I have been living in Paraguay for almost 6 months now. I no longer question things that I would have questioned when I first arrived—perhaps because it is exhausting to try to rationalize or challenge everything in this foreign culture on a daily basis.
One way I find this to be most concretely manifested is with regards to food. For example, food safety and sanitation are almost unheard of in this country. Refrigeration is too expensive for many people. For the few that do own a fridge, they are lucky if their food stays cooler than lukewarm—unacceptable by the food standards of the United States.
People cook with reused oil, using pots and pans that are blackened from years over an open fire, unwashed utensils, and cutting boards that are warped and moldy. Food is left out all day, vegetables become soggy and wrinkled, and meat is strung up to dry in the open—easy prey for flies and the like. Cheese is placed on the table to “age,” as Paraguayans claim; others might say “mold.”
Despite all of this, I have yet to get sick in this country. Either my body has acclimated to the myriad bugs I have been ingesting or I arrived in this country with a much stronger immune system than I thought.
It is hard to say what comes first, the mental or the physical acclimation to a new place and a new culture. Either way, the act of acceptance is something special. Brief doses of a new culture only serve to provide the traveler with a sense of novelty, never forcing one to delve any deeper than surface. On the other hand, the experience of living in a place for an extended period helps to cut back on the idealism and instills instead a dose of realism. Immersion in a culture brings a greater depth of understanding. One must eat the food, no matter what sanitation standards it may seem to violate. One must learn the language, no matter how useless it may seem in any other context (Guaraní certainly applies to this category—it is spoken nowhere else in the world but Paraguay). One must dress the dress, walk the walk, and do as his new countrymen do. One must reach the point where he is no longer living among foreigners but among friends and neighbors. I am still in the long process of seeking the latter. —Mario Machado