Friday, September 7, 2012

More Little Thoughts on Culture

Since I wrote my original post about the differences between the cultures of the northern Andes Ecuadorians and the folks back in the US, I've come up with a few more thoughts.  Here they are:

Yard sales, thrift stores, dollar stores, etc.--there aren't any!  I haven't tried to find any in the larger cities but I have been assured by people who have lived here for many years and have looked for them that they don't exist.  Oh my, this is tough for a died-in-the-wool frugal shopper.  The attitude here is to use it until it's either totally worn out and not worth someone else wanting to use it or passing it along privately to family or friends.  There are sometimes clothing drives where some organization or other collects clothing for those in need but the outlets I'm used to just aren't here.  Of course the cost of living is already low but the things I would look for in those venues would be things that are higher priced here.

Recycling--I have seen almost no evidence of it yet (see "Garbage" below).  There is a program just starting up where artisans in Peguche, a neighboring community, are making art from recyclable materials and they are starting a project where they will be making useful items out of materials people here collect.  Their first project is to make "furniture" for a little park right behind the bus terminal and mercado.  They're going to make benches out of plastic bottles stuffed with plastic bags.  There will be a presentation about it as soon as the people working so hard on it get the PowerPoint presentation done in both English and Spanish.  The other recycling I've seen is very interesting.  I bought some yarn at the big outdoor market in Otavalo from women who take commercially produced sweaters and unstitch them and sell the yarn.  All the yarn I bought (and saw) was very fine but the next time I'm there I'll look for yarn with more interest.  This just fascinated me so much that I just bought a few balls of it just to get the feel for it.  Some of it was from sweaters where the yarn was able to be pulled out back and forth for a very long way--partway up a sweater front for example--but then there was a ball of yarn with a little of this color and then a little of that color (we're talking 12 to 24 inches, maybe 36" or so) and then another piece was tied on.  I'm guessing this was from either waistbands with machine stitched sides or sweaters that were machine sewn up the sides and arms.  That was very interesting.  Next time I'll know what to look for.

Garbage--we have pickup six days a week.  On Monday, Wednesday, and Friday they pick up organics--anything that would be considered food waste or even wilted flowers.  Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday is non-organics.  Since it gets picked up so often, what you generally see is a series of plastic grocery bags or a small bucket (the 5-gallon kind from a commercial product or such) sitting out on the curb or in the gutter, waiting to be picked up.  It's quite a sight when you're not used to it.  No one has big garbage cans, not even businesses, and no one puts out any kind of container they would be upset to see taken.  The annoying part is that the street dogs are out in force on the organic garbage days and will tear open the plastic bags if something smells even the least bit appealing to them.  I was comfortable leaving my orange peels out there without supervision since even street dogs aren't interested in trying to eat those but I had another small bag of more appealing stuff that I kept in the house until I heard the annoying music it plays (similar to listening to the ice cream truck) coming down the street and took it out when I could just wait for them.

Yawning and Belching--these are both considered to be very rude and should be avoided whenever possible.

Being Invited to Lunch--if an Ecuadorian invites you to lunch, it is assumed s/he will pay for it.  To offer to pay for the whole thing or even just your portion of it is considered to be tantamount to saying the person who invited you can't afford to pay for it and is an insult.

Drinking--I suspect there are many traditions around this (besides the fact that a very large proportion of Ecuadorian men engage in it regularly and in great quantity) but what I know for sure is that if you are offered a drink from a common cup, it is fairly rude to refuse it.  If you turn it down, it should be in a way that indicates you would prefer not to drink anything and not that it's either them personally or especially that it's a communal cup.  I generally thank them and pat my tummy and shake my head, indicating that I'm not drinking because of an upset stomach.  Even if they don't believe it, it provide them with an opportunity to save face.


  1. Thank you Cynthia,
    What about tipping? Here in the States as you know, at most eateries a tip of 15-20% is expected and it is almost mandatory, specially at upscale restaurants. Here, most people do not tip with coins, it's a dollar or rounded up to the next dollar.

    1. Excellent question--in a restaurant where it is often possible to pay with change, tipping with change is definitely acceptable. It's standard to tip 10% or a little on the high side of that if the service is excellent but don't get carried away and tip $1 on a $3 lunch. That's seriously frowned upon by the locals and we want to make friends with everyone here. The wait staff will be very happy with a 30 or 40 cent tip for that meal and will know you felt their service was excellent.

      I plan to do a short post on tipping and I'll include this in it along with other things here. It's not completely different but tipping costs less here than in the States.

  2. Cynthia, I've been enjoying your blog so much. I'm told there was a post about an $800 a month budget, but I can't find it. Could you provide me with a link? Thanks! Dena

    1. Hi, Dena--thanks for your comment. You couldn't find the blog post because I didn't write it. There are a couple of other blogs that have written about very low income budgets. You may find them on either or In the meantime, I'll do a quick and dirty post up in a little while today just to give you an idea of how to live very low cost here.