Cultural Learning

I love learning. Honestly, since as long as I can remember I have enjoyed school. Going to the cool museum or historical place is often a necessary stop on a vacation. The majority of the books read are non-fiction. Daily, I receive newsletters on technology, economics, and politics. Throughout all of these moments of reading, listening or seeing I am very aware of the learning process. Here in Peru that still exists – learning Spanish, how to get places, ministry tools, hobbies – but tons of learning comes on the fly. Kinda like when we were all kids. After enough time and traveling to other parts of Peru and Mexico recently I picked up on the difference between learning as a tourist (museums, food, historic cultural events, etc.) and the passive learning of actually living somewhere. Therefore, I wanted to write an overdue post on 3 cultural observations that I enjoy, 3 that are just different, and 3 that leave me scratching my head. One of these points I expand on more below too!

Enjoy:

  • Hospitality: Peruvians can initially be a little closed off, which is in the section below “security”, but once they know you you’ll be forever welcomed. I think this is where calling everyone “tio” comes from. People really do take in others with huge open arms. We have neighbors that invite us to share any special family meal. They even took us out to ice cream and donuts on their anniversary, which we discovered halfway through the evening!
  • Family life: Everything revolves around family. This is something more just different in the USA/Europe from the world. But it’s been really cool to see. At first we didn’t have a whole lot of friends in the small town of San Ramon where we live and it bugged me a bit. Then some “pastors to missionaries” came and helped us realize maybe we were too accustomed to always having friends left and right. Rather, hanging out in our family of two or small circle more often than being with others is something that’s totally okay and even normal. I still battle with the feeling that I have to be with people constantly in order to serve my purpose and calling of ministry, but I’ve also realized and been humbled that “my ministry” or idea of it might not be best.  Meanwhile and more importantly, God’s infinitely bigger picture of His ministry (with me alongside) and His view of the world look different in ways I previously never would have expected. 
  • Meals: Peruvians eat a big meal normally around 2:00pm. Breakfast is normally bread with some marmalade, eggs, or avocado alongside tea or instant coffee. Dinner is a small snack of leftovers, a fruit mix, or more bread. These two meals definitely revolve around the big lunch. This big lunch was a physical challenge even for a big eater like me, but I’ve grown to really like it. It seems like the food is more appropriately set in digestive cycle and helps energize you for the rest of the day, even if it does temporarily knock you out for an hour. But that’s okay, because between lunch and 4 o’clock the afternoon siestais a real thing here in Peru. 

Indifferent:

  • Attitude towards time: Not sure in what book I read this but these paraphrased sentences sum it up pretty well: An American sees being on time to an appointment or hangout as demonstrating respect to the relationship. So much so that if they see another friend on the street on their way they might only say “hi, gotta run” and the situation is perfectly understood. That person has somewhere important to be. Here in Peru, that brief meeting on the street sometimes happens, but more often it is respectful to give your full attention to anyone at anytime if you really do care about him or her. This would be explained to the person waiting for you to show up for the appointment or hangout and it would be perfectly understood why you were late. This might sound wrong or cringy to you, but it isn’t, it’s just different. Sometimes I love that slow pace and sometimes it gives my patience a real testing. I see the positives to efficiency but also to chill vibes. This is a balance I will forever be working through, here and at home.
  • Humor: I do not have a lot to say here. This is still where the language has me lost. So much humor is so deeply cultural, revolves around how things sound, and tons of context is necessary. Some jokes and situations I understand and laugh, meanwhile others may not. Other times others are laughing and I just confusingly laugh along.
  • Security: This is a Peru specific thing based on history. In the 1980’s there was a terrorist group called The Shining Path here. This group’s goal was to use military and violent force to eliminate authority and create a society without a class structure. An estimated 70,000 people died with 11,000 being civilians. This devastated Peru in various ways and resulted in many lasting effects. Now, to prevent robberies but also from the results of the past, many houses are safely secured and people tend to draw as little attention to themselves as possible in public. The Minnesota Nice awkward smile is way less common here.

Frustrate:

  • Corruption: I’m sure everyone sees corruption in any society (and not just pointing figures at the other side of the aisle), but here in Peru it has been more obvious. People also discuss it more often as it is more visible and impacting. Construction projects are continually done on roads and bridges that maybe need a tad bit of work, but most agree that money should be spent somewhere else like education. However, schools don’t reimburse politicians like a construction company’s budget can. Also, here in San Ramon kids do the stealing for their older family members or friends. Justification for corruption is learned at a young age.
  • Machismo: I have no problem with gender roles that are healthy cultural norms. I won’t get into special cases or whatnot with this, but here males are seen very much superior to women in various roles where this is unnecessary. This infiltrates many guys in how they act: whistling at women constantly, getting wasted while leaving mom to take care of everything on the weekend, or peeing right on the street corner as Sophie and I walk past.
  • Noise: The two above points are more serious all-in-all, but this is the main Peruvian experience that makes me aware of holding my tongue while in a minor rage of frustration. Everything is made of concrete here so wild parties until 3am or a jackhammer starting at 7am really ring through the neighborhood and into our house. I’ve definitely gotten more accustomed, but I also think it causes more stress than I realize.

 

To end, I’ve been trying to memorize scripture more diligently and here is a passage I spent some time with often titled “The Marks of A True Christian.” 

Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality.

 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.”  Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

      -Romans 12:9-21.

This passage relates to Hospitality. Sophie and I often talk in excitement for when we will have a home to demonstrate Christ with special dinners, hosting Bible studies, and making people feel invited and comfortable. Recently I’ve felt more convicted it is something that doesn’t deserve an excuse. That excuse so easily being the “dream home” or situation. Loving one another and especially those that need it in times of hardship shouldn’t depend on me, and especially on surface level factors like having a super clean place, a super comfy place, or a perfect meal in the oven. It also shouldn’t depend solely if I’m in the mood or feeling up to being social. I’m not saying those things are not important. When all the aforementioned factors are in place, an even more awesome atmosphere of hospitality is created. However, I don’t want this vision to block my ability to love others even with the simple things. Here in Peru it has been more difficult, but like I said, that isn’t an excuse to bring a neighbor cookies or share time I kinda wish I had for myself. A virus or any moment of fear (valid or invalid) also isn’t an excuse. While no one should hold an event at their place or hanging out with vulnerable people right now, I’m sure we can all find creative ways to be hospitable to one another. 

The pic above is the increidble hospitality event of Thanksgiving!

Matt