Legality is relative

I don’t understand Peruvian law. I simply don’t understand it. Even with a boyfriend in law school, who is well versed in labor, family, civil and international law, I don’t understand a thing. The problem is simply because Peruvian law is well, Peruvian.

I hadn’t realized until moving here that laws, expectations and civil codes become ingrained in a culture to a point where they no longer appear as separate entities.

Why wear a seatbelt? Because it’s safer and it’s the law.

Why must a 17 year old driver be home by midnight? Because it’s the law.

Why change lanes when passing a police officer in the shoulder? Because it’s kind and it’s the law.

I wear a seatbelt and change lanes not only because it is illegal not to, but because for twenty-two years I have been told that it is right to do so. They have become a part of my inherent culture. Peruvian laws seem foreign to me because they too are apart of a culture, a culture that is foreign to me.

A few weeks ago, Alvaro and I went to the only bar in all of Lima that shows all of the NFL games. We had spent most of the afternoon enjoying Advent lunch with his family and therefore, didn’t arrive until well into the second set of games. All of the tables were full, but there was a significant amount of standing room only space. We turned to leave and I said, “Hey, it’s not a problem, let’s just stand at the bar.” Discouraged he replied, “We can’t, there’s a law against not having a seat in a bar in the middle of the day.”

Did I hear that correctly? Shouldn’t there be a law against not having a seat at night when the bar is busier and people are more influenced and mischievous behavior is in its prime? Nope, at night (when there’s a higher risk for all sorts of nonsense) you can do whatever you would like. At 4pm, however, you must have a seat by decree of the Municipality of Miraflores, Lima.

Last Thursday, when Alvaro played lawyer, the confusion was over one very small clause in my contract. Peruvian labor law states that any company who hires a foreign employee must reimburse the employee for a flight back to their home country. Sounds like a good deal, however, since the beginning of negotiations, my new employer has informed me that they will not be paying for my flight. It wasn’t too much of a disappointment because before that I wasn’t even aware that I was entitled to such a perk. The solution to this legal quandary, according to Cecilia, was to simply insert a parallel clause. I was under the assumption that it would say something like, “I, Meghan, understand that I will not receive reimbursement for my flight back to the United States.” Simple enough.

That seemed fair to me but my new friend in HR (whose last name translates as “Mashed Potatoes”) feared that such a clause was illegal. Here’s where we spoke with the General Manager who offered the clause with conditions, unfortunately, Cecilia said this was illegal because labor law states that the employer will pay for the flight without such conditions.

On Friday, I went to sign my contract also had to sign a parallel clause to finally lay this reimbursement clause to rest. Here’s what I signed:

“I, Meghan, have received $1,000 (one thousand US dollars) from my employer to be used for the sole purpose of a return flight back to Nashville, Tennessee, United States of America.”

Of all the previous options, the one that I signed appears to me to be the most illegal, mainly because it is anoutright lie. I’m beginning to learn that in Peru, nothing will cease to surprise me.