Traveling is exciting and interesting, but it can also be incredibly embarrassing when we accidentally offend or confuse people in the places that we visit. If you’re heading to Peru in the near future you’ll want to take a look at these tips on how to help you make a good impression.
The first thing you’ll notice when you get off the plane is that people stand closer together, and the first thing you’ll probably notice when you talk to someone is that they’ll appear to be staring. This is because people in Peru have smaller personal bubbles and tend to make more eye contact when talking than Americans. Don’t back up (they’ll follow to unconsciously get into what they consider normal conversation distance) and make an effort to look at your conversation partner a little more than you usually would.
Don’t use first names unless you’re asked to, instead address people by title and last name. Keep conversations warm and friendly, and avoid personal topics like politics or religion. Peru has had a difficult political history, and bringing it up in casual conversation is considered to be impolite. Peru, like most of South America is largely Catholic, and people take their religion seriously, also making it a topic typically reserved for closer friends and family.
If you’re invited to someone’s house it’s considered rude to decline unless you really must. When you go to visit someone it’s appropriate to dress well and bring a small gift. Make sure it’s not too expensive or they might feel pressured to respond in kind, and avoid odd numbers of things because they’re considered unlucky. People in Peru are not renowned for their punctuality and you might embarrass and confuse your hosts if you arrive too soon, make sure that you arrive at least half an hour later than the appointed time.
In general, you might as well leave your jeans, t-shirts, and shorts at home. In most places where you’ll interact with other people you’ll be expected to dress well (at least khakis and a button-down shirt for the guys or a nice dress for the ladies), and at a nice restaurant or event men shouldn’t hesitate to wear a jacket.
When visiting a restaurant you’ll again want to make sure that you’re well dressed. If you’re on a date, and want to impress, you’ll want to be formal and polite, and embrace cultural gender roles regarding the pulling out of chairs, holding open of doors, and eating with the proper utensils.
Most restaurants will include a ten percent gratuity in the bill, however you shouldn’t let that stop you from adding another ten percent on yourself. Adding more than that is, of course, highly appreciated and indicates excellent service.
Keep in mind that these tips are effective primarily in urban areas, and do not reflect the unique cultures of the various indigenous groups living in Peru. Be ready to adapt if you encounter other cultures!