Before I left for Ecuador, I attended a pre-orientation weekend organized by ICYE – North America (aka United Planet). We talked a lot about experiencing culture shock; how the first few weeks would be like a honeymoon phase, followed by a rejection phase, and finally moving on to acceptance. Blah, blah, blah, yeah, yeah I’ve been abroad before ain’t no thang.
In the past two months, I think I’ve experienced every up and down possible on this culture coaster. Now that things are starting to level out, I’ve realized that a lot of the things that surprised me when I first arrived don’t bother me as much. Perhaps I’m moving toward acceptance? The following are some of my observations:
Making sense of change: Carrying a $50 bill is as good as having no money here. Why? Most things are so inexpensive here (bus is $.25, 3 course lunch is $2) that many small stores simply don’t have the change to process your cash. I cringe when I have to change a $20. There was one incident where my empanada man had to ask his neighboring store owners to change my $20 for the $.99 I owed him. Sorry, pal. Next time I’ll buy five.
Give me the green light: Driving here is a white-knuckle, cold sweat inducing kind of experience. Taxis are known to honk at a traffic light instead of stopping at the red. Busses play chicken on steep mountain roads with no guardrails. Seatbelts? What seatbelts? And a stop sign never means stop. It means “hey there may be another car coming so make sure you flash your brights, maybe slow down to only 45mph, thankyaaa”. As far as acceptance goes, I’m not sure I’ll ever feel safe in a moving vehicle. But I’m getting much more adept at crossing the street, so that’s something.
Showing it off: I was told before coming here that I should bring conservative clothing. Well, that was easy. All I own are crewnecks anyway. I happily (read: wrongly) assumed that everyone else would have the same fashion sense as me. Many women here are into the tight, belly-baring look, and yet I still get cat-called walking down the street. I’ve been advised to take it as a compliment. I’m not there yet, but am able to largely ignore the whistles that come my way.
Eternal Spring: I mean it. Lonely Planet was not kidding. I dress in the morning in a t-shirt, cardigan, scarf, and jeans. By noon I’m down to the t-shirt and am slathering on the SPF 50. A few hours later it’s all back on again. I truly began to appreciate the weather here after my trip to the coast, where it was 90 and humid all day. Quito, thank you for your perfect range of temperatures and your cool breezes. New England, I hope spring comes soon.
Paper or plastic: Ecuadorians love food in bags. Milk, mayo, yogurt, you name it. I’m not sure if they like the idea of squeezing every ounce out or if it’s just easier to stack in the fridge, but bagged consumables are a big deal here. I approve of the milk bladder, but the mayo’s a tough one for me to get past.
Breaking the language barrier: Thankfully, the Spanish that I learned in high school was Latin American, but there are so many words that are unique to Ecuador. My favorite, “chevere”, means cool. I was surprised to rarely hear “adios” used, as it’s only for when you won’t see someone again for a long time. “Ciao” is the regular way to say goodbye. Huh, didn’t anticipate that one. Ecuadorians also insert the word “super” into everyday talk. Super-fácil, super-chevere… it’s strange to hear English inserted in such a casual way, but I like it.