When you’ve been in Peru long enough, you begin to understand a type of split personality disorder rooted deep within the soul of this Andean nation.
As individuals, Peru’s people are without fail warm, friendly, and, mostly down for anything. Need directions? You’ll find someone on the street willing to help. Want to head to the beach and do nothing but eat ceviche, drink Pilsens and lie on hammocks for a few days? You’ll find a Peruvian friend or two willing to come along.
Go within the confines of a business, a government agency or any other type of organization, however, and you’ll see a different state of mind entirely. People who outside were perfectly pleasant and agreeable suddenly become officious and antagonistic–terrors of bureaucracy finding innumerable ways to throw roadblocks in front of whatever it is you’re trying to do.
The other day, for example, I was refused a bag of lettuce at a supermarket. That’s right, a market, presumably one which sells lettuce and other assorted food products, refused to sell a bag of lettuce to me, a customer in good standing.
The cashier couldn’t find a price, you see. And, honestly, she didn’t think I really needed lettuce anyway.
“But it’s a bag of lettuce!,” I implored uselessly. “I’m at a supermarket!”
“No señor,” she said, unmoved. “No se vende.” Not for sale.
It’s enough to make even a mild-mannered person red with rage, especially when taken with the easy-going nature you’re likely to find among your Peruvian friends. Take the following scene:
You: I know you have to work tomorrow, but tonight do you want to go out, get deliriously drunk, light some fireworks off on the street, and get some hamburgers while we watch the sun come up?
Peruvian Friend: Yeah! Let’s go, man!
And compare that with a routine trip to buy a random consumer product:
You: I would like to purchase this DVD player.
Peruvian sales rep: Okay. Just go to the back of the store, fill out these forms, wait in line for 45 minutes, and explain what you just said to me to our store’s sole cashier, who only accepts bills in denominations under S/.20. You do have your passport and an original birth certificate handy, right?
With time, I’ve learned to cool it over scenes like this. Resistance is futile, especially when up against deeply rooted cultural mores. Why do seemingly reasonable people follow rigid bureaucratic standards even when it’s against their own interests to do so? You got me. People here like Bon Jovi, too. Maybe, as a foreigner, I’m just not meant to understand certain things about this place.
So grab me another Pilsen, and maybe I don’t need a DVD player anyway.