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Cultural Information - Peru

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Cultural Information

Answers to your intercultural questions from a Canadian and a local point of view.

Cultural Information - Conversations

Question:

I am meeting someone for the first time and I want to make a good impression. What would be good discussion topics?

Local Perspective:

In general, Peruvians appreciate visitors being interested in learning more about their culture, country, and historical sites. The also like to talk about their children and learn about other countries. It is best to never speak about politics—not even foreign politics.

People who work with or host foreigners know about the local political situation and, generally, also are aware about what is happening internationally. Differing opinions may create embarrassing situations, which are best avoided altogether. First get to know people and express only general opinions about politics.

Peruvians have an excellent sense of humour and jokes will be appreciated provided they are not personal and do not criticize the country. Between one another they may make personal jokes, but I would not recommend doing so since it may hurt someone’s feelings and it is best to be diplomatic.

Canadian Perspective:

First, introduce yourself: say where you’re from; ask the person’s name. The use of Ud or is very subjective! I would recommend using Ud and then listening carefully to the response—if they respond with , then it becomes proper to use . The French will understand the subtleties of "tutoiement" and "vouvoiement". Improper use of (when Ud is preferred), leads to charges of being "confianzudo" (self-important).

Talking about work and study, where are you from and about family is ok. Talk about your impressions of Peru. Be positive! In general, Peruvians are much more "open" than Canadians about personal matters like age, weight, marital status and religion.

The ubiquitous "How’s business?" has no suitable translation that I know of.

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Cultural Information - Communication Styles

Question:

What do I need to know about verbal and non-verbal communications?

Local Perspective:

They like people who are honest, who make direct eye contact when they speak, and who show that they are confident by giving a firm handshake. However, do not look directly in the eyes of someone of the opposite sex since it may be misinterpreted and Peruvians tend to fall in love rather fast.

At work, it is best to hold group rather than individual meetings.

When being introduced, people greet one another with a handshake and use the formal form of "you" ("usted" in Spanish). Usually, the older person or the person who has the highest-ranking job will let you know if you can use more familiar language.

Once they know one another, people greet each other by shaking hands and women or people of the opposite sex will kiss one another once on the cheek. Men, and male colleagues will never kiss, unless it is a child and his father or uncle.

To a certain point, displays of affection between colleagues are rather guarded. In fact, if you are too affectionate people may start to make derogatory comments.

Touching people discretely and subtly does not cause any problems. Remember that foreigners may resort to gestures when they cannot express themselves in another way. Should you have problems expressing yourself verbally, Peruvians will help you find your words and figure out what you are trying to say.

Canadian Perspective:

An acceptable distance is important. Standing too close is considered offensive. A typical "Canadian" distance is ok. Eye contact is good and recommended. Touching is much more common than in Canada, but not when first meeting someone. Smiling is good; winking is a sign of intimacy. Directness is important; however Canadians are sometimes too direct. "Sorry, I’m busy right now. Can we talk about this later?" would seem pretty normal to a Canadian, but might indicate to a Peruvian that you don’t want to talk ever to that person. Peruvians are very indirect by Canadian business standards—they will go to great lengths to avoid a direct "No".

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Cultural Information - Display of Emotion

Question:

Are public displays of affection, anger or other emotions acceptable?

Local Perspective:

Normally public displays of affection or anger are not acceptable and problems between colleagues should be remedied as discreetly as possible. Problems at work should be resolved with respect and should you need to express that you are dissatisfied, never say so out loud.

Canadian Perspective:

Affection is good. Anger should not be shown in public. Crying in public is ok at funerals, but people crying in public, for example on a bus, would try to hide it.

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Cultural Information - Dress, Punctuality & Formality

Question:

What should I know about the workplace environment (deadlines, dress, formality, etc.)?

Local Perspective:

Clothing should be formal at work. It is recommendable that women do not wear very short dresses. Even if it is very hot out, shorts are never worn to work.

It is not unusual for people to call one another by their first names; however, depending on the particular type of meeting, people may use last names.

It is very important to be punctual and Peruvians know that foreigners are generally on time. It is possible that some people who arrive very late may not have their lateness pointed out. If they need to work later than usual, people do so without hesitation.

