Living in Ecuador for over six years has been an incredible journey, but at times we still experience culture shock.
In this article, we share some of the cultural nuances that continue to baffle and surprise us, including several things that are shocking in a good way, to help you better prepare for your visit or move to this amazing country.
Watch Our Video About Culture Shock in Ecuador
What Still Baffles Us About Ecuador
Even after 6 years, a few things still trigger culture shock in Ecuador. Here are a few…
Ecuadorians keep the plastic on everything, from large appliances such as refrigerators and televisions to steering wheels, and we even saw someone who kept the plastic cover on his watch!
We find this baffling because the plastic can heat up and actually damage the appliance.
This happened to the battery in one of our e-bikes. It wasn’t holding a charge so we removed the battery and were shocked to find it was wrapped in plastic! The battery was ruined.
It never occurred to us to check it because it was delivered and set up by the bike shop so we assumed everything was in proper working order. It has an external charge port so there was no need to take it out of the bike.
No Change for Cash Payments
While many businesses accept credit cards, a lot of places are still cash only. Expect to pay in cash at the Mercado, small businesses and some restaurants.
We are still shocked that they rarely have change! We always try to have small bills and coins on hand but sometimes that isn’t possible. The ATMs rarely dispense anything smaller than 20 dollar bills.
If we buy something and the business doesn’t have change they will go get it and bring it back. Be prepared to wait because they will often have to go from business to business before finding someone who has change available.
We are extremely cautious when crossing streets in Ecuador. Drivers do not look for pedestrians. If they do see pedestrians waiting they rarely stop.
We’ve started referring to this cultural phenomenon as pedestrian blindness because, after six years, we realize they just don’t see us.
When crossing the street, do NOT assume they will stop. We try to make eye contact to ensure they’ve seen us before we step off the curb.
Everywhere we’ve lived in Ecuador there’s been noise. In Cuenca, some of the churches blow off loud fireworks at 6am, presumably to remind people to get out of bed and attend services.
Bars and restaurants blast music to attract patrons. The result is a cacophony of noise! Sometimes the competing music is so annoying you can’t think.
Construction noise is not uncommon and parties can get a little rowdy. You may hear some bad karaoke!
Expect to hear dogs barking, roosters crowing, motorcycles racing down the streets, loud music, and fireworks, day and night.
We got used to the noise but it still gets frustrating at times, especially when we’re trying to record a video.
Information is NOT Volunteered
The cultural norm of not offering information unless explicitly asked can be difficult when you aren’t sure what questions to ask.
Bring your patience and expect things to take longer because they may only focus on one step of the process at a time.
When the first step is finished, they then provide additional information, but just about the second step. (You may be working on something, such as getting your visa, which has many steps.)
As you get accustomed to the process, it becomes easier to plan and know which questions to ask.
Long Answers to Short Questions
On the flip side of not volunteering information, you’ll often get long answers to yes or no questions! This one still baffles us.
Sometimes we ask what we consider to be a simple, straightforward question, like has our packaged arrived yet, but we get a very detailed and complicated answer.
The Ecuadorians are kind people and perhaps answering with a simple “sí o no” may be considered rude.
Walking Into Each Other
Growing up in the U.S. we were taught to walk on the right and watch out for other people, to walk single file or in pairs and share the sidewalk.
This is NOT the case in Ecuador. They often walk slowly, arm in arm with others, taking up the entire sidewalk, and walking into other people. They don’t move over to avoid other pedestrians.
We also see people walking while looking at their phone and consequently running into other people. No one gets angry, it is just the way it is. They bounce off and keep going as if it never happened.
No Personal Bubble
Those of us from the U.S. are used to a certain amount of space between people, and when someone gets too close it feels weird.
In many countries, including Ecuador, the U.S. personal bubble standard doesn’t exist! We still aren’t used to people standing shoulder to shoulder in line or just too close in other situations.
