you are visiting a strata six or strata two neighborhood (six is the rich area). I find the people friendlier, the lower the strata…

And then there’s “scope,” scopelamine. Actually, on the walk up to Guatavita Lagoon, we saw the beautiful flower from which the “scariest drug” in the world is made. Read up about this online. Don’t get scoped. Watch your drinks when you go out.

Also, never let the waiter take your credit card out of your sight. Watch your wallet at all times. And, if you get mugged, don’t fight (at least that the advice I’ve been given). Unfortunately, some of the muggings have ended in murder which seems to exemplify how dangerous it is here.

But, again, I know people who have lived here for years and don’t feel that Bogota is dangerous at all. They walk outside at night by themselves and are fearless.

Some of the other downsides to life here in Bogota is the pollution. Also, to many, the fact that the weather is always 65 F, every single day, every day, for 365 days of the year… well, some consider it to be cold. This is not the tropics. It’s not Panama. I think that the biggest misconception that people have about Bogota is that they think this is a Mexico with warm weather, corn tortillas, beans, and sand. It’s not. It’s a cool, temperate climate with overcast days and rain on a daily basis. It’s also sunny every day. There is no heating or air conditioning in the apartments. Most people live in apartments. So, if you want a house with a large yard, then this is not the city for you.

On the other hand, if you like dogs, this is the place for you. If you like having a nanny (for your kids…), a dog walker, etc. then this is the place for you. Also, exercise, gyms, and plastic surgery are normal parts of life here. But, the sidewalks are cracked, the traffic can be awful, the drivers aggressive, and the politeness can drive you mad! In traffic, the drivers take out their aggression but in other ways, people are very polite, even when they keep telling you that you can’t pay there, or that you have to go to the next counter, or that the line is busy, or the till just closed, etc. It can drive you bonkers!

Mainly, for me personally, the lack of diversity and lack of quality Vietnamese, Lao, and Thai food is the biggest downside. But, give it 40 years.

The photo below is from one of my adventures when I went looking for a multi-pocketed “chaleca” vest like what the workers wear (and photographers and tour guides).

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American Grocery Shopping In Bogota

In my cultural classes about Colombia, it was made clear that “American” applied to everyone in this hemisphere, so the proper term for someone from the U.S.A. was “unitedstatesian.” Of course, here in Bogota, if you say that you are from New York, then the Colombians will say that you are an “American” or a “gringo” … so… so much for that.

Bogota has many “American” grocery items but some of them are very hard to find. But, most of the main grocery stores (like Carulla, Jumbo, and Exito) carry “American” goods. The specialized produce store, Surtifruver, has a meat counter and a cheese store, Cava de Queso, inside their stores. Also many items can be found at the Carulla on Calle 84 is what I call the “expat” Carulla as they carry pickled herring from Sweden and other items that expats look for.

IMG_7085The following are some of the items that I have found hard to find, and where to find them:

Sweet potato: sometimes called the “Peruvian camote” as the orange fleshed American sweet potato is used in Peruvian ceviche dishes (like the one in the photo above). This can be found in Paloquemao, not just at Peter’s Chinese vegetable stall, but at more and more places. They can’t be found every time I visit, but with more and more frequency.

Kale: Now it’s even available in styrofoam containers at Paloquemao. Also can be bought at the organic shop on Calle 72, and more and more, at the mainstream grocery shops.IMG_0463

Chili: It is possible to find chilis in Carulla, Surtifruver, etc. but the Chile Lady of Paloquemao has a wide assortment, both fresh and dried.

Lemons: seen sometimes in Pricesmart (Costco) and I’ve heard, in Exito.

Spring onions: Oh, you can find them, but they aren’t the succulent tender kind that I’m looking for.

Asian vegetables: read about it here.

Thai basil: It can be had once in a while in the Surtifruver on Calle 85. But, if you ask at the herb stalls at Paloquemao…. you will get some other herb with tight small leaves.

Mint: Also, if you ask for “menthe” you will get handed something that doesn’t quite smell like you imagined. If you want biggish mint leaves, then ask for “yerbabuena” and it’ll be good in your summer rolls.

Fresh milk: At Carulla on Tuesdays (and other days but Tuesday seems to be delivery day). Also, can be had from some organic grocery delivery companies.

Fresh cream: Nope.