Canadian Perspective:

Dress is varied—follow the lead of others. Err on the side of formality at first. Shoes are a special area—I was criticized for wearing sandals. I continued doing so, because it was very hot, but people did talk. Address colleagues who are your superiors by Sr, Sra, Srta. Don X, Dona Y is a very nice sign of respect to use with superiors or staff. Sr, Sra, Srta. are always acceptable, using someone’s name is a sign of trust, intimacy, and personal rapport. Written communication is extremely formal by Canadian standards. Get a list of letter opening and closing phrases!

Deadlines are pretty firm, but punctuality is certainly not! Hora peruana (Peruvian time) is contrasted , rightly, with hora exacta (exact time). A meeting called for 1 pm is probably going to start at 1:30, but not after 2 pm. Parties at night are even more flexible. A usual starting time is 11 pm.

Absenteeism is not at all common. If you call in sick, expect visitors to check in on you to make sure you feel welcome and cared for! Productivity is often low—which can be frustrating for a Canadian.

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Cultural Information - Preferred Managerial Qualities

Question:

What qualities are most highly regarded in a local superior/manager? How will I know how my staff view me?

Local Perspective:

Demonstrate that you have come from abroad with specialized knowledge. Experience, conscientiousness, and open mindedness are very important.

Canadian Perspective:

Education is very highly valued but experience not so much. Leadership is very important. Openness to new ideas is not valued, and may even be interpreted as weakness. Being hard working is not too important but it is good to be serious, responsible and firm. Being personable is good, but to a point; it is important to not be perceived as overly flexible or "weak". Foreign (e.g. Canadian) bosses are expected to be different, but not in any specific ways that I can say. Your idiosyncrasies are apt to be attributed to your foreignness, not lack of leadership skills.

As for how your staff view you, you should develop a good relationship ("de confianza") with one or two workers. Don’t give them obvious advantages in work. Explain to this person that you need to know what people say about you, but that you can’t ask them directly, so you would like your "friend" to keep their ears open.

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Cultural Information - Hierarchy and Decision-making

Question:

In the workplace, how are decisions taken and by whom? Is it acceptable to go to my immediate supervisor for answers or feedback?

Local Perspective:

First, observe the differences in the place where you are going to work. There may be a big distinction between the public sector and private companies. Positions are better defined and established in public corporations. Staff may be unsure of the stability of their positions and hierarchy must be respected to the letter. Bosses and direct supervisors tell people what to do and rapport is quite limited. In the private sector, relations are somewhat friendlier and new ideas are more accepted.

When starting a new job, you need to get to know the other employees and the way they work. Present your ideas as opinions rather than as orders that must be obeyed. This will help people learn different ways of working and add to their knowledge base. Take your own work and your employees’ work to heart.

By listening to and welcoming other people’s opinions you will avoid making others feel as though they are being "invaded" and allow for better communication as well as constructive criticism from both parties.

Although there is a hierarchical system, it is best to not impose your ways since this does not help workplace relations. It is important to show that you are open without getting too personal.

Canadian Perspective:

Decisions are made by managers, sometimes after discussions with other managers from different areas. Ideas are generated by managers. Yes, you should go to your immediate supervisor for answers. Feedback is not usually asked for, or offered, unless there is a problem. "No feedback is good feedback."

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Cultural Information - Religion, Class, Ethnicity, & Gender

Question:

Briefly describe the local culture’s attitudes regarding the following: Gender, Class, Religion and Ethnicity. What impact would the above attitudes have on the workplace?

Local Perspective:


Gender:
Rather than being ingrained in Peruvian culture, sexual equality is just beginning to be acknowledged. Normally, people try to make others believe that they are rather liberal, but the behaviour of both genders demonstrates that this is not always the case.

The topic is widely discussed in universities. Pontificia Universidad Catolica del Peru, for example, has a Gender Studies program. There is an influential feminist movement and many NGOs are working on women’s issues and even trying to reform laws.

Religion: Catholicism, which was introduced by the Spanish colonialists, is Peru’s official region, yet the Constitution allows for freedom of religion.

