Culture Confusion: Seatbelts

Several months ago, I found myself running errands with Alvaro´s mom and his three aunts. Four Peruvian sisters & me. Talk about being outnumbered. I crawled into the back seat of the SUV and instinctively put on my seatbelt. Within seconds of hearing "click!" one of his aunts said, "Oh, how cute! Meghancita is wearing her seatbelt in the backseat!" To which I thought, "Well, why wouldn´t I? Have you seen the drivers here?"

In Peru, the law states that anyone in the front seat, drivers and passengers, must be wearing seatbelts. For the back seat, however, there is no such law. Like most Americans, wearing a seatbelt is second nature to me. I get into the car, close the door and latch my seatbelt, without even thinking about it. Even in Peru, where I know it´s not the law, I wear my seatbelt.

Taxi and bus drivers try to evade this law by wearing tshirts with a "seatbelt" painted across the front. To the passing eye, this painted "seatbelt" passes the test for a real one. Since most buses in Lima are converted fifteen passenger vans or small company buses, there is usually a front passenger seat. The commuter sitting in that seat is obligated, by law, to wear a seatbelt. Yesterday, I sat behind the driver and had a clear view of the front  passenger seat. A young girl about my age climbed into the front seat and pulled the seatbelt aross her chest. That´s where she left it. Hanging by her left hip. Without latching it in the fastner.

This puzzled me. I realized that this girl wasn´t "wearing" the seatbelt because she thought it was safe, she was "wearing" the seatbelt because she wanted to avoid a fine. I wondered, "If you are going to pull the belt across your body, why not go the extra 1.5 inches and actually fasten it? How much extra effort does that take?"

It´s baffling. I mentioned this story to Alvaro, when I said, "I always wear my seatbelt, even in the back!" he chuckled and said, "Yes, I have noticed."

Now in addition to my English speaking accent, blue eyes and short bob haircut, wearing my seatbelt screams: "Look at this gringa!!"