Poor Service in Restaurants
Unfortunately the service in restaurants isn’t great. It is common to get your main course first, appetizer second or at the same time, and your drinks last after you’ve finished eating.
We’ve learned to order drinks first, then the appetizer if we’re having one. After we get the appetizer we’ll order the main course.
We also don’t order more than 2 things at once because inevitably one of the items gets forgotten, even if the server writes it down.
WhatsApp is used for everything. It is much more popular than email. Some businesses use WhatsApp in place of a website.
It is also common for people to use the voice memo for WhatsApp instead of text (which can make things tricky if you’re struggling with Spanish).
We recommend sending a text so you can hopefully get a text back and you can translate the message if needed.
What We Love About the Ecuadorian Culture
Now that we’ve covered the things that frustrate us about Ecuador, we want to share several things that we really like. The U.S. could learn a few things from Ecuador on these points.
La Tercer Edad
The elderly are revered and treated with respect. They have special lines, they can skip ahead in line, and they get a lot of discounts.
People help them cross the street and people will stop for them when they want to cross the street. We’ve seen many little old ladies walk out with arms extended to stop traffic and it works. Drivers stop for the elderly when they see them with their arms out.
Ecuadorians are warm and welcoming. Get to know your neighbors and they will invite you into their home for a meal.
Take language exchange classes to meet locals and other foreign residents. Attend events and get involved in other activities and you’ll meet locals who will make you feel right at home.
When we lived in the U.S. the majority of our friends were work friends. In Ecuador, our friends don’t ask us about work; work isn’t typically a subject of conversation.
Our friends are more interested in our personal lives, experiences, and just enjoying each other’s company.
Politeness and Courtesy
Most of the Ecuadorians we’ve interacted with over the past several years have been very polite and courteous. Everyone always greets each other individually and says good-bye to each other individually as well.
When we do business with vendors in Ecuador, they smile, are helpful, and always say thank you.
Tranquilo (Relaxed) Mindset
The slower paced lifestyle in Ecuador can take some getting used to but we love it, now.
Ecuadorians walk slower and they take longer breaks during the work day than we did in the U.S. Many business close between 1:00 and 3:00 so they can enjoy lunch instead of speed eating to get back to work as quickly as possible.
We appreciate that they slow down, take time for themselves, family and friends, and don’t make work their number one priority.
It is easy to spot the tourists in Ecuador because they are often wearing hiking clothes while walking around Cuenca and other popular areas.
Ecuadorians, however, dress nicely, and not just for work or special occasions. They pay more attention to their wardrobe and often follow the trends.
We both pay more attention to our appearance to blend in and be more respectful.
Exercise equipment is available in most of the parks throughout Ecuador and they are free for everyone to use.
You can join a Zumba class in the park and use one of the many walking or biking trails.
You can play fútbol, padel ball, take a yoga class, or try salsa. Not only will you improve your fitness, but you’ll meet new people and have fun.
Ecuador’s private healthcare system is modern, affordable, and accessible.
We are still amazed at how quickly we can get an appointment with a doctor. Doctor appointments are usually available within 1-3 days.
The same is true for tests and procedures. We’ve gotten tests and procedures done the day after meeting with the doctor.
See Also: Our Ecuador Healthcare Experience
Direct Communication with Doctors
We meet directly with our doctors, not with the physician’s assistants. We also communicate directly with our doctors using WhatsApp or email. They are very responsive and caring.
Ecuador has its quirks and there are still times when some of them drive us a bit crazy but the good far outweighs the bad.
We appreciate the uniqueness of the culture and, now that we are traveling outside the country, we’re feeling a little homesick. Despite the occasional culture shock, we love living in Ecuador.
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I grew up in the Chicagoland area and spent most of my career working as a sales rep in the commercial lighting industry. I still work online for a company in Denver doing sales CRM administration. YouTube is my part-time gig, but I'm so happy we can share our Unconventional Life and hopefully inspire you live yours!