However, this colonial religion did not lead to the disappearance of Inca festivals; the two religions fused together to form a mixture that still exists today. This will be obvious when you travel to the different regions of the country.

Nevertheless, religion is at the heart of Peruvian customs. Even those who are not devout or who are Agnostic have a great respect for religion. As in other western countries, there has been a proliferation of different Christian sects; the country’s political, social, and economic crises have also added to this growth as religion can morally reassure people or fill their desire to believe in something and create their own identity.

Class:
The governments in power over the last 20 years assisted in practically putting an end to the middle class and many of the affluent emigrated. As in many other western countries, the gap between the rich and the poor has increased. This does not make the already complex Peruvian social class system any easier to understand.

Do not forget all the events that the country has endured: the Inca civilization, the Spanish colonialization, and the resulting amalgamation of two cultures. Moreover, it has not entirely moved from being an agrarian society to a entirely industrialized one. There is also a sort of hybrid economy, and thus, very marked social classes. In order to define the classes, we first need to set out parameters by which to judge them such as level of education, wealth, background, etc. since you may meet professionals such as doctors or engineers who would be difficult to pigeonhole in a traditional social order.

Ethnicity:
The majority of the Peruvian population is métis. In the past, Peru encouraged immigration, particularly for economic reasons. People from Africa or China, for instance, came to work in the fields, Germans came to buy mines and there were also Italians and other immigrants also were assimilated into the country.

Even if it does not seem so on the surface, racism does exist. The Indians from the Peruvian Andes first migrated to the cities in the 1960s due to economic reasons and again in the 1980s because of terrorism; to a certain extent this helped Peruvians understand and re-evaluate their roots while for others it accentuated the differences.

Anything that has to do with sexism, religion, or ethnicity should be handled carefully. It is best to not make any direct comments as you might risk offending other people. Rather, try to get to know the society from a historical or educational point of view.

Peru is a very multifaceted country, which is based on a recurring duality between the Incas and the Spanish, where the old and the new, the religious and the secular are manifested in its culture (e.g., theatre, music, dance, etc) and daily life.

Canadian Perspective:


Gender:
Women are treated equally, but may be treated somewhat condescendingly. The woman would get to sit in the truck, and the men would ride in the back. Women will tend not to be assigned field work.

Religion:
Religion is a very open subject in Peru, and very important to many people. Expats are frequently asked in a "first conversation" if they are Catholic. If you say "yes", then you are accepted. And if you say no, the next question is "Do you believe in God?" If you answer affirmatively, you are considered "ok". If you answer no, you are not necessarily cast into the pit of fire immediately, but you will be watched carefully, and some Peruvians will avoid talking to you. Personally, I recommend honesty in the first case, and "tell them what they want to hear" if further questions come.

Class:
Class exists in Peru! It is mainly tied to economic condition. Manual labourers are viewed as inferior to office workers or managers.

Ethnicity:
Ethnicity is very important too! Though Peruvians may not admit it, the colour of one’s skin has a great deal of importance and will impact upon the level of respect one receives, even as a foreigner. A "white" Canadian can expect fairly good treatment; on the other hand, white is assumed to mean wealthy—so people will expect you to pay for things and give money away.

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Cultural Information - Relationship-building

Question:

How important is it to establish a personal relationship with a colleague or client before getting to business?

Local Perspective:

You can get involved in a colleague’s or client’s family and even make jokes with them. However, these jokes should never be too personal unless the interest is sincere. Be careful though, as being too familiar with someone may negatively affect your relationship in the future.

Canadian Perspective:

Peruvians get down to business reasonably quickly. Generally, 5—10 minutes of socializing is enough. A personal relationship is not at all necessary, and getting too chummy would only serve to confuse the issue, e.g. make the Peruvian think you want something else beyond what you are saying openly. So there’s no need to establish a personal relationship beyond the usual small talk discussed in the section, First Contact.

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Cultural Information - Privileges and Favouritism

Question:

Would a colleague or employee expect special privileges or considerations given our personal relationship or friendship

Local Perspective:

As previously noted, it depends entirely on the workplace. Although some people do expect to receive special privileges or special considerations, this is not the norm. An employee seeking a promotion will generally prefer to obtain it through his/her hard work rather than through friendship.

