I have been living here in Ecuador for just over two years now, and I’m only now realizing that I don’t think I will ever truly fit in here. Despite my insistence (only semi-jokingly) to my boyfriend that everyone thinks I am Ecuadorian because I AM Ecuadorian now, this is far from the truth.
This brings to mind a term I came across yesterday, Dépaysement, a French word indicating “the feeling that comes from not being in one’s home country” (Source: Maptia, a fun blog entry for those of us who like language and linguistics). It looks similar to “displacement,” which more or less accurately describes my feelings of never quite fitting in in Ecuador. I don’t feel outside really, not like a tourist only here for a few weeks or months. Nor do I feel “born again” as an Ecuadorian, complete with culture and behavior.
Now this is not necessarily a bad thing, as it allows me to maintain my culture and my outside view of Ecuador and its culture for writing/documenting/life experience purposes. However, it does lead to a great deal more homesickness. Man, do I miss some good milk chocolate! (Ironically, Ecuador exports most of it’s cacao and the only stuff that stays or is imported back into Ecuador is mostly sugar). Especially after customs rejected my mom’s 5 kilo package of SEROOGY’S chocolates. They were here, then, less than a week later, they were shipped back. Needless to say, that little trick did not make me feel any better!
Here are a few things that I have recently realized I will never be able to adapt to:
- Ecuadorian women wear high, high heels (at least 4 inches) in rain or sun, in the city or in the campo, sitting at the office or walking up the cobblestone hillside streets. I will never be able to give up my flip-flops, no matter how many weird looks I get. The comfort and ease far outweigh any fashion faux paus I break on a daily basis.
- I will not wear leggings as pants. Although Ecuador (or at least Quito) is relatively conservative in dress, the women have no problem showing each and EVERY curve (whether attractive or not, conservative or not) with bright colored leggings, often a size or two too small. I absolutely refuse to follow suit and will continue with my personal preference of comfy sweatpants and sweatshirt (to the store and coffee shop, at least).
- Although I told myself I will never be one of those ex-pats who only hangs out with ex-pats and refuses to integrate into the local culture, I can’t help but prefer the company of ex-pats over that of Ecuadorians. Here, it is next to impossible to be friends with a man without him thinking he has some sort of special privileges. The women are often very distant towards foreign women, whether because they believe there is some sort of competition, some sort of “I’m better than you are” (or “You think you’re better than me?”) sentiment, or because they see us as transient people who won’t be around long. I have my friends, so why do I need to become friends with you?That said, I have sustained somewhat short-term friendships with Ecuadorians, but it is often short lived due to a lack of interesting conversation. Ecuadorians have a more localized view of the world, and in most cases, a very limited interest in the outside world. They also prefer conversations about very real topics or experiences, not generally philosophical ones (unless it has to do with religion). As a result, I have found that after the initial questions (How do you like Ecuador? Don’t you miss your family?), the conversation generally slows. A lot. Followed by awkward pauses, which, in English, I am usually able to fill without much trouble. In Spanish, however, my natural fillers are considered unusual and often followed by a strange look, as if to ask if I’m ok.
- In many cases, Ecuadorians follow the trait of tardiness often associated with Latin American culture. It took me a long time to understand that “ya mismo” is not actually “soon” as it is often translated, but rather, it means a very general “later.” After several very annoyed days when I felt stood up when my boyfriend didn’t come “ya mismo” but instead came five hours later, I finally understood what it meant. And now that I have mastered the art of showing up 5-20 minutes late for “important” events or 30 or more minutes late to social events (and still being the first there), I thought I had the system down pat.Until this morning. I was told to be ready to go around 6 am for a day trip with my boyfriend’s soccer team. Thinking I knew what that meant, I was ready to go at 6:30 am. It is currently 11:30 am, and I am sitting in bed, writing a blog post, waiting for whenever they show up “ya mismo”. I should not be surprised. Still, I am annoyed, cranky, and just want to sleep.
My solution: Let what happens, happen. I will not stress, I will not force myself to change nor will I force people to just “understand” or “accept me.” I will remain in limbo, watching from a distance, and enjoying the pieces of Ecuadorian culture I have adopted. My favorite is the long, extended, sometimes 1 or 2-hour lunches! They really beat out the on-the-go lunches I so often had in Washington, DC.
Finally, I will enjoy the rest of the day, whether or not this day trip happens, probably catching up on a lot of writing I have lined up!