Being a responsible global citizen is just as important in Ecuador as in any other country in the world. When we travel abroad, we are often automatically stamped with certain universal labels. Our category has much to do with which country we are from and our physical appearance.
People look at us and based on what they see, make decisions about us. Hmmm. . . He looks Caucasian, must be rich and from Canada or the United States. Or, he looks like he’s from India and he speaks English well, but with an Indian accent, so I bet he lives in the U.S. and owns a hotel or is really good with computers.
All of us engage in this kind of instant categorization of people we meet. Because these labels are so generalized, they are not always accurate. For example, not all people from Scotland are penurious and short. Not all North Americans are rich. And not all Mexicans love tortillas and salsa!
While none of us want to admit to being prejudiced, in our heart of hearts we know that labeling of others happens no matter how unbiased we try to be. The responsible global citizen understands that we all do this.
I can almost read the minds of some Ecuadorians who slip me into the category of North American as soon as they see me. This is fairly easy since I am white-skinned and green-eyed.
It is up to each of us to do whatever we can to be a responsible global citizen and to remove ourselves from any negative categories we may be placed in just because we come from a certain country or culture. Heaven forbid if the negative label is the result of our behavior as well!
Being a responsible global citizen begins at the local level. We can start by behaving responsibly and consciously in the place we currently live, whether it is in our home country or some place in Ecuador where we are visiting or living more permanently. We also become more of a responsible global citizen by noticing when we do our own form of universal labeling of others.
The following responsible global citizen tips can help make entry into your new life in Ecuador a smoother one:
While it can be great fun to let loose and kick up your heels in another country where no one really knows you or where you think your mother won’t find out, a primary tenet of being a responsible global citizen is still the Golden Rule:
Do in other countries what you wish those from other countries would do in your own. . . or you may find them behaving the same way in your home town. How annoying!
While the responsible global citizen may often find it best to carefully observe local customs and behaviors, there are exceptions to the rule, “When in Rome, do as the Romans do,” as it applies in Ecuador.
In Ecuador, you will see men and boys relieving themselves along country roads or against the sides of buildings. We suggest that you don’t enthusiastically do the same!
However, if you enjoy cross dressing, this seems to be a favorite pastime of some Ecuadorian men during parades throughout the year, especially in the city of Atuntaqui at New Years. So if drag is your thing, have a good time!
While some Ecuadorians still throw their trash (basura) out of bus or car windows or onto the streets, in many areas the populace has become much more conscious of how they dispose of waste. The responsible global citizen follows suit as well as leads by example in disposing of trash.
Cotacachi is a model of cleanliness. Many mornings the owners of shops (tiendas) sweep and mop the sidewalks in front of their establishments. Most streets are just about spotless and even following fiestas, when there is lots of debris left on the ground, a cleaning crew removes it in short order.
So don’t litter, and keep waste to a minimum. You can purchase a colorful shopping bag for a few dollars to partly eliminate the generous use of plastic bags for holding purchases of all kinds. It will also make a handy receptacle for wrappers from snacks, empty water bottles, and plastic containers to be thrown away later, especially if you are in an area where there are no trash containers readily available.
Be thoughtful and conservative in your use of utilities like electricity and water for showering or bathing and for washing dishes or clothes. While bottled gas in Ecuador is quite inexpensive, electricity and water can add up and water, especially, can be of short supply during the dry season. While it is not necessary to take sponge baths, the responsible global citizen can refrain from those 15-minute meditations in the ducha (shower)!
Sensitivity is important regarding the picking of flowers or plants that might be rare or endangered or simply belong to someone else. I saw a visitor to Cotacachi collecting a large bouquet of hibiscus from the hedge of a private residence. Just because the hedge row was along a public sidewalk, doesn't mean the flowers are public property. The responsible global citizen will resist the urge to hide a rare orchid under her jacket!
There is still an active market for products made from the skins of animals like ocelots and crocodiles. You are supporting and encouraging this market each time you purchase one of those products.
