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‘I’m a better gringo than you’

By Dr. Anna Wilson

Soon after my arrival in Cuenca I noticed a phenomenon. I call it the “I’m-a-better-gringo-than-you” chorus. These are self-appointed expat police or behavior modification doctors.

It starts when someone reports, on social media or at a social gathering, an adverse event they experienced in Ecuador. For example, shoddy workmanship, obtuse government bureaucracies, unfair practices by banks or insurance companies, loud music or firecrackers, and so on.

Even when these reports are informative, in neutral language, and are not insulting, someone will chime in with comments like, “This isn’t North America; stop complaining and adapt.” “You are a guest in a host country; you have no right to criticize anything.” Or the nastiest ones: “If you don’t like it, go back where you came from.” Report a crime and they will inform you that there is more crime in the United States than in Ecuador – a dubious claim unless you are talking about mass shootings.

Some expats feel compelled to tell other expats how they should behave.

Would these same people criticize an Ecuadorian immigrant in the U.S. for complaining about how they were treated by their employer, a rude person at the grocery store, or a leaky roof in their apartment that the landlord neglects to fix? I doubt it.

This chorus insists that everyone adopt a pollyannaish attitude that everything is wonderful in Ecuador. No one will beat me in an “I love Ecuador” contest. I love living here. I love the vast majority of the people. I never plan to leave. In fact, I’m more critical of the U.S. than any other country (except maybe Venezuela and North Korea). It’s because I care. I’m sickened by what is happening in the U.S. But no place is perfect, not even Ecuador.

I’ll be the first to condemn insulting, prejudicial, arrogant, or condescending statements to or about Ecuador or Ecuadorians. I don’t like hanging around with people who are rude to Ecuadorians – they embarrass me and they reflect badly on all expats. Chronic complainers are buzzkill too. However, people providing warnings of situations to avoid, giving constructive criticism of the status quo, making suggestions for improvements in any the above, is the way societies advance.

If a population feels helpless to change things and is therefore apathetic about their surroundings– an external locus of control – things never change. People with an internal locus of control speak up and act on their environments, and often bring about positive change.

Dr. Anna Wilson, a native of the U.S., lives in Cuenca.

60 thoughts on “‘I’m a better gringo than you’

  1. Good thoughts, Anna. Complaining about local frustrations is universal. We should realize that EVERY place has them. They merely change in detail. We get blinded to the ones we grow up with.

    I commute between radically different cultures constantly. The stupidity/frustrations alter but they are always there, we merely get used to the ones we grow up with.

    That is what the “bad” expats don’t see.

    I believe a society should be judged by the hearts of its people, not its nuttiness. Ecuador is intact in the hearts area. When I saw the assistance depots in Cuenca for the earthquake victims a few years ago, with cabbies picking the stuff up and making many (free) journeys to the coast to leave it and come back for another load. THAT is the true Ecuador, divorced of hype or politics.

    Dr. Globetrotter. (now can we go back to p*ssing on the Tranvia?)

    1. Yea, Globi. Like you are giving the writer your “blessing”. Just remember that there will always be individuals like myself that will remind you that you are part of the problem and not the solution. No need to thank me.

      1. Would you clarify, Acbig? My first thought after reading GT’s post was that his perceptions are right on. Then you say GT is part of the problem. Why are you thinking that?

        1. Cynthia. It is merely gratuitous hostility. It doesn’t require a rationale. Lot of that going around.

        2. Hi Cynthia. Thank you for your reply. For me to give you the reason you seek, I would better suggest that you follow his commentary for awhile. And if you followed his responses to my comments, you would clearly understand. But maybe you agree with his ideology, in which case I would never be able to convince you of anything. Just being honest.

  2. This article gave me a wry smile.

    I am a long-term resident of Ecuador, and have worked here at ground-level for that entire time … in real-estate, construction, and more recently in the fabrication of world-class transportable modular homes.

    Once Correa was thankfully gone (not that the Tortuga has been any better, for the people of Ecuador, in any real sense) … I wrote a comprehensive article about the decade of Correa (link included here).

    This article went viral, was republished by outlets such as Mike Adams’s Natural News, etc … and got a great deal more traction than most (english-language) articles about Ecuador.

    You will probably be unsurprised therefore, to hear I was shouted down from the rooftops by the (Cuenca and Cotacachi sets) of rose-colored-glasses wearing gringos (and clueless Correa-lovers generally).

    The Facebook group Ecuador Expats (the most popular, most censorious, and most deluded Ecuador-expat group on Facebook) started routinely banning anyone who shared the LINK to, or even talked about my article!

