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By Dr. Lee Dubs

Although the following is meant to describe North American expats in the city of Cuenca, Ecuador, most items can be applied to foreigners in almost any part of Latin America. Seven expats in Cuenca contributed to this list.

There are tell-tale signs that give away gringos who 1) have lived in Cuenca a long time, 2) have given up clinging to their own nationalism, and 3) are well on their way to being true Cuencanos.

You know you fit the above criteria when you…

  • refer to distances in kilometers, temperatures in Celsius, and weights in kilos. You might even say, “It feels like 25 today.” Of course, Canadians and Europeans are used to that.
     
  • do not spell Colombia with a “u” or “Carnaval” with an “i”.
     
  • say “el centro” instead of “downtown”.
     
  • use local terms like “apartamentos” instead of “condos.”
     
  • do not use the words “north”, “south”, “east”, or “west” when discussing locations. You use street names and landmarks.
     
  • say “rainy” or “dry” when someone asks you what season it is.
     
  • know that the Barranco is not one building.
     
  • do not expect Ecuadorians to speak English. You are proud of your ability to get around in your imperfect Spanish.
     
  • buy groceries at locations in addition to or instead of Supermaxi.
     
  • take a “walk” that includes Spanish class, paying utility bills, and picking up groceries.
     
  • know a lot of street dogs, and they recognize you, too.
     
  • toss toilet paper into a waste can, even when you are in countries that do not require it.
     
  • get most of your information from El Mercurio and other local media.
     
  • are not surprised when the cleaning lady brings her kids with her.
     
  • prefer small gatherings of close friends rather than “gringo events.”
     
  • do not wonder why you received a pack of taped pennies as change.
     
  • have many Ecuadorian friends, not just Ecuadorians you pay for services.
     
  • know that today’s regulations may not be the same as tomorrow’s.
     
  • do not anglicize the vowels in Spanish. For example, you correctly pronounce the phone company as Moh-vi-star (not Moo-vi-star).
     
  • know that “mañana” means “not right now” and may have nothing to do with tomorrow.
     
  • use the term “gringa” (not “gringo woman”) to mean a female North American.
     
  • know that after asking a local Cuencano for directions, you should keep asking others until two directions match.
     
  • know that when the plumber says he’ll be there at 10:00, you do not expect him before noon, if at all that day.
     
  • know that red traffic lights and stop signs are only suggestions.
     
  • know that the Latin Dr. Jekyll transforms into Mr. Hyde behind the wheel of a car.
     
  • are familiar with the word “cebra” (zebra), which refers to a crosswalk.
     
  • have learned that a cebra is a no-man’s land where drivers speed up.
     
  • barely notice public exposure of breasts, which have babies attached to them.
     
  • realize that the term “terrible twos” does not apply to children here.
     
  • are not overly troubled by the absence of Kraft mayonnaise, Pace sauces, Jif peanut butter, Friskies canned cat food, or other imports. You just shrug.
     
  • buy most of your clothes in Ecuador if they have your size.
     
  • carry a jacket or sweater, even on warm days.
     
  • do not wear shorts in public if you are a male.
     
  • are not uncomfortable using a public bathroom while a woman is cleaning around you.
     
  • no longer start statements with, “You would think…”
     
  • know that acquiescence and a smile get you further with officials.
     
  • do not fuss at locals over cultural differences. You accept the culture as is and appreciate its positive aspects.
     
  • say you are going back “home,” it means you are heading back to Ecuador.
     
  • return to Ecuador, you carry lots of small bills, not 50’s and 100’s.
     
  • stay calm when locals do not show up as promised, information is incorrect, home remedies do not work, events do not start on time, or utilities suddenly stop working. You don’t sweat the small stuff.

Lee Dubs first visited Cuenca in the early 1960s and has been a full-time resident for the past ten years. A retired language professor from North Carolina, he and his wife, Carol, are the owners of Carolina Bookstore on Calle Hermano Miguel at Calle Larga. Lee can be reached by email at cld941@yahoo.com.

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To all South of Zero readers. Many of you remember the post about my brain injured brother who lives here in Cuenca. Through online discoveries we had found a wonderful assisted living facility located in El Centro and began living our lives here in the land of SOZ. Unfortunately, Años Dorados closed at the end of the year and we once again needed to find a caregiving residence for Dave.

After three weeks here with my wife and me we moved Dave into Los Jardines. It is located in a much quieter south-side location in Cuenca, still walking distance from where we are living. My brother really likes it; as the name states, there is a tranquil green space with outdoor gardens and a water fountain, even a chapel for Sunday service.

Front gate

The entrance is located at the end of a cul-de-sac

Garden one

Greeting visitors and residents are these magnificent gardens

Farmacy

Los Jardines’ farmacy

corridor

Residences open onto a larger center courtyard

Water fountain

This huge water feature is sure to calm

The facility is much larger of scale than his previous residence and by the way his belly has expanded I think that he likes la comida (FOOD) better too. There is a doctor on staff as well as a physical therapist and his medications and meals are monitored daily. Tender loving care is the norm. They clean his room, wash his cloths, and take good care of him. (I have to admit though that Sonia was better at getting him to bath and exercise.) The best thing for our family is the fact that Dave can afford to take care of his own needs (less than $1K per month exclusive of his medications) without monetary contribution from anyone else and that he’s happy being pampered and fawned over.

Dave's new room

Dave’s new room

Garden two

Another view of the gardens

Dr. Ruben Guerrero

Dr. Ruben Guerrero

Staff member

One of the friendly staff members

On the exercise bike

Dave on his exercise bike

Staff walking

Muy tranquilo

I was thinking that some of you might be in the same predicament with an elderly parent or disabled relative. The staggering costs of an assisted living care facility would be out of reach for most families.

So, if future retirement in Ecuador is on your radar and you like the thought of being able to have the time of your life in a land where the people are so nice and the cost of living is so reasonable, you can rest assure that your loved one will be well taken of at Los Jardines.

For more information contact: Los Jardines Centro Geriatrico, Gasparde Carvajal (sin returno) y Av. Don Bosco, centrogeriatricolosjardines@gmail.com. Tel. 405-6125 405-6546; Limited English

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