Check out your travel agency or tour company. Not all companies that purport to be eco-friendly actually are.
Ecuadorians are very friendly and many say hello, speaking even to visitors they don’t know personally. Ecuadorians can think you rude if you don’t say hello, or “buenos dias,” which is, “good morning,” to those you meet even casually.
This is usually followed by, “Como esta,” meaning, “How are you?” The accompanying answer is, ”Bien” (good), “Muy bien, (very good), or “Todo bien,” meaning, totally good. This ritual is regularly carried out as a preliminary to conversations, either in person or by phone.
Ask permission before taking photographs when appropriate and respect the answer if it is, “no.” Don’t argue, insist or take the photo anyway. Some shopkeepers or artists may not want you to photograph their work for fear that you will steal the design, a common practice in Ecuador, where you often see lines of stalls all carrying the same fabrics and designs.
Some indigenous groups can become very offended if you take their picture! The responsible global citizen will ask permission, especially if there is any indication that the subject is reluctant or uncooperative, such as a turning away from you or frowning. Not speaking Spanish is no excuse!
You can make your desires known by pointing to your camera and nodding your head up and down in ‘yes’ mode and looking hopeful. Sometimes body language works even better than words and it is a lot more fun!
When I do take a photo with a digital camera, I usually show it to the person whose picture I took. This goes a long way in bridging the language barrier and often makes me new friends, especially with children.
Ecuador culture has some unusual customs. For example, at the end of June several towns in Ecuador are inundated with large groups of indigenous from different villages (barrios). They participate in a ritualized ceremony called the Baila de San Juan, (the Dance of St. John), that symbolizes reclaiming the town from the Spanish conquerors, and a symbolic sacrifice of blood to mother earth to encourage a bountiful harvest.
All day and night for several days, the indigenous drink, dance, wear big black hats covered with symbols, whistle, wave sticks, parade through the streets and fight each other.
One year in Cotacachi, three indigenous were killed during this celebration, including one death from tear gas administrated by the local police. While some customs such as this can be puzzling, even shocking, resist any urge to ridicule or openly make fun of these activities. The responsible global citizen merely observes these vastly cultural differences as neutrally as possible with an open mind.
Read what you can about customs in the places in Ecuador you will visit so that you minimize socially incorrect behavior simply because you do not know what is really happening.
In Ecuador there is a wide difference in the way women dress. Most indigenous women still wear long skirts and embroidered blouses, some with head wraps. Many younger women have adapted tight jeans and tops that leave little to the imagination.
Don’t presume that females dressing in revealing attire are of a loose moral nature or engaged in the world’s oldest profession! Such an assumption can lead to more trouble than you want to encounter!
Mañana is a term often misunderstood by Westerners. Mañana doesn’t mean simply “tomorrow” or “in the morning” in Ecuador. Understanding the true, expanded meaning of mañana will relieve much stress and upset on the part of ex-pats who presume something delayed will occur the next day. Not so. The responsible global citizen tries to understand local culture.
I have discovered that the deeper meaning of "mañana" ranges from, "later, perhaps tomorrow, the next day, next week, next month, or maybe never at all." Essentially it means, "not today."
Exhibiting impatience, anger, or insisting that “mañana” be defined on your terms may result in “mañana” becoming, “Never in this lifetime, gringo!” The responsible global citizen bites his tongue and tempers his impatience as much as possible when faced with delays, excuses and broken promises.
A slower way of life just seems to be a major part of the culture here. Nobody hurries! Explore more successful avenues to achieve what you want.
I have seen far fewer beggars in all of Ecuador than I’ve seen just in Venice Beach, California! Those I have seen are treated kindly and respectfully by most other Ecuadorians. They are usually given food and drink by caring shop-keepers and people on the streets.
It’s amazing to see people run after old women to give them food! Once in Quito when a beggar with a nursing child came into the restaurant where I was eating lunch, a waiter immediately took her baby bottle and filled it with milk for her, chatting with her before she left.
