Wednesday, July 3, 2013

The Little Things

There are a lot of little things I've gotten used to in Ecuador that were a bit odd at first. I'd totally stopped noticing these things until a friend of Danielle's visited her and reminded me of them again. I've since been noticing more and trying to think of a list. Here's what I've come up with so far. 

1) Not flushing your TP. 
This is pretty common in most of the world, outside of Western Europe and North America. The pipes here aren't built for that. Anyway, there's always a small garbage can near the toilet to throw your poopy toilet paper, which grosses a lot of gringos out at first. I don't mind; it helps me save money because I don't want to continually take out the trash. (Also, toilet paper is scented here and it's really hard to find any that isn't.)

2) Milk in a bag, juice in a bag, liquor in a bag, leftovers in a bag, EVERYTHING in a bag! 
A lot of things--most alarmingly liquids--are sold in bags here, which was a little unnerving at first. (But I love juice in a bag now!) It's especially weird when you don't finish your drink at a restaurant and they send it home to you in a small plastic bag. You just bite a hole in the corner and suck out the rest of your coke later, no big deal.

3) Names, titles, and saying it like it is.
It's normal for venders, people working in tiendas, or any stranger pretty much anywhere, to call you "mi hija/hijo" (my son/daughter). It's really cute, I think. It's also normal for people to call you by your profession. Any time I check out speakers to use in my class, the people at the academic secretary's office say things like, "tenga, profe" (here, professor). Students call their teachers "profe" here all the time (or "teacher" in English classes) rather than calling them by their names. I call my aunt here "tia" and nothing more. 
People also say a lot of things we would consider rude or not politically correct. Any chubby person is called "gordito" (little fatty), black people are called "negritos" (little blackies), etc. It's not rude, it's just saying it like it is. 

4) Greetings, goodbyes, and kissing everyone.
It's really important to greet everyone when entering any room. And I don't just mean a quick hello, you need to kiss them on the cheek, one by one, and ask them how they are, etc. Same thing goes when leaving. I think it's a sweet thing to do, but I'm STILL not used to it. Whenever I enter and exit the teacher's lounge at UDLA, I get a little nervous about it because I don't want to offend anyone but I really don't want to take 10 minutes saying goodbye. The nice thing is that if you don't know anyone, in a place like the teacher's lounge, where everyone's working, you can just say a general greeting and a general goodbye at the door. 

5) Dodging traffic, breathing exhaust fumes, and the dangers of walking.
This one is pretty straight forward. I wrote an entire post about public transportation here, which is incredibly awesome and incredibly disgusting and frustrating at the same time. As far as walking goes though, you gotta be on guard 24/7. People don't pay attention to crosswalks or traffic lights too often, they just honk and keep going. I've become pretty adept at jaywalking. And you will constantly be breathing in some pretty heavy fumes. 

6) Public Displays of Affection in likely and unlikely places, by people of all ages.
PDA is very common here. In the States, I've really only seen drunk people or junior high couples being overly physical in public, but here it's everywhere and it's people of all ages--although here too, it's teenagers more often than not. Sometimes it's a good thing, sometimes it's a bit too much. In general, I'm glad people are comfortable showing affection. However, when couples are making out on a crowded bus, right next to my face, I get a little disgusted. And this happens pretty frequently, actually. I prefer the couples who romp around in the grass at parks. 

7) Different hand gestures for things.
There's this hand gesture here that people make when something bad happens. It's the same thing you do if you're packing a thing of chewing tobacco and it makes a sort of snapping sound. At first I was just confused when I saw it, but now I do it without even thinking sometimes. 
The common "come here" motion we make in North America is more agressive here. Instead, people turn their hands over and make this little effeminate wave that we would normally associate with gay men. Between that and the skin tight jeans on guys here, I was initially a little confused. 
Also, people point with their lips here instead of their fingers. You just pucker up and nod in the direction of whatever it is you're indicating. It still cracks me up. 

8) Men peeing in the streets.
Even in huge cities like Quito--where it is technically illegal--men stop at any old place on the street to take a wee. This was definitely a shock to me at first. The first time I saw it I told my aunt: "There's a man peeing on your sidewalk...?" because it was right outside her house. She just said, "Oh yeah, people do that here. It's really unsanitary." I mean, I have no problem with the idea of people--men and women--peeing any old place really, but it is a bit gross and it makes the whole sidewalk reek sometimes. And men seriously have no shame. One time a guy just whipped out his business probably two meters away from me. We made eye contact, but he just kind of shrugged like, "Deal with it." 

9) Getting whistled at, "psted" at, called "preciosa," etc. 
Being a woman and an obvious foreigner means getting some unwanted attention while walking through the streets of Quito. Men will often practice their English on me by yelling, "Hello, I love you!" or they will try whistling or making little "pst" noises that are also come-ons. It doesn't happen that often (perhaps because I can pass as a little boy), but it's annoying when it does. It's also humorous sometimes though. Especially when people walk up behind me and whisper things like "Hola preciosa" or "deliciosa," or something like that. It would be so silly to call someone precious or delicious in English that it makes me laugh. Part of me wants to turn around and say, "No, YOU'RE precious and delicious!" I've never done it though, because I don't want to encourage them.

10) Security guards everywhere, armed to the teeth.
Nearly every building here has at least one security guard--most of whom carry either clubs or guns--and if it's an important building or a bank or something, there are probably five of them with huge automatic weapons. Once, there was a parade that I stumbled upon and the Ecuadorian SWAT team was right there, complete with shields and huge guns and everything. For a parade! Crazy. It was startling at first, but now I'm pretty used to it. 

11) Slow walkers, especially in groups, who don't move to let you pass. 
Everyone walks very slowly here and they generally walk abreast, in groups. This makes it very difficult to get around them, but they don't seem to notice or care that you'd like to pass them. They just lollygag along without a care in the world, even if they are late for class and on a narrow, walled-in walkway. It's extremely frustrating and actually, I DO still notice it, pretty much everyday on the way to class.

12) People not having change. Ever. 
Breaking a $20 can be really hard work in Ecuador. You usually have to go to a nice restaurant or a grocery store or something. This would just never happen in the States, or if it did, it would be the person in the store's priority to find change for you. Here they just get annoyed that you don't have the correct change. It's not really that hard, you just have to plan ahead a bit more. But it's become a funny sort of fixation for me. I plan my purchases around breaking 10s or 20s. Sometimes 10s are pretty tough too, and the other day a man seriously didn't have change for a 1.  


  1. Great observations! Thanks for sharing. I enjoyed visiting Ecuador a few years ago. Mindo, Otavalo, San Clemente. Great places and people! My blog is: Joe's Retirement Blog.

  2. Upbeat, concise and informative. I'm planning for a trip in Sept. and this made me feel better about a possible retirement destination too.

  3. Haha! Great gotten-over culture-shocks list!

    You see things well, made me feel at home a bit.