Peru has a rich heritage as a result of a melting pot of ethnicities and many historical influences including those of ancient Amerindian and Spanish cultures. The country has historically been an important political and cultural centre of Latin America as the seat of both the Inca and the Spanish empires in the region.
Expats are unlikely to experience severe culture shock in Peru. Peruvians, in general, are reserved, peaceful and 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.
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 Peruvian cities such as Lima and the tourist city of Cusco may speak English, the average Peruvian will not speak the language.
Food and drinks in Peru
Cuisine in Peru is a fascinating blend of indigenous and Spanish flavours, alongside other 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. Expats will find an incredible variety of potatoes and corn in every shape and colour imaginable.
Thanks to Peru’s long coastline, fish and shellfish are 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 enjoyed by Peruvians. 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 more reserved. It’s common for them not to greet each other and to also 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.