Saturday, July 30, 2011

Eating in Chilis and circling parking lots

Today I had a severe bout of what I feel like should be called "homesickness" for Peru.
For starters, this afternoon on the porch I was reading a book of a British man's journalistic experiences in the Middle East (why is that capitalized?) and reflecting, as I often have before, on how the heck anyone should approach a culture and a country not their own. Accept bumbling Westerner status? Struggle vainly to become as much of an "insider" as possible? Bungle your way through helping with what you see as the problems? Give up and accept that you have no proper perspective or position to do anything? Are these the only choices available to us? God I hope not!

And then of course, my Mom comes out and hands me the Travel section of the Philadelphia Inquirer, which just happened to be titled "Deep into 'wonderfully weird' Peru."

As I read the article, I found myself getting really defensive about the sort of simple, unexplainable weirdness this guy was projecting. The only cultural detail he really got into detail on was "la hora peruana, Peruvian time," which he claimed was "indecipherable to North Americans." He described an event in a book by another North American in which a man lied to his mother and told her that his own wedding ceremony was at 12, when really it was at 4 and she shows up "red-faced and puffing" at ten till 4.

RI-diculous. Totally false. Obviously the woman found out that it was actually at 4. How could you not? She's not a child. Four hours late would be logistically impossible. And anyway, any Limeno I know would find showing up that late for your own son's wedding shocking. Do the readers of the Inquirer actually buy that hooey? She just coincidentally shows up ten minutes before the real start? Give me a break.

Yes, time definitely works differently in Peru. Yes, it can be bewildering and frustrating at times for foreigners. But, I thought to myself on the porch, I would hardly call it indecipherable. You get to know the circumstances: Business meeting or house party? You get to know the people around you: Relatively on time or chronically without a watch/cell/sundial? You get to know the phrases and the cues and the times of day and the priorities and....

Okay, so sounds more complicated than it is. Or maybe I got used to it. And I guess I can't reasonably be annoyed that someone who hasn't spent the same amount of time in the country would print things with such nonexistent clarity.

And then I started seeing all the details of the last year playing over in my mind. My Peruvian friends taking me to American restaurant chains that I hadn't been to in years. The expensive churros late at night. The old men who took it upon themselves to educate me about American culture and laws. The classic Peruvian literature that described the city as poop brown. The gringos in the touristy district with boots and hiking backpacks and lost looks on their faces that we laughed at. (Er, I mean with, of course.)

But well, here I am. And there's plenty to learn about this place.

Like for instance, why do Americans circle parking lots forever searching for the closest spot in order to spend less time walking to the building? Is that some territorial instinct? Do the primates swing from tree to tree to tree looking for the tree that will require them to do the least swinging?

PS. Happy Birthday to my brother Darren! Who will most surely not read this. But the universe shall know that I'm so glad we've gone through these first 22 years together, even if half the celebration is rightfully yours.


  1. "why do Americans circle parking lots forever searching for the closest spot in order to spend less time walking to the building?"

    I met a guy last night who studied abroad in Russia, and when I asked him if it was a place one shouldn't walk alone in, he paused a moment.
    He said he never knows what to say to people knowing negative stereotypes of Russia, because it's bad, but not bad in the way people think.

  2. And why are they called buffalo wings?

    And why do people drive vehicles the size of a city bus to transport a single individual?

    Seriously. These are the things I want to know.