For I love to play the recommendation game. You know when you are sitting in a restaurant and you’re not exactly sure what you want, you ask the waiter or waitress, “what do you recommend?” Now the answer in the States usually includes an answer. “Well, I’m particularly fond of the blue cheese chicken or if you’re into salads, I’d try the cob.” I like this game. It gives me an opportunity to try something new AND not make a decision. The game is only fun if the other party will play it with you, and I have a hard time finding participants in Peru. The other day I was at the fruit stand and I knew I only wanted to buy a small quantity of fruit, but I wasn’t exactly sure what I should get. So I asked the woman working at the tienda what she recommended and her response was, “it’s all good.” I believe her, but that wasn’t the question. The question is what she would get if she were in my place. So being the former journalist I phrase the question a different way, “what’s good during this season?” The senora again responds, “It’s all good.” I still believe her, but I’m growing increasingly frustrated that she won’t play one of my favorite games. Finally, after a long silence where I’m not sure how to get my new friend to play my game she finally says, “It’s mango season.” So thankful that she has at least tried to play along I buy two mangoes for my host sisters (I’m already sick of them and it’s only the beginning of mango season).
I encounter this problem a lot. I’ll be sitting in a restaurant here in Peru and again I’ll be unsure of what to order and so I’ll ask for a recommendation. I’m usually lucky to get an answer, but if I do, you can bet that I order that particular item because I want to give Peruvians the idea that their opinions and ideas have value. The underlying problem here is twofold. First, it’s a matter of self-esteem. Peruvians (as a generalization) are not taught that their opinion matters. But when you’re playing the recommendation game with me, your opinion always counts. I rarely ever turn down a recommendation. One of the things we do in the youth development program is not only teach about self-esteem, emotions, and self-knowledge but recently I went to several classes and put signs on three different walls in the class room. The first reads, “I agree.” The second, “I don’t agree.” And the third states, “I’m not sure.” Then I read different phrases (the older the group, the more controversial) and the students then have to walk to the sign where their opinion is stated. One of the phrases says, “You can get good work even if you don’t finish high school.” The students then have to defend their answer – not all of them, but I call on different ones to see why they think what they are thinking. I’m amazed with how little these students think about their own opinions. Many students thanked me for the activity after class saying it was the first time they had thought about the topics I had brought up (everything from education to abortion) and they appreciate that I don’t judge their opinions which is key to teaching these types of classes. I absolutely have to put my opinions and ideas out the back door, but I do get to play devil’s advocate and it is fun to get people to think about their answers. Now that I think about it, I would love to get more activities like this – so if you have any, feel free to send them to me.
The second fold in the twofold underlying problem is that this is a culture of people who don’t want to offend other people. They are a very polite culture. For example, sometimes people are invited to a party in which they know they cannot attend, but regardless they will accept the invitation and then just not show up. Because it is better to save the face of the person who is inviting you to their face, if you don’t show up the inviter can always say they never invited the invitee. So while playing the recommendation game people don’t want to offend nor be offended. They don’t offer up their opinions readily in case it’s contrary to yours and then you would be offended. I like aspects of the polite culture, but it is frustrating when you set up a meeting or invite people to event and they never show.
I have had minor success playing the recommendation game with younger children. Often times they will be helping out their parents and somehow they’ll catch my eye, and so I’ll ask them what do you recommend. After some hesitation, and maybe a little prodding on my part, they will quite frequently give me a response. And no matter how good or bad the recommendation I always take it to show the child that their ideas are valued and valuable. I guess it’s one of the little things I try to do on a daily basis to improve the lives of those I encounter.