We all know that we don’t pat the back of a colleague in Korea to thank them for a “job well done”. Or eat with your left hand in India, or sip vodka in Russia. In many countries, these actions are harmless. But in others, they can give a wrong impression or cause offense.
In fact, whatever culture you’re from, it’s likely that you routinely do something that could cause offense somewhere else in the world. So here is:
A primer on how to avoid mistakes in Peru
Don’t use the word “indio”, although it’s Spanish. For locals, it’s very much like the deeply offensive English word “nigger” since it was used by Spanish conquerors. The politically correct way of speaking is “el indígena” or “la indígena” – although, like “nigger”, very close people inside a circle of friends can get away with it. Another word to be careful with is chola/cholo or cholita, meaning indígena. This may be used affectionately among indigenous people (it’s very common appellation for a child, for instance) but is offensive coming from an outsider.
Even if you have about 20 “No drugs” T-shirts at home, accept that especially people from the country side chew coca leaves. See it as a part of the culture with social and ritual components. And keep in mind: Coca leaves are not cocaine and they are legal. You can try them to experience the culture. If you don’t like to chew them, try a mate de hojas de coca. Also quite effective against altitude sickness. However, the use of coca leaf tea may lead to testing positive on North American drug tests within the next few weeks. Officially, most of the Peruvians are Roman Catholic, but especially in the countryside, the ancient pre-Hispanic religiosity is still alive. Respect that when visiting temple ruins or other ritual places and behave as if you were in a church.
With this, you had the primer on key facts about Peru, and key facts on culture and customs. Another important part of the culture is the local food and the local drinks. Make sure you read our posts on Peru food and drinks:
Other tips that you’d like to share on mistakes to avoid in Peru? Please comment below.