We are Gringos! No, that is not an insult. It may be in Mexico, but in Ecuador gringos are simply foreigners who are not Latin. Gringos include Americans, Canadians, Australians, and Europeans.We are bigger, light skinned, and richer. It is fun being a “big Kid” at 5’-9”. Even Sue is mas alto than many, especially the native, Quichua, who are under five feet. Children enjoy looking at us and interacting. It’s fun to carry some candy for surprises. (I make eye contact with parents first for approval).
Under the subtle class structure, we are immediately near the top. Curiously, we are unaware at first, because we tend to treat everyone equally. Men are most respected in the male dominated culture (see “Culture”).
You will soon discover “gringo pricing” especially with taxis, and small merchants. After a while I learned to give taxi drivers exact fare rather than ask. Short trips, under 6-7 minutes, are $1.50. Fares increase with traffic jams, sometimes in rain, and Sundays. Always start with buenas dias and depart with muchas gracias. Many drivers do not know how to read a map.
Please do not come to Ecuador expecting the create a American enclave. That created problems with locals in Panama and Costa Rica. If you move here, plan on learning some Spanish and adapting to the culture. Slow down, respect their relational priorities, remain flexible. Ecuadorans respond much better if you demonstrate a sincere desire to share their culture and language. Treat them as the equals they are.
Gringos initially tend to overpay for services. This disturbs the local pricing mechanism and creates unrealistic expectations. Many gringos moved here on a shoe string budget and do not want artificial inflation! Besides, who wants to be viewed a rich and stupid?
My most memorable example is the routine purchase of a queen size bed frame. I sold our simple frame in NC, since wood work is inexpensive here. My quest morphed into a gringo custom job, at six times my expected price. Cuancano beds are a scant few inches off the ground, so our need was exceptional. Maybe there is a secret union here, since our first 5 bids were for $350. What?... for an unfinished 2X4 bed frame! Finally, we asked our decorator, who had worked in NY for many years, “just a simple frame for $100 or less”. We settled for $140, over a week’s local pay.
Upon arrival in Cuenca, visit the Gringo meeting places for English conversation and orientation. In Centro, visit beautiful Calderon Park with the Nuevo Cathedral (1870) and Viejo Cathedral (1600's). Usually gringos are present here or in the adjacent RambiPamba restaurante. Centro historic district restaurants, California Kitchen and Aussie Kookaburra Café, are initial gringo favorites. And try the symphony, usually on Thursday or Friday nights. Government sponsored, translation – free, which are faithfully communicated on “Gringo Tree” email.
Finally, “expat” does not mean I lost my patriotism, but “expatriate”- someone living outside their native land.
Come join us in Cuenca,