    What manner of “dangerousness” could possibly have sparked such an Orwellian response by such groups/people?! Plain. Unvarnished. Truth.

    The article is fully sourced with facts and examples, and I continued to update it (for fully one and a half years afterwards) to match the predictions in the article, against the ensuing reality.

    I repost it here for those who perhaps haven’t read it yet. People can make up their own minds (always best, no?). 🙂

    1. Hi Nick, I read the article. But I think it requires a second reading. I shall try do so in a day. At a glance, I have to forgive you. 😉 I also have a tendency to ramble on. But you organize your points well.
      You and Jason could have a whale of a debate. Something I would look forward to and could benefit any forum. Sadly, you share something in common. You both attribute to evil intent things that can be explained by stupidity. (Stupidity is far more common and impossible to cure.)
      à tout à l’heure

      1. Hmmm … I appreciate you giving it your time (and a second reading) … it is a pretty comprehensive document. However, I’m not sure I have at any point, actually ruled out stupidity. It’s just that I don’t believe RC is stupid.

        I believe he is a sociopathic narcissist of the highest order. Sure, some of what he did might be able to be put down to stupidity or carelessness. But most of it was premeditated, venal, self-serving, and cynical in the extreme.

        And then of course there’s the epic theft. Both ideologically and financially, Correa has left Ecuador in a hole it’d take a couple of generations to get out of (even assuming the best fiscal and political intentions by those who came next). Something that hasn’t happened so far … and is extremely unlikely to, ever.

        And with Moreno’s capitulations to international lending gangsters in order to fill looted coffers (as well as unwillingness to change anything substantial), things don’t look like improving anytime soon (Ecuador is still in that moribund hole which started forming mid-2013).

        Icebergs ahead! 🙁

        1. I’m in general agreement with your article Nick. Among other degrees, RC holds a PhD in Economics from the University of Illinois – Urbana Champaign, which I can tell you is a fine graduate program by US standards. He’s also a former Minister of Finance in Ecuador prior to becoming president. RC argued against dollarization in various academic publications. Clearly, RC is not stupid.

          If one wanted to get Ecuador off the US dollar, RC’s policies were consistent with that. If your country is made “unbankable” due to bond defaults and failed economic polices, then “of course”, coming off the dollar would make sense. Let’s remember, Ecuador cannot increase it’s money supply (print currency) and essentially has no “federal reserve” equivalent, thus no meaningful monetary policy tools. Borrowing is about all the government can do. Running up an enormous debt, then defaulting it, could have been in his plan. At this point, the country would go back onto it’s own currency and spin wildly out of control economically, as we’ve recently witnessed in Venezuela, for example. It goes without saying that RC would have already achieved an essential element to his strategy, which would be to make the population entirely dependent upon government. This is a hallmark of his socioeconomic model. Then at this point, the military must be placed between the president and his population, as we’ve seen in Venezuela, North Korea, etc., etc.. It’s an old story. RC – like all dictators – ends up with ultimate power, ultimate control and, as we know no matter what the nation’s natural resources might be, the population suffers terribly.

          Considering that this outcome may well have been RC’s end game, perhaps he is a “sociopathic narcissist of the highest order”. But there is another possibility other than stupidity. Perhaps he’s simply incompetent, even to pull off his despicable plan. Well if that’s why he failed to destroy Ecuador, let’s thank God he’s incompetent.

          Either way, Ecuador’s population is better off without him.

  3. I find the newbies of less than 3 years tend to howl the loudest about how much they love Cuenca because they need to validate their presence in Cuenca to other expats who have been there longer than them.

    My recommendation to newbies is not to be deferential to long-term expats that they meet despite their know-it-all rhetoric about Ecuador. Chances are what they know about Ecuador comes from talking points they pick up from Facebook and their experiences as glorified tourists and from living in the gringo bubble. The few expats who know what is happening read multiple sources daily written in Spanish for the Ecuadorian and South American market. So either “walk the talk” and do the work necessary to inform yourself, or stay in the gringo bubble and become a fake swami.

    Finally, if you meet expats from Paute, just walk away. They aren’t worth your time.

    1. I can’t explain why, but this sane and helpful commentary – followed by Paute info – feels like Ionesco, the best parts, that make the reader laugh.

  4. Dr. Wilson begins this article with adverse event examples that include loud music/fireworks. We might add motorcycle noise, car alarms, dogs barking, and roosters crowing. Now, if Ecuadorians are fine with all this noise, but gringos are not… who has an external locus of control and who has an internal locus of control? Expats discussing/complaining about Ecuadorian society is just a way to pass the time. It shouldn’t, and doesn’t change a thing.

