Things that really grind my gears!

Jan 09, 2015

Today a Peruvian guy asked me what I didn’t like about South America. This is a particularly tough subject one to navigate properly when speaking to a local, unless you’ve lived in a place for a few years your view is going to be a little skewed for sure. Not to mention, it’s just plain impolite to be a foreigner and bitch about a place or culture that they know little about. That being said, I was in a bit of a mood and decided to go for it. To my surprise, some of my frustrations were shared by this guy and thankfully, well received.

So what really bugs me about Latin America (Central and South America)? Well if I had to give you three things it would be pollution, lack of personal space and lack of courtesy. Now before I get too far into this let me first say that this shit annoys me no matter where I am. You’re just as likely to find these same issues in the US as you are to find them in Nicaragua or Ecuador but I think they are bigger issues for me here than they are at home. I don’t want you to think that these are Latin American issues only. If you walk away from this post thinking “those people don’t (blank)” or “I don’t think I would like visiting (blank) because Teague says everyone there is (blank).” If you do think that then I will be sorry that I wrote this and you had better not say those things to me because I will probably think you’re close-minded.


Pollution is a problem all over the world but I find it to be more “in your face” in some Latin American countries. Granted, the USA as a country does a TON of destruction to the environment, I am not denying that, but it is generally not acceptable to toss your garbage anywhere you feel. I’ve certainly seen people at home do it and it drives me nuts but it seems more acceptable here. For example, just the other day I watched an adult finish a bag of chips and toss the bag to the ground as if that’s where garbage is supposed to go. This is not an uncommon thing to see at all. It of course depends on the city and location within that city, but I’ve seen it a lot more in Latin American countries than I have at home and other European countries. No matter where it happens, it drives me absolutely mad. At home, it’s usually cigarette butts or the plastic wrapper from the top of a pack of cigarettes that you see people throw on the ground. That drives me nuts too but not as absolutely crazy as watching people take styrofoam trays from their children and toss them on the ground in a park, into the water at the beach or stuff them into some bushes.  

Personal Space

The Peruvian who asked me this question actually said this one first but ask anyone who has traveled in the region and they will surely have a story or two about the lack of personal space etiquette. This isn’t exclusively in Latin America either but, coming from the US where personal space is usually respected to some degree, it can be a little shocking when someone rests their gut on your shoulder for two hours while riding the bus or stands so close to you in line to buy a ticket for the bus that you can feel their sweat evaporating from their face. It’s as if people have lived in such tight quarters that they don’t care for their own personal space anymore. Hell, if I was home and standing on the bus and my shoulder was touching someone else’s I’d move a little to give us both some space. Here, not so much. If anything, making a little space will just invite someone new into that space so that you are all being pressed up against one another in some new uncomfortable way. Ride a local bus anywhere in Central America and you’ll know what I mean. The driver and his partner (the guy taking money) don’t give a damn if you’re uncomfortable with a larger woman’s ass being in your face for the next 30 minutes as long as you both pay thirty cents for the ride. They’ll keep cramming people in until no one is willing to get on or until they’ve reached the destination. You learn pretty quickly to “utilize your area” and position your elbows in such a way that make you very uncomfortable to stand too close to.

Lack of courtesy

This one was again shared by the Peruvian guy, not that it gives it more legitimacy or anything but I was surprised that he found it as annoying as me. One example I pointed out to him was that when you are standing in line to buy a bus ticket, it’s not at all uncommon for someone to literally walk in front of you and start shouting at the person you’re speaking to at the ticket counter. Sure they might have a quick question but I mean come on, at least say “excuse me” or something. The same goes for ordering food. You could be next in line to order and if the person behind the counter get’s distracted by someone else in line well then it is now their turn. You had your chance and missed it. You learn pretty quickly to be a little more forceful and give people the “don’t even fuckin try it” eyes.

The Peruvian guy said for him it was the simple act of walking down the street and constantly being shoulder checked (bumped hard by someone’s shoulder as they pass) by people or hit by their bags without anyone saying anything or even offering a sympathetic glance. This one gets me too. Sometimes a person will have some huge bag on their back and will spin around to talk to their friend and hit you right in the face or chest. No apology, no “excuse me,” just someone who pretends like you don’t exist. To combat this one, you just check them right back. Bags hits you in the face, shove that asshole a little and let him know you exist too. In the US, something like that would almost always garner an apology and it happens less frequently. Even when it does happen it’s unlikely that you would retaliate with a push back, you’d probably just think “oh well, it was a mistake no big deal.” Not here, you get checked and don’t do anything about it then you’re likely to get checked again and again. Now I find myself pushing people around left and right to get where I need to go. It’s a vicious cycle but who am I to buck this annoying social norm. Guy is walking in front of you and stops suddenly? Move his ass outta the way. Some lady with a big bag keeps bumping you as she bends down to tend to her child? Push that bag away and if it throws her off balance a little then hey, that’s not my problem.

So there you have it, just a few things that annoy me about being down here. Again, if you walk away from this thinking “I don’t think I’d like it there,” then I am sorry to tell you that you need to grow a thicker skin. There’s a lot more to love than to be annoyed by for sure. The people are some of the most genuinely friendly folks you’ll ever meet and the sights, history, and culture are incredible. If a little annoying stuff throws you from experiencing the great things this place has to offer then that’s your loss and you can add that behavior to the top of my “shit that annoys me."


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