Gringos in Ecuador (the Ecuadorian no)
At first the term alone bothered me. However as I quickly learned, foreigners living here use it almost exclusively in reference to themselves, as do nearly all Ecuadorians in reference to any foreigner. So I’ve come to accept it. As a gringo in Ecuador, who has traversed the relocation process, made friends, purchased land, opened and ran a business, I’ve been afforded the perspective of having a foot in both worlds so to speak. I’ve been friends with, done business with, seen the cultural machinations of, and lived with and amongst Ecuadorians. And as someone who lived in Vilcabamba and has many gringo friends there, I have also had an extended opportunity to observe the gringo-living-in-Ecuador-mindset and have seen where some of the cultural differences have created misunderstandings, angst, and sometimes bad outcomes.
This is my attempt at laying out some of the more obvious cultural differences, so as to assist in your enjoyment of Ecuador.
Ecuadorians are not loud (note: there are several different cultures in Ecuador, which could be categorized into two – Coast and mountains. I am writing from the perspective of the culture in the mountains or ‘la sierra’). Voices do not get raised and public disputes are almost non-existent. In the states verbal disputes in stores, with clerks, or banks, or even on the street are somewhat commonplace. However raising your voice here in such a manner is not culturally acceptable.
On a related topic, people are polite. Saying good morning (afternoon, or evening) before addressing your topic and often ‘buen provecho’ when walking past someone eating – a phrase similar to ‘bon appetite’ is the norm.
People here are much less direct than in my experience in the states. Which is related to saying ‘no’. For all intents and purposes, the word ‘no’ does not exist in Ecuador. Of course there are times when people need to say no, however the way they may go about it is an adjustment coming from a different culture. As an example, you may ask someone a question or for a service, and they may nod at you or even say yes, but then you don’t here from them at the proposed time and your calls are ignored, or when you do reach the individual, maybe even another ‘yes’ is said, with the same results. This is no. I call it the Ecuadorian no. This can be frustrating for people, however you have to understand, it’s just the way things are done, its not personal and certainly not malicious.
Time – Ecuadorians do not relate to time the same way as North Americans. Time does not equal money. Being late is not considered unacceptable.
I’ve seen gringos (myself included) getting upset or feeling slighted when they are not understood in Spanish. Almost as if the person they’re talking is trying not to understand them. This is NOT the case. As I’ve come to learn, in Spanish, accent and emphasis is everything. If you put the emphasis on the wrong syllable or mispronounce the word as a result of your accent, you may be completely misunderstood, even though from your perspective you may be saying it exactly the same as the ‘correct’ pronunciation.
Gossip – what we consider gossip, is really the norm here. People talk openly about others. Everyone kind of knows about everyone else, and asking personal questions about others and discussing the answers is not considered rude. This is the least enjoyable adjustment for me.
However in aggregate, I really enjoy the culture in Ecuador.
People are open, genuine, unassuming, and lack pretense.
Keeping some of these differences in mind may help you in integrating, not taking things personally, and enjoying your time in Ecuador.