Canadian Perspective:

Yes, people will expect special treatment, including the hiring of family/amigos. Pay increases would not be expected. I would say, go ahead and hire their friends as long as they are fully qualified for the job. But if there are more qualified applicants, then you should hire the best applicant, and simply explain to your friend that there was someone better qualified. Now, if your friend specifically asks you for the favour of hiring their friends/family, then that’s rather more serious. Directly asking for a favour is like a vote of confidence—if you lose it, the friendship may be over. You can soften the blow to your friend’s ego by passing the buck—say that someone else higher up preferred another candidate and you agreed—or offering future possibilities—saying it’s not possible right now, but maybe later. Remember: Peruvians don’t like definite No’s.

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Cultural Information - Conflicts in the Workplace

Question:

I have a work-related problem with a colleague. Do I confront him or her directly? Privately or publicly?

Local Perspective:

In such a situation, it is best to solve the problem in private. If you think you may have offended someone you will have to ask him/her directly about it.

Canadian Perspective:

Never confront your colleague publicly—it would be very humiliating for them. You can be direct in private. If someone is having problems with you or is offended, they will likely just avoid you. You should then take them aside, in private, and ask them sincerely what you have done to offend them.

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Cultural Information - Motivating Local Colleagues

Question:

What motivates my local colleagues to perform well on the job?

Local Perspective:

Peruvians value teamwork and obtaining the best possible results. Generally, people choose a certain profession because they like it, but nowadays, as there are not many jobs available, it cannot be denied that keeping one’s job is also very important.

Canadian Perspective:

Money and fear of failure are the most direct, immediate ways to improve performance. All the other motivators should work, too. Official, public, praise such as "employee of the month" awards are less expensive, but are appreciated.

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Cultural Information - Recommended Books, Films & Foods

Question:

To help me learn more about the local culture(s), please recommend: books, films, television shows, foods and web sites.

Local Perspective:

Authors: Cesar Vallejo and Javier Heraud.

Writers: Jose Carlos Mariategui.

Historians: Alberto Flores Glindo and Narda Henriquez.

Novelists: Jose Maria Arguedas, Julio Ramon Ribeyro, Alfredo Bryce Echenique, and Mario Vargas Llosa.

Film Directors: Francisco Lombardi.

Canadian Perspective:

Books: Cut Stones and Crossroads by Ronald Wright—out of print, but available in used bookstores. Seven Interpretive Essays on Peruvian Reality by Jose Carlos Mariategui. Also out of print in English, but widely available in Spanish. No Se Lo Digas A Nadie—a book about being homosexual in Peru.

Other recommendations: Any documentary on Machu Picchu or the rain forest. There are a couple Peruvian restaurants in Toronto—El Plebeyo downtown and Angela’s in Etobicoke. Definitely try ceviche somewhere. Also, I lived quite comfortably as a vegetarian—though that is definitely not a common diet in Peru, and you have to do a lot of explaining.

Useful Internet links: http://web.outsideonline.com/magazine/0296/9602ot.html - traveller’s Spanish; http://www.elcomercioperu.com.pe/Online/ - Peruvian news in Spanish; http://www.wusc.ca/world/working/stories/tamblyn.html - Engineering Volunteer with WUSC; and

http://www.ku.edu/history/VL/americas/peru.html - Peruvian history & more.

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Cultural Information - In-country Activities

Question:

When in this country, I want to learn more about the culture(s) and people. What activities can you recommend?

Local Perspective:

Radio Shows: "Radio Programs del Peru" (www.rpp.com.pe) "Los Chistosos".

Television Shows: "Panorama" (www.pantel.com.pe).

Magazines: "Caretas" (www.caretas.com.pe) and DESCO’s "La Revista Quehacer".

Newspapers: "La Republica" (www.larcpublica.com.pc).

Institutions: The "Asociacion Nacional de Centros" consists of almost 120 of the country’s NGOs (working in the areas of women’s and children’s issues, heath care, etc) and organizes events and seminars on various topics. They also have a large database on subjects of social, economic and political interest.

Pontificia Universidad Catolica del Peru will provide information about university studies, particularly in the areas of Communication Studies and Women’s and Gender Studies.

