One of my students and I were talking about the marketing of beer in Peru. He was telling me how drinking a beer here was different from the U.S.
“In the U.S., you come home from work, go to the refrigerator, grab a beer and sit down by yourself in front of the television. In essence, you enjoy the beer by yourself. In Peru, behaving that way would be incredibly rude.”
Instead, he said, the drinking of a beer is a chance to be with friends or family. It is a moment to share with others and that sharing includes the beer.
I asked him, “no one drinks a beer alone in Peru?
That would be unthinkable, and incredibly selfish. In short, drinking the beer is not the important thing, it is being with others.”
I was a little surprised by the feeling behind my student’s statement. I don’t think it is completely true about the American behavior; it is a little extreme. But, there is also some truth. Then I realized that he touched on a point that marks a real difference between our two cultures. Moreover, it is a point of tension that I experience in my daily life here in Peru.
My natural inclination is to go it alone. That is, when confronted by a problem, I think first of solving it myself. This has been my training, and it is a strong message that we receive in the American culture.
In the U.S., being independent is very important. In my own life I see three related values coming from this:
Trying to resolve problems on my own;
Protecting personal space, and;
The importance for me of alone time.
These are powerful life- long lessons, and I have learned them well.
I am often reluctant to ask others for help. My parents made a big effort to teach me to be independent, and they succeeded.
Personal space is another issue. Often I feel an initial surge of resentment when someone here invades what I regard as my personal space. I usually keep quiet about this for I know that if I said something I would just get a puzzled look.
Finally, I value my alone time and have tried to protect it although at times it is a challenge living in Peru.
Frankly, I’ve had to realize that the ways I was used to in the U.S. don’t always work. They don’t work there (the U.S.) and they certainly won’t work here.
From what I have observed of the culture here in Peru, then, our values are quite different. Doing something alone, for example, without the company and support of others is not the norm in Peru.
As an illustration, in the U.S. I always went to the doctor alone. Here, almost never. In fact, I am going to the doctor today and expect my wife will go with me. See, I’ve changed!
Yes, I’ve changed, and I think for the better.
But, I still have a long way to go.