Culture Shock in Ecuador

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.

Please note that I understand these issues are cultural. We all come from different cultures and that means we may not understand why people of other cultures do things differently from us. That does not make their way wrong nor does it make our way right....it's just different.

Everyday Life

Bathrooms

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.

Here are some more Ecuador bathroom tips.

Oops...sorry

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...

Ouch...not nice

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. But I think this can be more from making direct translations from Spanish to English. Words that we feel are strong or hurtful sometimes don't carry that same intensity in Spanish.

Food

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.

Chicken foot soup, Ecuador

The Market

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.

Refrigerated meat is much more common now. Meat that is hanging was probably butchered that morning.

Dirt

To live in Ecuador "you can't be afraid of a little dirt." (Sorry, inside joke.) The natural beauty of Ecuador is amazing, but sometimes the manners of the people is lacking. Nothing is thought of spitting, peeing, and worse in public.

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. They also get in to the trash left out to be picked up and can make a real mess sometimes.

"Mañana"

In Ecuador, life is much slower that in "rat race" countries. This can be annoying if you aren't used to it. 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.

It's just a part of life. Actually, it can be nice to roll with it and relax a bit. I've found it very rewarding to accept the differences around me. See the "Getting along with Ecuadorians" page below for ways I've found to enjoy living in Ecuador even more!


You may also enjoy these pages...

Getting along with Ecuadorians or...

Bathrooms in Ecuador


What Culture Shock Did You Experience in Ecuador?

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.

What Other Visitors Have Said

Click below to see contributions from other visitors to this page...

Culture Shock travel 
The toilet paper issue is in many countries. It is the same in China and many of the bathrooms there are simply ceramic holes. In Canada, the toilet …

Driving Yourself In Ecuador 
I recently enjoyed a 14 day, 1200 mile tour of Ecuador in a Hertz rental car. I was able to make all my arrangements via the Hertz Website and the car …

Crime and Personal Boundaries Not rated yet
Crime, especially theft was very common when I lived in Guayaquil and Milagro and other places on the coast. The way the police handled thieves who they …

Carnival Welcomes Us to Ecuador Not rated yet
We arrived in Ecuador in early 1997, in the middle of a national strike to oust the President and the so-called religious festival of Carnival. This celebration …

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