Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Whose Space?

One thing tourists are sure to note upon arriving in Peru is the lack of personal space. The streets are noisy, filled with honking and no apparent driving laws. (We had more than a few close calls on our bus rides). Even when walking, there is no such thing as personal space, as I learned when I nearly got ran over by a passionate cyclist. I had to look back and ask my group if I was in the way, or if he just didn’t care. (I wasn’t; he didn’t.) It’s almost as if it‘s more polite to just make it a really close call than to ask for some space, and words like “permiso” o “perdon” are rarely heard in the streets.

Even in our various shopping and dining locations, I noticed, at La Quinta for example, that people would rather slide their way around you than ask you to take two steps out of their way. After a few days, I got used to it, and it became more convenient for me, too, to just snake my way around people and cars than to expect some type of discourse. However, as we settled in at Casa Elena, it struck me that our American sense of possession of space still very much lingered with us. We are a large group of 15, easily the largest group in all of the places where we have dined. However, one day, a group from Appalachian State University also checked into the hotel and decided to have lunch at the same time as us. The dining room was crowded, and as Alejandra walked in (later than the rest of us), I shared the sense of surprise and dread clearly painted on her face. After a few minutes of eating and whispering about the new group, I thought again about how little importance personal space is to Peruvians. How could we possibly feel any sort of way about another group eating at the same time as us? It was as if we felt they were invading, when in reality, they were just here for a meal and a bed like the rest of us. Who are we to lay claim to this dining area as “our” space? What is personal space? You can’t own space, or air, especially when you’re just another tourist. Being in Peru has made me appreciate the casual ways of jaywalking and made me more open to sharing “my” space with the people around me.

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