Perú is always bustling and busy with street vendors, restaurants, markets, and roadside stands. The concept of business for cusqueñans, however, is vastly distinct to what I was used to in the United States. In Peru, anyone can sell goods. If someone’s garden produced an exceptional amount of flowers, a member of the family will likely be on a street corner selling flowers to the people walking by. Everything about the commercial environment seems more relaxed, and it changes and shifts like the weather. Even the vendors with which you become familiar sometimes change locations or disappear for a few days before they return to their regular station. There is a bit of uncertainty with street vendors and booths in the local markets as some days they stay late into the evening, and others they’ve disappeared by midday.
The same can be said for restaurants and cafes. The schedules can sometimes be unpredictable. One day, I went to my favorite café down the street, only to find that they were closed at 9 on a Tuesday morning. As I became good friends with the owners, the next day I asked them why they hadn’t been open the day before and they answered with a smile saying that they had gotten to a late start that morning and hadn’t gotten everything together, later I learned that they had taken a day off for their mother’s birthday.
Although this practice can be confusing, and even frustrating to Americans who are used to predictability, I’ve grown to appreciate it. I respect the fact that business owners are more concerned about their families than maximizing profits. I’ve learned that street vendors go home when they’ve met their goals for the day, and the same can be said for market stand owners. Family-run restaurants and businesses aren’t afraid to close for the sake of spending time together and don’t focus on the money they could have made in that time, but rather appreciate the flexibility they have by running their own business.
Seeing the cultural approach to business in Peru has been exceptionally eye-opening to me and has caused me to evaluate and reflect on our money-centered businesses in the United States. It can be easy to forget how much time business owners dedicate to their work, and we don’t often consider how that affects the individuals and the families of those who put in long and inconvenient hours only to meet our culture’s expectation of predictability and convenience. There is definitely a lesson to be learned from a business philosophy that focuses less on the maximum profits to be had, but rather is controlled by the vendors who can make the decision as to what their goal is for the day—and some days that goal is to spend valuable time with their families. Customers can wait.