If there is one thing Peruvians have mastered, it’s sharing! I never thought I would be able to share the way my country hosts do. When there is nothing left, they share. This cultural norm applies to everything from money, to food, to space.
For example, when a person enters a Peruvian house they are immediately told to take a seat, and if there are no seats someone will stand so the new person who entered the room is comfortable.
When opening a snack at work you must first decide if you are willing to share with everyone else in the room. If it is a package of four cookies and there are five people, you would break the cookies in half and share with everyone.
If a person eating lunch decides they would rather have a soda than the free juice that comes with the meal, they would buy a bottle and glasses would be brought for everyone in the dining party. The person who bought the soda would then pour a glass for everyone and end with him or her self.
There is no such thing as a “Bring Your Own… well anything” in Peru. When invited to a party you can be assured that you will be ask to contribute to the drink fund whether or not you are actually drinking, especially if you are a man.
When one person in the immediate family does well financially it is expected that each family member will receive his or her portion of their earnings. If it is a restaurant or some other brick and mortar, eventually all of the employees will be exchanged for family members.
As my fellow Norteamericanos can probably relate, this is the exact opposite style of living that we are used to in the United States. We are used to the “work for what you need”, “every man for himself” mentality. It is totally normal to go out with friends and order individual food or drinks, and when your brother does well you do not expect him to give you a percentage of everything he makes.
So coming to Peru you can only imagine how culturally awkward we all were when it came to sharing. I have seen some pretty funny situations go down between Peruvians and volunteers, especially in the beginning.
Coming from a family of five kids I think I came in a little more accustomed to the “sharing” mentality. Although when I splurged on a bag of tortilla chips this past week and had to share it almost killed me… haha, so maybe I haven’t totally adjusted yet.
In general though we have become a group of really amazing sharers! This was made so clear to me last July when we were celebrating the birthday of one of the volunteers in our group who passed away.
All thirty something of us travelled to a beach town for a big dinner, candle light ceremony and celebration. The group chef, Reesy, made a delicious tomato soup with grilled cheese sandwiches. Each volunteer piled his or her plate high with a first helping and when it was time to go back for seconds the grilled cheese plate was super low. So low in fact that there was only one half of a sandwich left!
Without thought the sandwich was passed between a table of six people and each person took a bite then passed it on. After realizing what had just happened we had a good ten-minute laugh about how integrated we’d become after almost a year of service!