Monday, February 6, 2012

Ecuador isn't California



I’ve placed this reminder on a note in an uppermost region of my mind because I will most definitely need to make adjustments when I start living in Ecuador.  “Culture Shock! Ecuador, A Guide to Customs and Etiquette”, is an eye opening book, by Nicholas Crowder, which sheds much revelatory light on many aspects of this country.
I’ve selected a number of these aspects to explain what they are and to describe how I will most likely feel when encountering them once there. Keep in mind I don’t intend to complain about how Ecuadorian society works. I’ll feel what I’m feeling whether positive or negative, perceiving cultural differences and learning in an experiential way that the world is bigger than just the world of life in California.
Here are the aspects.
Ecuadorians favor an indirect approach in conversation as opposed to the frank and direct manner of conversation favored in the United States.  They give many compliments which might in the U.S.A be considered fawning. Courtesy and diplomacy are valued and straight forward remarks are considered rude.  I can be diplomatic and I value diplomacy, but I’m not indirect in my approach to conversation. I usually say what I mean in a way that in my mind doesn’t allow for misinterpretation. I don’t like confusion and I want to be understood. In regard to this aspect, I could very well get into trouble.
The social structure in Ecuador is highly stratified.  Society is hierarchical in nature and still largely shaped by the caste system imposed during the lengthy period of Spanish colonial rule. Upper and middle class members of society for the most part would not work with their hands, as this is considered activity below their status. It’s true in the U.S.A. that the social status of the shop worker is less than that of the office worker, but probably not to such a pronounced degree as that in Ecuador.  I surmise my social status in Ecuador will be fairly elevated, especially if I earn the respect of Ecuadorians by learning to speak Spanish fluently. And even though I’m poor by American standards, I will more than likely be considered very well to do by Ecuadorian standards.
Men and women from every class of society love to dance in Ecuador, and occasions to dance are numerous when compared to those in the U.S.A. While we mostly dance at weddings or clubs, Ecuadorians also dance at baptisms, birthday parties and dinner parties. I remember at one party in San Francisco seeing every guy standing about not dancing to really great music, and I didn’t like the feeling I had of standing out from the other men just because I was dancing.
The prospect of living in a country where men like to dance sounds like a great change of pace to me.   
Reading and literature are generally not held in high regard in Ecuador, nor are writers given the esteem they are given in the U.S.A. One reason given for the general lack of reading is the expense of buying the books. Another is that image oriented Ecuadorians won’t buy books or magazines that don’t have a lot of pictures in them. I love to read and write, and this aspect isn’t one I think I will much admire once living in Ecuador.
 Crafts and art and painting are big deals in Ecuador. The patience of the crafts workers is legendary.  The beautiful colors of the woven garments worn by many indigenous people attest to the remarkable skill of the weavers.  Ecuadorian crafts people are at the high end of quality when it comes to detailed work.  Also, according to Crowder, “Painting runs deep in the soul of Ecuadorians. It is an expression of their spirit.”  Art fairs and other venues for the sale of paintings exist all over Ecuador.  The capital of Ecuador, Quito, is a city rich in its architectural heritage.  About 100 churches and monasteries were built in Quito during colonial rule and most are probably depositories of renowned quality sculpture and painting.
I intend to live in Cuenca during my visit to Ecuador. This is a city with a 500,000 population well regarded for its beauty, its year round spring like weather, its low cost of living, and its relatively low rate of crime.
According to Crowder, “Its whitewashed buildings, interior patios, ironwork balconies, and flowery public plazas give it an Old World charm.  These charms and artistic aspects to Cuenca will very much appeal to me.
Bribery is a common practice in Ecuador. According to Crowder, Ecuadorians don’t view the practice as a moral issue so much as a way to get things done. It’s a way to grease the rusty wheel. Bribery can be used to get out of receiving a traffic ticket or as a way to end a delay for some type of needed government document. This aspect is very foreign and difficult to accept, at the moment, but one day I could see myself grateful if it becomes the only way to get something done.
This final aspect would definitely work to increase my store of patience.  In Ecuador, people don’t wait in orderly lines at the bank or at the grocery store or airport. They bunch up and don’t care that no one knows who’s next. Crowder explains the best response is to move in the general direction towards the clerk at the counter while not expressing anger or impatience.  
No matter what--- My Ecuador Experiment will help to develop confidence in myself as a man of the world.