If you’re from a small town or went to high school you’re already familiar with the idea of gossip, called “chisme” in Spanish. Gossip is when people talk about what other people are doing, sometimes what they say is true and sometimes it is false, but they usually pass judgment. Here in Paraguay, well, at least in rural Paraguay, gossip is very important. In fact, it’s so important that Peace Corps has several sessions related to dealing with gossip during our training.
The brutal truth is life in a small town or rural Paraguay is pretty slow. Yep, the highlights are celebrations of saints, birthday parties, and soccer games. Many Paraguayans prefer to stay home and spend time with their families to going out. This leaves a lot of time to talk about what people are doing but not a lot being done about which to talk.
Anything that falls under the popular topics of sex, fights, and money is likely to catch people’s interest. The fun thing about it is even if you aren’t doing anything, someone might see something that makes them think you are doing something, and lo and behold you have a completely fictitious story about you flying around town.
Gossips will be gossips, so who cares? Well, the challenge isn’t really the gossip itself, but the fact that people often use gossip to form their opinions of others. It’s the judgmental side of gossip that’s particularly interesting when you are a Peace Corps volunteer.
As one of the only, if not the only, foreigner in your community you are stranger than your average person. Gossip about you is unavoidable. The trick, however, is preventing gossip that will harm your reputation or people’s respect for you. Because you don’t have history or family in your community, so reputation and respect is all you got.