Many beggars carry plastic cups or bowls and are given soup or leftovers at hotels or hostelries. Another custom at restaurants and outdoor eateries is to allow beggars or street children to come inside and take away or even sit and eat at the table, whatever food a customer has left on his plate.
Recently, I watched a boy of about ten devour with gusto a large plate of shrimp and rice someone couldn’t finish. No one ran him off or hurried him. Click here to see our “Children of Ecuador,” photo page.
In Cotacachi there are several mentally retarded men who have small jobs that they perform proudly. One wears different uniforms and stands at a busy intersection enthusiastically directing traffic. They are considered productive members of the community and are also given food and coins upon request.
Consider each request from a beggar thoughtfully and consciously. Looks can be deceiving. Not every indigenous person is poor. By no means! Some of the wealthiest, most astute business people in Ecuador are indigenous, who, despite their success, choose to dress in their customary village dress and live modestly.
On my way to the market one day in Cotacachi I saw a tourist insist upon giving money to a dirty-faced girl sitting on her mother’s lap on the street curb, despite the mother’s protests. The mother looked surprised and upset and the tourist noticed the reaction.
I told her that I recognized the woman, who is definitely neither poor nor a beggar. I'm quite certain that she was insulted when the tourist mistook her for a beggar just because she was sitting on the curb and her child happened to have a dirty face.
This leads to a newer, broader, rather controversial concept now gaining credence. It is related to the idea that handouts and giving money can lead to a culture of begging and dependency, even expectation and demanding, that has occurred in other countries, as a result of welfare. This can be especially true with children who can begin to see every gringo as a mark for easy money.
As you consider each request for money, respond with your heart as well as your mind—not from a sense of guilt, superiority or pity.
Simply observing the gentle, caring and non-judgmental way in which many Ecuadorians deal with the poorer or mentally impaired segment of their population, is, in itself, a great gift to see. The responsible global citizen watches, learns and acts accordingly.
Sometimes a donation to charity can be the wisest choice or a gift of food or clothing instead of money. A low number of Cotacachi kids attend high school. We have been helping raise awareness of this fact and collecting money to pay for this education. A gift of only $200 will pay for an entire year of high school. Click here for more information.
In some places in Ecuador, tourists become upset once they realize that there is a 12% tax plus another 10% gratuity added to their bill. This occurs at many better hotels, restaurants and shops.
They sometimes discover this only after they have already left another tip at the table, especially if the bill isn’t presented until the end of their stay at a hotel and they have been tipping all along!
The opposite can occur if you don’t tip, presuming a tip is included and it isn’t. Then you realize later that good service went unacknowledged.
A good rule of thumb to follow is this: If the service is very good or exceptional, tip accordingly, even if there is 10% service added to the bill. Often, the 10% doesn’t go to the workers anyway.
Many shops and businesses don’t add a tip, especially those small vendors in the streets, those with stalls and in the markets. Nor do they expect a tip, so none is needed.
Those providing services will detail their proposed work with a written “proforma,” which is merely an estimate of work to be done. After the work is done, the workman or artisan will give you a factura, an official receipt of work or goods received, along with the 12% tax. This is required by law. However, sometimes this is not strictly adhered to, for several reasons.
I have heard stories of vendors or shopkeepers who were forced to close their shops because they didn’t give facturas with tax included as part of their record-keeping for the government. Nevertheless, many will simply give you a recibo, or receipt, sometimes called a “nota de venta” with no tax charged or collected.
This can occur if the item is very expensive and they want to conceal the sale or if they have lowered their price so much that to pay the extra tax to the government would cut seriously into their profit.
Often they will ask you if you want a factura or recibo, acknowledging that perhaps the item you purchase will be included as a deductible in your tax reporting to the government.
Many ex-pats are surprised at the seemingly low price of cabs and services in Ecuador. So they overpay, thinking they are being magnanimous. The downside of this is that services for locals and other ex-pats, especially for ex-pats, who are usually thought to be rich, goes up and can become cost-prohibitive.