Four Years of M’s Adventures

I’ve been writing this blog for four years. In terms of subjects, my informal assessment is that the social media world is most interested in Bangladesh… Or rather, my blog is one of the few about expat life in Dhaka, Bangladesh. When I check the statistics, I’m amazed that my blog has more than 3,000 readers every month.

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Having this blog has changed the way I travel, sort of. Mostly, my friends are now quite accustomed to waiting to eat so that I can take a close up photo of their food. Thank you.

 

 

I Remember Eid In Dhaka – Bloody Eid

Foreigners warned me that the streets would run with blood. They told me to get out of town for “bloody Eid” which is the second Eid, Eid-ul-Adha. As Eid will be in early October this year, I wanted to share my experience from last year. A warning: while I am not going to post the most graphic photos, some of you may think that the ones I’ve chosen are still TOO graphic. If so, please stop reading now.

Forcing the bull to the ground.
Forcing the bull to the ground.

Early on the slaughtering morning, we set out for a walk around the neighborhood. All along the streets, lots of groups of men were butchering cattle. There were also lots of “professional” butchers with giant knives ready to butcher for a fee. In reality, once an animal was forced to its knees and had its throat cut, the butchering only took about ten minutes (everything is done halal). Everything was very organized and there was a constant washing and sweeping of the streets. Everyone worked together. The hides were stacked up on rickshaws and taken away.

The streets are cleaned constantly during butchering.
The streets are cleaned constantly during butchering.

Perhaps the most surprising thing for an expat started a few days before the butchering. I came down one day to find a doe eyed bull tethered in the garage. Then, after the day of slaughtering, there were only the hooves and a newly washed patch of cement where once the bull had been.

Butchering is done on the streets.
Butchering is done on the streets.

While plastic shopping bags are banned in Bangladesh, I did see during Eid, lots of beef being sold in clear plastic bags. To the Bangladeshis, this is a big family holiday. I wish them a happy Eid!

A professional butcher for hire.
A professional butcher for hire.

The Bangladeshis told me that slaughtering a cow (actually, they meant a bull — read about my visit to the cow market) was traditional. Normally, a bull or goat (if your circumstances are lesser) or camel (if you have lots of money), is kept tethered until it is slaughtered. Then the meat is shared out to family, friends, and poor people as an act of charity.

The "cow" is cut up quickly after the skin is peeled open.
The “cow” is cut up quickly after the skin is peeled open.

During Eid, the town is empty as everyone is off with their families. Apparently, Bogota also empties out in December for the same reason. And then the traffic is better, a stark contrast to the traffic in Dhaka.

No Entiendo – Language Shock and Talking Turkey Ham

No entiendo.
No entiendo.

While I can’t understand some of the road signs and the altitude is exhausting, the most shocking thing about moving to Bogota is how tongue-tied I feel. In order not to seem rude, every person has to be addressed in Spanish. While there are places in the U.S. where I only hear Spanish spoken, the big difference is that I’m not expected to respond in Spanish. So far, here in Bogota, the people I’ve talked to have been incredibly nice about my stunted Spanish. But then again, the phrases have been extremely simple:

“Buenas” = “goods” for good morning, good afternoon, good evening.

“Muchisimas gracias” = a million thanks (rough translation)

“Muy amable” – you are so kind/so nice of you

“Que tenga buen dia” = “Have a nice day.”

The other night, I realized that after months and months of Spanish classes, I didn’t know how to say to the waiter, “yes, you may take my plate.”

I won’t go into all the mistakes that I’m making when I manage to actual get a few words out. So far, the funniest part of speaking Spanish was when I was ordering a sandwich and I thought I’d stick to something simple like a ham and cheese… then the sandwich lady asked me, “jamon de pavo o jamon de cerdo?” Turkey ham? Or pork ham? I wasn’t aware that “ham” was generic for “lunch meat.”

So about six bucks?
So about six bucks?

The other shocking thing is figuring out the currency. At the current exchange rate, it’s about 1,881 Colombian pesos to one U.S. dollar. So far, I’ve been knocking off three zeros, dividing by half and adding a little on top. Is it my new math?

 

List of Top 12 Expat Blogs About Colombia

The viewing platform on Isla Pirata, off the coast of Colombia.
The viewing platform on Isla Pirata, off the coast of Colombia.

