Culture shock has been defined as "a sense of confusion and uncertainty sometimes with feelings of anxiety that may affect people exposed to an alien culture or environment without adequate preparation." (Merriam Webster Online Dictionary)
And I think most of us, if not all of us, who have spent some time in Ecuador have experienced some degree of culture shock. Of course for everyone it's different.
I'm going to try to go over a few things that were hard for me and others I know. And maybe this will provide some "adequate preparation" for others who will spend time in Ecuador.
This page is not meant to dis Ecuador, the Ecuadorian people or their culture. Its sole purpose to discuss some of the things that may surprise someone who has never been to Ecuador.
Apparently, the plumbing system in all of Ecuador was not planned with toilet paper in mind. So wherever you go there's a trash can next to the toilet overflowing with used toilet paper. As you can imagine bathrooms don't smell too good. One place I remember had a sign on each stall asking you put the toilet paper in the toilet and flush it. No trash can was provided for the toilet paper. Even then, the people just threw it in the corner on the floor. Most places you go will have signs stressing you put the toilet paper in the trash and not in the toilet. Takes some getting used to.
When out and about you may also stumble upon nudity without expecting it. It's not uncommon to see people in their yard bathing naked or almost naked.
Also breastfeeding in public is common. But that's nothing to object to, right? I don't mind, but once the baby has fallen asleep and let go...it's time to cover up.
In conversation, we tend to avoid topics that will embarrass the person we are conversing with. Ecuadorian children, however, can be especially direct. Questions that we would consider offensive or hurtful just need to be shrugged off.
Examples..."What are all those spots on your face?" or "How much did you pay for that?"
Even adults tend to tease about the most embarrassing aspects of a person with nicknames like "Gordo" (fat) or "Pansón" (big belly). I have had a hard time with this, because I think nicknames like "Tontito" (dumb) or "Payaso" (clown) are hurtful, especially for children.
One of the hardest culture shocks for me in Ecuador is the food. I still tend to loose my appetite when I see chicken feet or cow hooves floating in my soup.
Many Ecuadorians think nothing of eating with their hands. And I'm not talking pizza or a hamburger. They like to pick things out of the soup to gnaw on. Like the chicken feet. Sucking and chewing on the bones always grosses me out too.
Buying meat is a culture shock all it's own. This has improved since we first moved here. Your main choice back then was to go to the market. The meat hangs in big slabs and the vendor will cut off the chunk you want. There's usually no refrigeration. I've even seen meat sprayed with pesticides to keep the flies off.
It's even worse if you live near a butcher and hear the pig get done in first thing in the morning. Little wonder I'm a vegetarian most of the time I'm here. I have to be pretty desperate to buy meat. And, when I do, I usually buy nice packaged meat, like I"m used to, from the grocery store.
In the mountains, it's very common to see a whole pig hung up with slices cut out. Or whole cuy (guinea pig) roasting on a stick.
To live in Ecuador "you can't be afraid of a little dirt." (Sorry, inside joke.) The natural beauty of Ecuador is amazing. But the manners of the people is sometimes lacking. Nothing is thought of spitting, peeing, and worse on the street. And not just in deserted alleys. Any nook or cranny is fair game.
Litter is also a big problem. In recent years, there has been an effort to teach school children and others the importance of putting trash in it's place. But it will take time for everyone to catch on. I've spent quite a bit of time cleaning the street in front of my house. And I've realized one of the main culprits are the trash collectors. Their aim at the truck isn't always quite on. So I end up with bits and pieces to pick up.
Another issue are the dogs. They are usually allowed to roam free and leave little reminders everywhere. Watch your step.
In Ecuador, time has very little meaning. And no one thinks twice about wasting another person's time. This can be annoying. One popular phrase is "ya mismo," which technically means "any minute now." But in reality, it could be a long period of time. If you ask a local when the will bus come, they will more than likely say "ya mismo." Which really seems to mean that they know it's coming, but no one knows when exactly. So the "ya mismo" could be 15, 20 minutes or more.
The saying "why do tomorrow, what you can do today" has no meaning in Ecuador. Everything can wait until tomorrow.
I've been dealing with a situation at Immigration recently. And it's always "come back tomorrow." I know they are working on the problem, but the guy tells me to come tomorrow, when I know he doesn't even work that day (he's the only one who can fix my problem). So why tell me to come, when you know you're not even going to be here? This has gone on long enough that I know what days he won't be there, so I don't even waste my time. But I've wasted plenty already.
Even after so many years in Ecuador, I still suffer from some culture shock from this one. I shouldn't be surprised; it's just a part of life.
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These are just a few things that cause culture shock in Ecuador. I keep thinking of more, but I would like to hear from you.
What caused you culture shock? It could be an experience demonstrating something I've already mentioned. Or something totally different.
Click below to see contributions from other visitors to this page...
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