    1. I am totally fine with loud music, dogs which are barking etc. These things may be annoying for some people but are not very harmful to the society. But here are some aspects of the local culture that are so harmful that complaining about them should change a thing. Many (young) Ecuadorians that want to work on a better Ecuador are fed up with these aspects of the culture. Let’s help them by giving the right examples (and complaining)!

      Examples: culture of bribing and corruption, culture of stealing from someone who is better off than you, culture of being individualistic in stead of collaborative (causing many road deaths), culture of not obeying the laws (especially not paying taxes).

      1. You make a good point. I’m sure that both Ecuadorians and gringos would like to see the cultural aspects that you list in your second paragraph go away. We could also add putting up with unnecessary, time wasting bureaucracy, (papeleo). However, there are expats who complain about the “softer” cultural differences … noise, punctuality-being late, the constant lying, etc.
        I’m still of the opinion that complaining about it does nothing to change the situation, especially expats complaining to other expats. All we can do, as you say, is lead by example. I’ve noticed that what changes Ecuadorian society the quickest is when Ecuadorians return from living abroad. Their eyes are opened, as Globetrotter alludes to. Unfortunately, that’s what also brings the taste for pizza and hamburgers to this country.

        1. gringos complaining to gringos is funny as hell. its why I gave up on Ecuador Expats Facebook years ago, its pretty much all they do. Your points are dead on except pizza.

      2. Johan, Culture/habits/mindsets don’t change because people agree it would be a good thing..even when those people are in the majority. These things, as horrible as they are, are the Ecuadorian template..the goto reaction in Ecuador. It will take patience, re-education and generations.

        Forgive me for other examples, but despite all the noble documents and assurances, the USA has been racist and xenophobic for centuries. Generations after Gandhi, Indians still socially rank people by how pale they are or the Japanese still have distrust and contempt for whites. And the French still think the English haven’t a clue about cuisine. (I can vote for the last one.) 😀
        No matter what the intellect or even the heart says, a member of a culture’s knee jerk reactions are set down very early in life. To peel away the layers of facade, one merely needs to observe cultural adherents in extreme circumstances.

    2. The loci of control continuum refers to personal beliefs, not any actual control.

      And beliefs are, mostly•all•too•often, self-serving in psychemotional defense mech ways.

      Spinoza said all that blowsa’ – & he was speaking truth to “power,” spittin’ into the wind that does indeed blowhard (from billions of pursed lips), when he did.

      The end of season 2 of Westworld I clipped recently summarizes with dialog what the whole story is about (& not only in Westworld, either): the illusion of control. Here it is, again:

      “Passengers.” Bill Hicks: it’s just a ride. That old bit (in many domesticated beasts of burden mouths): you’ll see it when you believe it…describes projection. And hallucination. “…question its fundamental drives. To change them.”

      But the fundamental-ist drives are not questioned by the extollers of control – they are “appropriated” as “proof” of control. (Some s{l}ick judo, that.) Whether ‘in there’ or ‘out there.’

      Bribery & corruption begins at home – in there. Then spreads. Calls itself gov, or culture, or…who cares what it calls itself?

      People drunk with nouns, and dismissiverationalizingblind to the actions (such as govculture “stealing from someone who is better off than you,” not to mention anyone else the color of law permits) – the monkey see monkey do social proofed — is who “cares.”

      Constant lying indeed – but for all its soft headedness, there’s nothing “soft” about
      the effects of that. That tribe rhymes bribe is appropriate; in fact, the terms are synonyms. Same as “us” & “them.”

      “Road deaths” cuz not enough Vichy French “controlling” things. Oy vey.

      I got a lot of road warrior stories, experiences. Racetracks, too. I can’t think of any one I raced with that wasn’t a much better than average driver OTR.

      And its tempting to “control” the nitwit driver variable by “requiring” all begin on racetracks – & not at the MVD bureaucracy. But that would be just the same cart the horse error that comforts so many narratives.

      What you gotta’ be before you can be a good driver is…a good driver. Control’s got nuthin’ to do with it.

      And lowest common denominatoring will not achieve Vichy ends, either…not that “control” freaks are about achieving the rainbow ends they blather incessantly about; “control” is an end in itself to them.

      Psychological compensation for the terror experienced from lack of control.
      Short woman syndrome. Napoleons & Martinets all over the place.

      Napoleon, mille-feuille: death of a thousand slices is the cowards custard center
      sentence pronounced at conception (which tosses a spanner into the agency-therefore punishment•blame works).

      And look who those Milli Vanilli boys turned out to be (who they were all along).

      But the yum version has got me hungry. Think I’ll get me to a bakery…

      Thx for the exercise dessert 1st course.

