Authored by Ryan Smith
When it comes to travel, preparation is not always limited to the practical side of things; booking your hotels, making sure your passport is valid, and deciding what to bring.
Wherever we go in the world, we find people doing things differently, so it’s important to prepare for cultural differences too (this is of course part of the joy of travel; after all, if we were all the same, the world would make for a very boring place!).
We can’t always avoid cultural slip-ups, and keeping your sense of humor when you travel will help you no end. Yet, taking a few minutes to learn about the culture and norms will help you avoid the most embarrassing scenarios.
The following are cultural dos and don’ts for when you travel to Peru. Follow these simple guidelines, and you will set yourself up to have a more meaningful and engaged trip.
After all, not offending everyone unintentionally at every turn can only be a good thing!
5 Cultural Dos and Don’ts in Peru
Beckon Someone With a Single Finger and a Fist
While seemingly innocuous in most parts of the world, and something you might do unconsciously, beckoning someone to come over to you using your fist and one moving finger is considered a rude gesture in Peru.
If you want to gesture to someone to come over to you, place your open hand in front of you with your palm down, and make a sweeping gesture down towards yourself.
Where ever you go in the world hands and gestures are used differently, if you do cause offense don’t beat yourself up over it. But try to pay attention to the body language people use around you and mimic them.
DO … Learn Some Spanish Phrases
Don’t panic, I’m not suggesting you learn Spanish fluently before your trip. However, taking some time to learn a few phrases can break the ice (as people get a giggle from your terrible pronunciation), and makes a great starting point for conversations.
Bonding with people you meet always goes best when you take a step towards them (figuratively), rather than expecting them to do all the work. Useful phrases to start with are simple things like hello, and how are you.
Or try some practical phrases like counting, I want … (then you point), where is …, and I need help. In general, you can usually find someone who speaks some English in Peru, but in rural areas, this is not always the case.
If you have any allergies or something important to do with your health which you need to accurately communicate with people prepare a small explanatory index card written in Spanish.
When it comes to conversation, Peruvians are quite open in many ways, but Politics is a no-go zone! Keep out of this arena.
DON’T … Wear Revealing Clothes
Peru is a modest country; religious beliefs and traditions mean that people mostly cover their body when they are out and about in public. Some 80% of the countries residents are practicing Catholics.
While you might want to dig your heels in and stubbornly dress the same way you do at home, the respectful approach is to tone it down a little. This is not the moment to assert you have the freedom to do as you wish.
Pro tip: Not only is dressing conservatively respectful, it will help you avoid attracting unwanted attention, and make you blend in so you’re not targeted by scams aimed at tourists.
Whenever I travel abroad, I usually take note of the clothes I observe residents wearing, and mimic them. I don’t mean dressing up in traditional clothes, rather pay attention to the norms and comply. Do you see people wearing shorts or short sleeves? If not, then you don’t need to either.
Try to think about this from your own perspective. If the norm at home is to wear short sleeves and shorts, then someone walked through town in a bikini or topless, everyone would notice, right?
Well, imagine if you grow up somewhere where no-one goes around in shorts, and then someone walks through your village in shorts. How do you think people will react?
DO … Kiss One Cheek When You Greet People
Greeting people overseas can present a minefield. Complex rituals, beliefs regarding the relationships between men and women, and the politics of touch vary considerably everywhere you go. Even in Europe, there are quite major differences between countries.
What then in Peru? Well, for the most part, people will greet each other on arrival and departure. When you greet people who you know, the norm is to kiss one cheek only.
This doesn’t mean you have to start kissing your train conductor. Shaking hands is the most appropriate greeting if you don’t know the person at all. If you are in a situation where you are staying with a family or you have spent a lot of time with a guide, then a one cheek kiss, hello and goodbye should do the trick.
Try to feel your way with this one, and let the Peruvians you meet take the lead. Also, if you have the opportunity to visit a family at home for a meal or for some other reason, people would normally take a small gift with them, such as sweets.
DON’T … Worry if Peruvians Get a Bit Close
Personal space in Peru can have different boundaries to the Western norm. This means when you are talking to Peruvians they might lean in closer or stand rather close to you, and when they do it can feel a bit weird.
When your personal space has been breached, you get this odd feeling which is a bit like a kind of internal discomfort. Try to go with the flow here because they might feel offended if you move away from them.
If you can, before you know it you won’t notice at all. Then, when you get home you might find that you’re the one getting a bit too close to everyone!
Now Go And Pack Your Things
Now you should feel well equipped to avoid cultural faux-pas and make the most of your trip to Peru.
Before you rush off to hop onto the plane, don’t forget what comes next? Next, you need to get your Peru packing list organized.
Have you been to Peru? Did you make a cultural blooper when you were there?
What’s the most embarrassing thing you did which revealed a cultural norm you were previously unaware of?
Let us know in the comments …
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