Peru has a rich heritage, influenced by a melting pot of ethnicities. The country has historically been an important political and cultural centre of Latin America as the seat of the Inca empire and the entry point for the Spanish conquistadores.
Expats are unlikely to experience severe culture shock in Peru. Peruvians, in general, are reserved, peaceful, warm and welcoming to foreigners. Mestizos (those of Amerindian and European ancestry) form the majority of the population, with smaller groups of Amerindians (mostly Quechua and Aymaras), and those of European, Asian (mostly Chinese and Japanese) and African ancestry.
Time in Peru
The lifestyle in Peru is highly influenced by where expats choose to live but, generally, the country has a laid-back lifestyle. Family is highly important, so the biggest meals of the day usually see large gatherings of relatives.
In the middle of the day, workers return to their homes for a siesta (nap). Dinner times tend to be rather late and friends and families will often gather at a local restaurant or bar for this meal.
Language barrier in Peru
Spanish and the indigenous language of Quechua are the two official languages of Peru. Spanish is the most popular language, while numerous indigenous languages are also spoken in more rural areas. Expats will find that learning Spanish is essential for integrating into life in this Latin American country. While some Peruvians in the corporate sphere in cities such as Lima and the tourist city of Cusco may speak English, the average Peruvian will not.
Food and drinks in Peru
Cuisine in Peru is a fascinating blend of indigenous and Spanish flavours, alongside influences from the country’s Chinese, European and African populations.
Potatoes, corn, legumes, quinoa and a local chilli pepper (uchu) are the staples of Peruvian dishes. Thanks to Peru’s long coastline, fish and shellfish are also popular. One of the country’s most famous dishes is ceviche, which is raw fish marinated in lemon juice. Expats may be surprised to learn that guinea pig (cuy) is a staple meat in Peru. It’s usually served fried or baked as part of a casserole.
There are a few interesting local beverages to enjoy. Chicha morada is a drink made from purple maize and flavoured with cloves, cinnamon and sugar, and served cold. Pisco, a type of brandy, is the traditional drink of Peru. It’s used to make pisco sour, a delicious cocktail of pisco mixed with lime juice, egg white and sugar.
Meeting and greeting in Peru
Peruvians are generally friendly and the usual greeting is a handshake. A kiss on the cheek is common among acquaintances, but not among strangers. Indigenous Peruvians are generally quite reserved. It’s common for them not to greet each other and to avoid direct eye contact.
Tips to overcome culture shock in Peru
Learning Spanish will go a long way to easing into life in Peru and interacting with the local population on a daily basis.
Indigenous Peruvians are generally quite reserved and even shy, so expats shouldn't take offence if they are not overly friendly or avoid engaging in conversation.
Always show respect for the indigenous people and their traditions. Avoid referring to them as indios; a more polite term is indigenas.