If someone pays a cab driver $5 for a $1 fare, the driver quickly learns that he can raise his price and that can become the new fare. Do your best to find out the going rates for cabs and other services and pay accordingly. We often ask the price of a cab from a local before we get in for the ride.
Ex-pats and gringos may be quoted or charged higher rates for rides that are normally only a dollar or two. A friend arriving at the Quito airport from the U.S. was charged $15 for a $5 cab ride.
Generally, in cities and towns across Ecuador, the going cab fare is $1 minimum for one stop of fairly short duration. If there is no meter, always ask the price beforehand. You can offer less and negotiate the price if you feel it is too high. If there is a meter, simply ask the cab driver to use it.
Cab drivers are not normally tipped, except perhaps with the small change left over from the meter price. Tour guides are the exception and you can tip the guide and driver.
Do not over pay if you can help it! Yes, things may be very inexpensive compared to your home country, but you are not in your home country and over-paying affects the local economy, sometimes in adverse, unexpected ways.
The same applies to prices paid for land, houses, businesses, cars and other items, even shopping for food in the market. Paying too much can raise prices across the board and make purchasing these things more difficult for locals, although in some places there are prices for locals and a different, higher, price for gringos!
We were in Vilcabamba a few years ago when a beautiful local house sold to a European for nearly 5 times the market price. The owner didn’t want to sell, so the European kept raising the ante until the owner couldn’t refuse. He then spread the story all over town.
Nearly overnight, all the land and houses for sale to the expat market doubled and tripled.
Many vendors and shopkeepers expect to bargain over the price of an item or service. Engage in this activity with a light heart and a smile.
Don’t be too aggressive or become upset if you don’t get quite the bargain you want. And don’t be afraid to walk away if you think you are being overcharged.
If you do walk away, there is always the chance that other vendors will come running after you with a new lower price. If this tactic doesn’t work, you can always return later and pay the higher price if you simply cannot live without it!
I negotiate and then pay a price that seems fair to me or is what I think the item is worth to me. Remember that in Ecuador, the margin of profit can be very low, sometimes only pennies. The responsible global citizen negotiates a fair price.
At the local market I am usually able to get a better price by making an offer. Even after lowering the price, vendors will often toss in “yapa,” with a smile. Yapa is a little gift, such as an extra carrot, a handful of beans or piece of fruit. However, there are three elderly indigenous women who sternly refuse to budge a penny from their price, so I have given up trying!
Be a responsible global citizen and look for ways that you can return the gifts of friendliness, help and good cheer you receive while living in Ecuador. Volunteer at local projects such as conservation and reforestation programs, teaching, medical assistance programs, farming or working with street kids or the elderly. Search the internet for volunteer possibilities or ask around.
A responsible global citizen recognizes that there is a more subtle form of giving back. That is to realize that we have as much or even more to learn from Ecuadorians as they can learn from us! When I give from a pure sense of giving and not from an idea that someone lesser than me needs my help, there is a greater level of reciprocity and respect.
I often find that making eye contact and stopping to practice my Spanish can lead to new friendships and the chance to find out more about opportunities to be of service to my new community. And in the process, discover greater opportunities to increase my adventure and fun factor!
One year a local man from a barrio way up in the mountains surrounding Cotacachi asked us for help at Christmas time. It was very near December 25th and he had found no donors to supply candy and cookies for the children at the school where he worked.
We volunteered and had the time of our lives bouncing along hairpin turns and washed out roads over ravines, but making it up the mountain in time to play Santa to about 50 very grateful kids. We were treated like honored guests and fed an enormous meal of fresh vegetables.
We find in general that Ecuadorians are wonderfully friendly, happy people who love to interact with foreigners. The more you give of your smiles, courtesy, and friendship, the more it will be returned to you magnified many time over.
After having lived in Cotacachi for some time now, we are becoming a more accepted part of the community. Even though our Spanish skills are not perfect, we are meeting many new friends. You can do the same. You can become a responsible global citizen. The rewards are great and in the process, you'll have the adventure of a lifetime.