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International Center

University of Missouri

Differences between Peru and the U.S.

by Rachel S.

I’m here with Brenda, my host sister; we’ve gotten very close in my month in Peru. During my four weeks here I have learned so much about an incredibly vibrant culture, built many strong friendships with Peruvians and the other Mizzou students here, and spoken a lot of Spanish.

Here are five of the big differences between the culture of Peru and that of the United States that we’ve been talking about:

1. Peruvians are super touchy-feely. It’s normal for them to greet others with a besito (cheek kiss), and it’s strange and a little rude if you turn it down for a handshake. (This was the first thing Brenda thought of.)

2. If you sit down next to a random Peruvian and introduce yourself, they’re very likely to respond excitedly and want to get to know you, especially if you are an extranjero who is speaking Spanish. Americans are not nearly as friendly.

3. The clubs get hopping way later in Peru; if you and your friends show up at 11 p.m. you will probably be the only people there. Peruvians party from midnight until dawn! Pisco is the trademark alcohol of Peru, it’s a grape brandy that has about the same alcohol content as vodka, and Cusqueña is the Peruvian beer of choice.

4. Food is love for Peruvians! It’s the most important part of their day. Almuerzo (lunch) is the main meal, but you may eat four meals in a day: desayuno, (7-9 a.m.), almuerzo (noon-2 p.m.), lonche (5-6 p.m.), and cena (8-10 p.m.). Their cuisine is some of the best in the world, and they are very proud of their food. There’s even a saying, “Si no hay arroz y papas, no es comida peruana.” If there isn’t rice and potatoes, it’s not Peruvian food.

5. Seventy percent of the Peruvian economy is informal – there are tons of people in the streets selling things, especially in Lima. This means that sales tax is insanely high in brick and mortar stores – around 18%. However, most stores include tax in the price of their products, so you can pay a whole number amount, as opposed to it being $14.99. The coins here have much more value as well, which is very nice. You could feasibly pay for a whole meal in pocket change – they have S/. 0.10, 0.20, 0.50, 1, 2 and 5 coins. Several examples would be hot potato chips fresh off the street: 1 sol 50, or the chifa (a mix of Peruvian and Chinese food) with beer that cost around S/. 12. Keep in mind that’s not dollars. I paid less than $4 for something that would have cost close to $12 if I was in the U.S.

As I mentioned previously, there are so many more amazing things about this beautiful country, even as they are bogged down by corrupt officials (the last five presidents are currently in jail) and an immense lack of faith in the government. This trip has been incredibly informative, and I’m so glad I went; I hope to come back and teach English here.


About the blogger

Rachel S. is studying abroad on the Spanish Language and Andean Society program in Cusco and Lima, Peru.

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