Cultural differences and the perception of time
Probably the biggest difference between German and Paraguayan culture is the perception of time.
The most clichéed manifestation of this difference is the idea of "punctuality." But even though this is certainly a constant point of frustration, it is by no means the deepest. Having a differing perception of time influences a lot more aspects of your life than just what you mean when you say "let's meet at eleven."
German culture is often named among the most future-oriented in the world. This shows itself not only in the way Germans start planning for retirement when they're 21, but also in the way the language itself can refer to the future as if it were the present ("Morgen gibt es Fisch"), the obsession with insurance (preparing for disaster requires projection into the future) the German reputation for efficiency, quality and innovation, and the way Germany has been one of the leading forces in developing sustainable energy. All this can't be done if one does not, to some extent, "live" in the future.
Whenever I came to Paraguay, my first impression, from the moment I got off the plane, was how little all that mattered here. Efficiency, durability, safety, etc., are very low on the priority list. When I moved here, I resolved not to be in a hurry. Hurry is the luxury of people who live in the future, and it's out of place here. In Paraguayan culture, a person who is in a hurry is sort of an embarrassment to everyone around.*
(I fail daily in my goal to not be in a hurry, but I'm still glad I made the resolution.)
Here people live in the present. Some of the signs are easy to point out, like the many people who ride their motorbike down the highway at night with no lights and no helmets. But a lot of it is more subtle: I just have an IMPRESSION that the supermarket queue moves much slower than in the rest of the world, but it is difficult to explain quantitatively what it is about the whole vibe that seems to exhude "nobody here is in any sort of hurry". It has to do with the prevalent body language.
Some of this, of course, is a welcome relief to the fast pace of the 21st century. But for the most part, the German in me finds a thousand things per day that really "should" be different. A lot of my daily energy is expended just trying to make my way through an inefficient environment. A culture that lives in the present will not bother about making anything high-quality, or about maintaining things in good repair. As a result, things need to be replaced more often, which costs more in the end. Many of the problems in Paraguay -- not just the problems I see as an outsider, but also those that they complain of themselves -- are directly traceable to short-term thinking.
One Paraguayan doctor told me this:
A hospital's ultrasound machine needs a special gel to lubricate the transducer probe. The problem is that Paraguayan hospitals run out of gel, because the re-orders take so long and no one thinks to order ahead of time. So they have no gel, and someone finds out that they can just use rubbing alcohol instead. The problem is that alcohol dehydrates the transducer probe, and so a $2,000 part that should last at least five years is rendered completely useless within a few weeks. Then the hospital either stops doing ultrasounds or needs to dip into its budget to buy a new probe head.
This is the sort of thing one encounters in Paraguay. One is constantly thinking, "just A LITTLE BIT of foresight could save you thousands of dollars!" And the attitude is endemic, it is the backdrop to practically every interaction I have here.
I'm afraid that my posts on my adjustments to Paraguayan culture have been on the negative side. One challenge for me is to learn to appreciate the positive element in all these differences. For example, it is no secret that people who live in the present are happier, and that living in the present is a very Christian idea (Jesus did warn us about the whole "worrying about tomorrow" thing). I think I will appreciate it more as time goes on, and certainly (sadly) once I move away and look back fondly on my time here.
*One exception, of course, is traffic. While I see less overt road rage here, it does seem that these people learn the meaning of "being in a hurry" the moment they get behind the wheel. This sometimes gets really dangerous (overtaking into oncoming traffic), annoyingly counterproductive (not wanting to wait for a clogged intersection to resolve, people keep edging into the chaos until it is hopelessly congested and NO ONE can move), and bizarrely disrespectful (cutting off a freakin' AMBULANCE with sirens blaring and all).