Nothing is logical in Peru.
The U.S. has its problems, of course, but I like to think it’s governed by a system that’s fairly rational. Businesses usually operate 9-5, Monday through Friday. The water is safe to drink; the food safe to eat. The grocery store will sell you food, and the post office will take your letters. There’s a sense of order, place and time.
South Americans aren’t governed by such rules or, rather, any rules at all.
Everything about living here is complicated. Every. little. thing. Want to mail a letter? The post office may have moved down the block without notice. The landlady says she’ll get here at 3:30 p.m.? Don’t be naive—she won’t show till tomorrow evening. Need directions to the bus station? People will make up fake routes. Want to buy some chicken from the store? The cashier doesn’t know the cost so you leave empty handed.
It’s amazing how much time I’ve spent thinking/worrying/raging over simple, everyday things. To succeed in Peru, in South America, you have to drop all notions of logic—and start playing the game yourself.
I’ve noticed that the people here are masters at talking their way out of anything. After nine months in Peru, the young padawan has graduated, and I’ve come up with a list of my own tricks. Enjoy.
Smile Like a Crazy Person
If you smile REALLY big and speak in a high-pitched voice that bubbles and gushes every third sentence, you can talk your way out of anything. Bonus points if you’re wearing gringo pants.
After spending four hours in a tiny Peruvian airport with exactly two waiting rooms, I wanted to walk around outside, which (of course) was forbidden. But it was sunny, and there was a puppy waltzing around in the grass so obviously I made a break for it. After 15 minutes of freedom, a man came up to me in protest. But when the corners of my mouth are kissing my ears and ponies and rainbows spewing from my mouth, it’s difficult for people to say no. Thus a long, boring afternoon was instantly more interesting.
When someone yells at you to stop doing something (as is often the case for a journalist trying to get a closer look) you’d have to be pretty dense to not catch their drift. But when you adopt the deer-in-the-headlights look, life suddenly gets a lot easier.
I’d suggest practicing in the mirror until you’ve nailed your Blue Steel. Half the time DIH makes me look pathetically lost and the other half I come across like I’m having an episode. Either way, it works, and people usually leave me alone.
Speak in Tongues
Another benefit of having locked down the gringa look is that people expect you to be a Spanish fail. When someone insists on having a conversation I don’t want to have, I make as many basic Spanish errors as humanly possible. Then I randomly mix verb tenses until I see steam emanating from their ears upon which I abruptly stop everything and walk away.
Fill Them with Regret
The other approach is to talk. And talk. And talk, and talk, and talk. Answer their complaint so thoroughly and exhaustively that they forget what they were upset about in the first place and can only focus on getting rid of you. It’s a pretty gutsy move that requires some fast-paced BS, but if you’re quick on your feet, it works wonders.
On my last trip to the Andes, I was cold and requested a blanket from the hotel. The front desk told me “it’s not cold” and promptly hung up. I talked to him for 15 minutes straight. I went to bed cuddling up to two blankets. #cantstopwontstop
And that, ladies n’ gents, is how to talk your way out of (or into) anything… Part I.