For cultural information you can visit the Cultural Centre at the Pontificia Universidad Catolica del Peru, which is located in the "San Isidro" neighbourhood; they also have information on Lima’s cultural events. Their web site is a portal to sites about the country’s magazines and radio and television shows.

Canadian Perspective:

Reading the local newspaper is a good place to start. Concerts are good, but you won’t likely meet people there. Once you have a few friends to go with, discotecas are good. Talk to your neighbours. A good cultural interpreter is someone who has been out of the country for an extended period of time, e.g. to study. Ask around for people in town who have lived outside of Latin America. A good cultural interpreter will normally be your age, or a little older.

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Cultural Information - National Heroes

Question:

Who are this country's national heroes?

Local Perspective:

National heroes include the following: Tupac Amaru II (rebelled against the Spanish), Jose de San Martin, Simon Bolivar (both freed the Americas from Spanish colonialism).

Canadian Perspective:

Peru has a few heroes. Miguel Grau is a naval hero for going down with his ship fighting the Chileans. Tupac Amaru II is a hero for fighting the Spanish, promoting native pride and rights, and defending slaves. He was pulled apart by 4 horses but held together for a surprisingly long time. Mario Vargas Llosa is a famous author who also tried his hand at politics. He won a Nobel prize for literature.

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Cultural Information - Shared Historical Events with Canada

Question:

Are there shared historical events between this country and Canada that could affect work or social relations?

Local Perspective:

Not to my knowledge.

Canadian Perspective:

During the hostage crisis at Japanese Embassy in Lima, the Canadian Ambassador acted as a negotiator. Terrorists consider him two-faced. There are a lot of Canadian mines in Peru, which are not usually popular with the locals.

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Cultural Information - Stereotypes

Question:

What stereotypes do Canadians have about the local culture that might be harmful to effective relations?

Local Perspective:

For most Peruvians, Canada seems so far away and they will likely refer to North American society as a whole.

Canadian Perspective:

Most information on Peru in Canada comes from documentaries on the mountains (sierra) or the jungle (selva). Most Peruvians live on the coast and have never seen these regions. Also, there is a lot of concern about terrorism in Peru, but that’s not much of a factor these days. I heard a few conversations about terrorists, but never had any direct experience. Contrary to what some may think, drugs are not very present in Peruvian life, especially on the coast.

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Cultural Information - About the Cultural Interpreters

Local Interpreter:

Your cultural interpreter, the fourth of seven siblings, was born in Lima, the capital of Peru, where she lived until she was 35 years old. She studied accounting at a variety of American schools, theatre at the Pontificia Universidad Catolica del Peru, and Latin American literature at the Universidad Nacional Mayor de San Marcos while earning a living as a secretary. She immigrated to Canada in 1991 and learned French at the Université du Québec à Montréal where she also received her BA in Sociology. For the past four years she has been working for an accounting firm in Montréal, Quebec and lives with her immediate family.

Canadian Interpreter:

Your culturalinterpreter was born in Barrie, Ontario the youngest of five children. He was raised in this city. He studied Civil Engineering at McMaster University and Environmental at the University of Toronto. He then went to Peru, where he lived for almost four years. He has been living in Hamilton for the last two years, where he teaches in Mohawk College. He is married and has no children.

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Disclaimer

Country Insights - Intercultural Issues are intended to provide snapshots of the overall social and cultural norms as well as the workplace environment that a Canadian might face working in a specific country. For each country, two perspectives are provided: one by a Canadian and the other by a person born in the selected country. By comparing the "local point of view" with the "Canadian point of view", you will begin to form a picture of that country's culture. We encourage you to continue your research using a variety of other sources and to use Triangulation as an evaluation process. Although cultural informants were asked to draw on as broad a base of experience as possible in formulating their answers, these should be understood as one perspective that reflects the particular context and life experiences of that person; they are not intended to be a comment on any particular group or society.

You may disagree with or object to the content of some responses. This is to be expected given the complexity of the subject and the problems associated with speaking generally about an entire country and its people. We would encourage you to share your experiences; your contributions will help to make Country Insights a richer environment for learning.

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