After months of googling to the nubs of my fingers to read expats blogs in Colombia, I’ve compiled this list of my favorite ones. I’ve tried to concentrate on expats currently living in Bogota. Once in a while, one of the writers, living outside Bogota or living outside Colombia, has such command of the expat life that I will include him or her on my list. I’ve compiled this list based both on content and style.

1. Banana Skin Flip Flops: I think this may be the queen of expat blogs in Bogota. She has written hundreds of blog postings about her four years in Colombia so almost everything an expat might want to know is covered. This blog has a personal bloggy style which surrounds this author’s persona as a young blonde from England (which she is). That said, she is a professional journalist so this “casualness” is professionally done. Kudos to the queen.

2. Richard McColl: I include this journalist because he’s both an expat and a “global nomad” or “Third Culture Kid” (and well, I like to support members of my tribe). Plus, his writing and endeavors are “serious” journalism in the conventional sense. And he is currently living in Colombia.

3. An article from a guy who worked for See Colombia about life in Bogota. While he has moved on, I just like his writings about Bogota.

4. Flavors of Bogota: Written by an expat who’s best buddies with all the cool chefs in Bogota.

5. Bogota Eats and Drinks: I think this is also written by a long time expat. She was part of a Proexport blogger event in 2012 in Bogota. Aside from their own blogs, some of these bloggers are also guest bloggers for See Colombia. Read her article about it here. (Many thanks to the blogger for contacting me and correcting some of the facts about her blog).

6. Mike’s Bogota Blog: This guy is known for his blog about leading bike tours around Bogota, but his Bogota blog is also useful.

7-12. Here are a few from expats who live in other parts of Colombia (or only write about Colombia from their vast past experience), but there is something I liked about their blog (maybe the mention of fruit?): Transatlantic Adventure, My Former Nomad Life, Medellin Living, A Year Without Peanut Butter, Three Kids and a Cat, and Truly, Nomadly, Deeply

And to make it a baker’s dozen: I liked this article is about Colombia and I like the “cost of living index” idea of the site itself.

There are quite a few sites which collect expat blogs in general, including this one, Colombia page, which also happens to list 12 blogs in Colombia. Happy reading!

Kidnapped! 10 Stereotypes About Colombia

The ramparts of Cartagena.
The ramparts of Cartagena.

When I tell people that I’m moving to Colombia, I usually get one of two reactions. Excitement. Or excitement. Excitement about how lovely Colombia and Colombians are. Or, usually, excitement about the possible dangers. Here are the ten most common assumptions I hear about Colombia.

1. Aren’t you worried about getting kidnapped? (I wouldn’t go to Colombia if kidnapping was a guarantee. Duh!)

2. It’s dangerous. You will get mugged. Or worse. (Bogota, with seven million inhabitants, has all the usual dangers of a large city so I think my chances are equal those if I lived in New York or Bangkok)

3. Will you become a drug dealer? Or an emerald smuggler? (Why would you ask me that? Is it a conversation starter?)

4. I hear that plastic surgery is really cheap and of high quality there. Are you going to get plastic surgery? (Thanks for the suggestion?)

5. Colombian women are the hottest in the world. You will get divorced there. (Colombia ranks first in bird bio-diversity…)

6. You will get married there. (If I go to a wedding, I’ll blog about it for sure!)

7. Oh, you’ll be having a lot of romantic assignations (Okay, they put it more crassly.)

8. You will enjoy the steamy hot weather (Not in Bogota. The daily average temperature is 48-68 F, or 9-20 C)

9. Hope you like salsa because there will be lots of it. Any opportunity and Colombians start dancing! (Yup, bring on the vallenato, cumbia, hard salsa, salsa romantica, porro, and so on. More later.)

10. You will never want to leave. (The Colombian public relations slogan says, “the only danger is wanting to stay” so maybe they are right?)

Colombians and Colombia have been through violent times, but according to recent articles, times are changing in Colombia. Medellin, previously infamous, is cited as a model success story of urbanization; Cartagena is a popular tourist destination; most of the world’s cut flowers are grown in Colombia; and the culinary scene is growing. Even with all of this, people still equate Colombia with cocaine, kidnapping, and coffee.

Speaking of coffee, apparently most Colombians drink instant coffee, like Nescafe. With Starbucks’s launch, this week, of their first cafe in Colombia, it will be interesting to see how they change the cafe culture. Will Juan Valdez match the mighty marketing machine that is Starbucks? I will try them both in between my forays into new fruits.