I love Latin America and the adventures I have enjoyed, but let’s face it, there are a few things that are kinda weird, and a few things that I don’t know I will ever get used to. I am not trying to say I do not like Latin America or that North Americans are superior, these are just a few things that you will see or experience when you take a trip to Central or South America that will likely seem odd to you.
Don’t flush the toilet paper
Here is the worst part about some areas of South America, you will see a small trash can next to the toilet with the used toilet in it. The plumbing and sewage system in South America is not made to have toilet paper flushed. This took me a very long time to get used to when I lived in Brazil.
Security guards with shotguns
In the United States, we see security guards all over the place, but you only see them heavily armed at military bases and other heavily guarded locations. In South America, you will notice securities guards at banks and other places with shotguns. It always surprises me and gives me the feeling we are in a dangerous place, but that is not the case since it is normal.
Ameature construction (neighbors help build houses)
Need to build a house or build on to your current house? In South America, you don’t have to hire someone. It is completely normal to have your family, friends, and neighbors lend a hand to help you build. All you need is one person with experience and the rest is mostly manual labor. When I was in Brazil I even rolled my sleeves up and had the job of mixing the cement. Another weird thing is I mixed the cement right on the street in front of the house. After that, I noticed a lot of houses had a cement circle in front of homes, something that would never happen in the US.
If you see an unfinished building in the US you are going to think something went wrong and money ran out. In Latin America, the builder may plan to build something incomplete, leaving room for expansion later on. This leaves building looking like they are under constructions but may be functioning with business or as a home for years or decades without change.
Milk at room temperature
Go to the market and you are going to find milk unrefrigerated. Milk in South America is Ultra High Temperature pasteurized. This means it can stay out at room temperature before opening. Not only did this seem odd at the store, but annoying when you got home and had to wait for it to cool down if you wanted cold milk. Eggs are also stored at room temperature at the grocery stores.
Dairy products in bags (like yogurt or milk)
You can get milk refrigerated, but it is sold in a bag. They are very cheap and once you open it, you place it into something else for storage. You can get yogurt in a bag that you drink. It is thinner than what you eat with a spoon.
Constant car honking that is not considered rude
I remember the first time riding in a car in Brazil I thought I was going to die. The traffic laws are more like suggestions. I wondered why is everyone honking at each other? Turns out honking is more like saying “hey, I’m here”. With how crazy the driving is, honking regularly lets people know where you are and alerts them to what you are doing.
Tuk Tuks and motor taxis
Need a ride around? Just hop on a motor taxi. I found it strange to hop on the back of someone on a motorcycle but it is a cheap and quick way to get around. In some countries you also find small tuk-tuks transporting people around.
Being on time is not normal
If you are invited to a party or get together, do not count on it happening on time. It just does not work that way, everyone arrives late and everything starts late.
Long waits are normal
Imagine if everything you need to get done took as long as going to the DMV in the US. That isn’t too far from the truth. Need to pay a bill, get a cell phone, get a vise removed? Everything in South America seems to take a long time and the workers are not in a rush to get you through the line faster.
Everything is negotiable
Seriously, everything. Want to buy some clothes, do not pay sticker price, negotiate. Looking for a tour? Negotiate, just ask everyone for a discount. At Iguacu Falls, the first price we were given to take a boat ride under that waterfalls was more than twice what we ended up paying. The longer you hold out buying, the lower the price goes.