In under two months, my closest friends and family members will be visiting Ecuador for my church wedding and reception. For you all, and for any future visitors to my adopted country, I offer the following advice in order to help you blend in here in Ecuador:
Wear Athleisure Any and Everywhere
While socially acceptable in the States, quiteños do not go about their daily lives in their stretchy jogging capris and running shoes. As tempting as the comfort of this clothing is, you must resist the urge when you’re heading to the grocery store or to stroll in the Historic Center. It is best to wear long pants like jeans and a sweater if you want to blend in. Athleisure clothing is exclusively for a trip to the gym or a park outing, or if you’re ambitious enough, for a volcano hike. It is especially egregiously gringo to wear shorts, as shorts are saved for the coast and the jungle (looking at you, cargo-shorts-wearing gringuitos).
In Quito, it can rain at any time. Sometimes the morning shines bright and warm, and by 2 pm it is raining cats and dogs. Thus, quiteños are not in the habit of wearing open-toe shoes. In particular, Chacos and Birks are not a thing here. One of the most obvious give-aways of a gaggle of American tourists is seeing 90% of them sporting Chacos.
Expect Vegetarian Options
Visiting only restaurants that cater to tourists, you will undoubtedly find vegetarian options on the menu. However, anywhere else, there will likely be no veggie options advertised. Indeed, you might receive a blank stare if you ask for algo vegetariano–and worse, vegano. What you can generally expect for a vegetarian option is to substitute a fried egg for the meat item on your lunch menu.
Be a Sally Albright
Personalizing your food order is not really a thing here.
Bring Your Credit Card
Unlike in the Land of Plastic Money, errr the USA, in Ecuador you can only very rarely use a credit card. Bring lots of small bills and coins for this cash-based economy. Under no circumstances should you expect to be able to pay for your $2 batido de coco with a card. You probably won’t even be able to pay for your hostel stay with a card.
Pick Up Some Quiteño Expressions
Did you study Spanish in the USA? If so, you can forget about some of those key words and phrases you learned, because locals have their own quiteñismos that you’ll definitely want to learn to sound legit.
Abandon and replace:
- Adios, the favored goodbye word and one of the first Spanish words that new learners pick up, is all but completely NOT used here. Instead, try chao or hasta luego for any and all goodbyes.
- Hace calor/hace frio: for your basic weather comments, make sure to use ARRARRAY and ACHACHAY. You may even get a chuckle from a surprised local at your apt use of a phrase that actually comes from kichwa.
- Drop the use of Señor or Señora for store owners or vendors. Everyone here is veci–short for vecino, or neighbor.
- If you don’t undestand something, don’t use no entiendo. Be sure to say, No cacho.
- Need to borrow a pen? It’s not a bolígrafo, it’s an esfero.
- To express confusion and perhaps some indignation, utilize QUESFFFF. It’s like, Qué?! but with sabor quiteño.
- When ordering food, use the phrase, Me puede ayudar con… instead of Me gustaría.
- Maybe you missed the bus or got splashed while walking down the street. In cases like these of mild frustration/irritation, use the word chuta. It’s best to draw out the u sound for maximum authenticity: chuuuuuta.
- A jacket is not an abrigo or a chaqueta, it’s a chompa. Speaking of which…
Bring a Jacket Everywhere
Partially reflective of the extremely unpredictable weather, and partially of the fact that Ecuadorians are always cold, be sure to leave your lodging with at least one, if not two, layers of outerwear. That cool breeze could make you sick!
Develop a Taste for Instant Coffee
Unless you want to pay the same price for a latte as for your entire lunch, develop an appreciation for instant coffee, like the locals. The brands I’ve tasted in order of best to worst are as follows: 1. Juan Valdez; 2. Buen Día; 3. Del Oro; 4. Colcafe; and 5. Nescafe. Be sure to ask for your coffee en leche and not en agua if it’s Colcafe or Nescafe to make it somewhat bearable. You can expect coffee at both breakfast and dinner in a typical Ecuadorian home.
Walk Carefully, and Slowly
Gringos are famous for tripping. This is possibly because the sidewalks here should bear signs stating, “Proceed at your own risk” as they are ridden with dangerous cracks, holes, and worst of all, dog poo. Anda viendo is a phrase you might hear. Additionally, one of the best ways to stick out (not to mention increase your risk of tripping), as Gonza says, is to “walk like the world’s about to end”. Ecuadorians tend to pasear; they do not race from one destination to the next. Take a leaf out of their book and slow your pace. You might even realize you enjoy it!
Know Some Ecuadorian Culture
If you want to sound really legit, be sure to be versed in a couple of key Ecuadorian things. You can request a song by “Jota Jota”, referencing the revered Julio Jaramillo, Ecuador’s most famous singer, and gain major points. At your own risk, drop the name Rafael Correa–Ecuador’s former president, a particularly polarizing figure and nothing if not intriguing. Or talk about Oswaldo Guayasamin, Ecuador’s most famous artist.
You’re ready to begin your integration now! Armed with these facts, locals should be asking you in no time how long you’ve lived in Ecuador.
Also, if you haven’t seen this music video, you should check it out. It just might inspire you to make a visit to this beautiful country I call home.
*This post is dedicated to my friends and family making the long journey to Ecuador for Gonza’s and my wedding. You all are so amazing, and we appreciate you so much!*