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Tuesday, 04 March 2008

Living in Ecuador: 5 Stages of Culture Shock - Page 2

Written by Laurie Pickard
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When I introduce myself as an estudiante de intercambio, recognition floods people’s faces. They nod their heads. Yes, they have met others like me. There is a bin for us in their brains, and they drop me in alongside Dieter from Germany and Akiko from Japan. But the paradox of being a foreign exchange student is that although everyone can connect instantly with what you are, absolutely no one truly understands you. My orientation packet contains a chart showing the stages a foreigner goes through in a new country. After the “initial culture shock”, a “honeymoon period”, and an “adjustment period”, there comes “mental isolation” and the ominous note, “some travelers remain here”.

2. Honeymoon Period

People ask me constantly if I have found love here in Ecuador. It seems many northerners (men and women) come here and fall for a Latin lover or a sweet mamasita. No, I tell them, I have not yet found love in Ecuador.  Love, however, seems to have found me - more than once.  As I walk down the street I am bombarded constantly with professions of love and things far more vulgar, only some of which I understand. It seems a girl could easily fill her date book just with the offers from a single city block. My favorite of these would-be Ecuadorian boyfriends is Peecher Pan.  Every time he sees me he yells an enthusiastic “I love you!” in English, even if I’m across the street.

Apart from Peecher, there is my host sister’s friend Jorge, who has declared his undying love for me after knowing me for a little over a week. I like Jorge, but I am not interested in him in that way.  For one thing, he believes all school children should be shown anti-abortion propaganda films depicting a fetus struggling for life as it is being aborted. For another thing, Jorge is prone to singing along with the radio loudly, off-key, and directly into my ear, and to staring at me meaningfully and saying things like, “I could spend a lifetime looking at you.” I do have fun with Jorge, though. The other night, he taught me all the dirty words I would have learned in 5th through 7th grade if I had been here instead of in the US. Some of my favorites are the euphemisms for oral sex. For a man, it’s hacer karaoke and for a woman it’s trapear, which translates literally as “to rub with a towel” – a little scary if you ask me. The best, though, is the euphemism for masturbation, which is Manuela, as in manual. But Manuela is a woman’s name, so if you’re going out with Manuela, well, you know.

As if Jorge and Peecher Pan were not enough, my host brother has also developed a crush on me.  He is 26 and lives in a pimped-out bachelor pad on the second floor.  He has cable TV, a private phone line, a stereo system, air conditioning, everything. On Saturday, we went salsa dancing together, but we had to be secretive about it because if el jefe (who I have still never met) finds out, there will be hell to pay. Host siblings are expressly forbidden from dating foreign exchange students, and the family could lose an important source of revenue if we are caught.

Neco took me to a club on the south side of the city, and everyone there, with the exception of the two of us, was dark-skinned. Ecuador is very segregated by race, and the color of one’s skin can be a good indicator of social status. My host family is light-skinned, evidence of their Spanish blood. The people in this club were dark, of indigenous or even African descent. Neco knew everyone there. He pulled out his cash wad and bought rounds for everyone in the club. The beer was flowing and the hips were moving. Neco guided me around the dance floor, introducing me to everyone in the room. We danced salsa until I thought I might collapse.

When we got home, Neco parked his truck, closed his eyes, opened his mouth, leaned toward me, and tried to ram his tongue down my throat. He was one of the worst kissers I have ever encountered. After receiving one of Neco’s slobbery kisses, I now know why the verb for oral sex translates as “to rub with a towel”. Really, that bad.

“You enchant me,” said Neco. “I want you.” I was having none of it. I got out of the car, and headed for the house. He got out too, and we ended up screaming at each other (quietly) in the entryway, just like on the telenovelas. Now every time I see him in the house, he says in a loud voice, “Hola mi hermana.  ¿Como estás?” (Hi, sis. How are you?), and then more quietly, “Me encantas, quédate conmigo, cásate conmigo.” (I love you, stay with me, marry me.) Then loudly again, “Ciao, hasta luego.” It's a trip.


I want to go dancing again, but I don't want to have to lie, nor do I want to play pimps and hos with Neco. However, if I am to leave the house after 6 pm (which is when it gets dark here at the equator) I must be escorted by a man. It’s house rules, and it’s also common sense in this city. Which leaves me with two options – Jorge and Neco. Neco is more fun, but he’s harder to fight off. My current strategy is to alternate between the two, making sure I am exceedingly clear that my intentions are completely and utterly platonic. Unfortunately, though, women’s liberation has not yet arrived in Ecuador, and I fear my message will be completely lost on my eager suitors.


(Page 2 of 5)
Last modified on Sunday, 16 December 2012

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