Cultural Differences: Peru vs. United States

Cultural Differences Peru vs United States

Several of our staff at Kuoda Travel hail from countries of the western world where structure in day-to-day life is commonplace and something you can count on. In Peru, it’s about embracing the chaos and adapting to a different way of doing things. From crossing the street to grocery shopping, life in Peru is an adventure right down to the most mundane of tasks. On your custom Peru tour, there’s a good chance you’ll experience some of the beautiful chaos of Peru. Allow this Kuoda staff member’s story to inform and prepare you for what’s to come as soon as you touch down on Peruvian soil for an unforgettable Peru holiday.

When I first moved to Peru in 2003, one of the first feelings I noted was a sense of freedom that I had not experienced when living in the United States. Upon examination, this seemed odd to me. After all, my lifestyle had diminished by most modern standards: I had no car to drive, no high-paying job, no big house with central heating, no big box store to supply my merest whim anywhere nearby.


When I went shopping, I had to actually TALK to PEOPLE in order to get what I wanted. Much of the produce I purchased was grown by the person who was selling it to me and I had to interact with that person on a human level every time I made a purchase. There were a few grocery stores in Cusco at the time, but produce and meat purchased at the outdoor markets was less expensive and often fresher than what could be found in the grocery stores.

Compared to my shopping trips in the US, where Walmart and Safeway were the two stores I most frequented, shopping was long and arduous. I had to go to individual vendors: the meat lady, the fruit lady, the herb lady, etc. and I had to talk and bargain with each one of them. It took up more of my time and effort. I found myself walking a lot more, interacting a lot more than I was accustomed to, and I’d arrive home tired after a long morning in San Pedro Market.

When I walked around outside, all was chaos. Both cars and people seemed to move at random, with no discernible trajectories. Children, dogs, and cats ran around on and in the streets in ways that would horrify the average adult in my former suburban neighborhood in the US. Fruit stands sold a variety of juices right there on the street. I purchased these juices frequently, hoping a few germs wouldn’t kill me. Music and smiles abounded.

One morning, while sitting at Betty’s juice stand in the San Sebastian barrio of Cusco, where I was living at the time, I had a realization that there was a certain joy in all of the chaos. The seeming randomness of all of the elements of life around me, partly a result of my personal perspective as a foreigner (I really did not know what was going on most of the time) and partly a product of the arbitrariness that is woven into the fabric of life in Peru, imparted a sense of freedom and simple happiness I hadn’t experienced before.


In the US, hidden inside the glass and steel walls of my car, going from my car to the store where I purchased everything I needed in one place, then back to my car, then back home, I was insulated from life itself. And here in Peru, I was outside, experiencing it, being a part of it. It’s true that the lack of structure sometimes did and sometimes still does appall me, especially with regards to the carelessness with which some folks treat their kids and animals. However, there is a certain aliveness I can taste within the chaos itself; an aliveness I hadn’t been embodying in my former life in the States.

There are times when the lack of structure can be annoying, especially since I took that structure for granted during most of my life. But finding the joy within the seeming randomness of Peru has been a personal revelation for me. Not all lines have to be straight all of the time. Indeed, chaos can contain its own form of beauty.

Ready to experience the chaotic beauty of Peru? Get in touch with a Kuoda Travel Designer to begin planning your custom Peruvian vacation today, whether it’s a family vacation, luxury experience, adventure travel holiday, or all of the above.

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