  5. Apathy is and always has been the true enemy, regardless of location. History is full of such lessons….

  6. Anna: I don’t know what kind of doctor you are — in the average case, this behaviour you notice is about getting some acknowledgement, maybe a sense of control in a new country — where if you play expert, presto, you may become one!

    Insecurity — it is called in plain language.

  7. Great article. I first experienced this personally a few years ago, when I did a video on six things I don’t like in Cuenca Ecuador (important to note it was one of two parts, the second being six things I love about cuenca). Let the hate emails begin. The foul comments I had to delete, the personal insults, and even included a threat..”if I ever see you walking around…”. So here is my point. As to the facts of the six things… I got the most positive comments from locals telling me I was spot on. A few months after I did that video, the mayor of Cuenca did a speech itemizing out 4 of the six things as issues in Cuenca he was trying to solve (in particular graffiti and dogs). Not a single comment or email I ever got refuted any of the six points. They were simply enraged because I didn’t keep to myself things those of us that lived there already knew. They were true, and since there is an extreme lack of well-rounded info on Cuenca, decided to show the truth to those considering coming. I never slammed Cuenca, and I counterbalanced it with the 6 things I love video. It was fair and honest. Yet those gringo police reared their ugly heads in outrage. So I see an article like this, it hits home. While still a resident of Ecuador, and I will return, I am currently living in Armenia Colombia, and to find this sort of gringo trashing you have to go to Medellin. I am happy to say there is zero activity in this where I currently live, and it is refreshing.

    1. Loren –
      Repost the links to your Cuenca videos here again and we’ll vote on their validity of messaging or “showing the truth”.

        1. Please share some links to some of your “Greatest Hits” Videos from your time in Ecuador.
          (Especially “Six things I don’t like in Cuenca Ecuador” that you mention above.)

      1. Whoa, bombshell.

        Long Beach,
        What does Armenia have that Cuenca doesn’t? I hope it is not the expats that are running you off.

  8. Commentary is one of the better ways to fix things, if the performer is somehow connected to that data. Feedback IS the breakfast of performance improvement initiatives. And it ain’t just Ecuador. My experiences with the UNC Registrar’s Office and the NC State Department about the apostille of my documents — and my complaints and questions to them — actually resulted in the supervisor of the apostille process taking my documents 35 miles over to campus and having a meeting with the Registrar’s Office Staff on Thursday.

    This meeting got both parties to see precisely what needed to be done to make this process seamless and it will apparently benefit the next few thousand students who need things certified. AND, I got callbacks from the supervisors from BOTH organizations thanking me for complaining and helping them adjust the processes.

    I complain with the purpose of providing sufficient feedback so that a process can be improved or so people could be held responsible and accountable for their actions. Plus, it also relates to my expectations about how things could / should work — this has been my business for the past 35 years, actually. The ideas for personal and organizational growth are 1) continuous continuous improvement, 2) feedback that enables performance improvement and 3) leadership wants good performance.

    I believe that people WANT to do a good job but BOSS spelled backwards is self-explanatory.

    We KNOW that people who come to the US want to work hard and succeed. So why is this somehow different if they live in Ecuador?

    1. thanks for working on the UNC situation. i may decide to apostille those docs, one day, and I’ll remember to be grateful to you.

  9. “Any day you get home alive is a good day” anything else is an unhealthy mindset … to the world at large …

  10. I think we should all be allowed to talk/complain about some of the things here that bug us. That is part of life, and a way of coping. It makes us feel better about a situation, especially if it is done with humor. When it is not o.k. is when it gets personal, or hurtful.

      1. I would feel the same way, if I didn’t have any pride or dignity. “Humor” is the response of a tourist, after being ripped off for $20. Not so funny if you live here.

        1. I’ll put it another way. If an Ecuadorian thief breaks the bars that we have in our windows and steals our possessions, I would not be laughing. When my sister in law asked to borrow $200 five years ago and is still giving me excuses on why she can’t pay it back, I’ll smile and shake my head thinking of what a trusting tonto I was back then.
          Most of us eventually get burned one way or the other here in Ecuador until we finally get smart – and then it can still happen. I doubt that it happens to you much anymore, Acbig1. Aren’t you the one who carries a big stick and won’t smile at strangers?

          1. Jajaja. Hola Lorenzo. Indeed I am the one that doesn’t smile at strangers. In Ecuador, a smile is equivalent to an “invitation” of something good or something bad. I simply don’t like the odds, and that is my way of eliminating the issue altogether. Thanks for asking.

  11. I am not sure your statement regarding crime comparisons (USA vs Ecuador) is correct. (“…there is more crime in the United States than in Ecuador – a dubious claim unless you are talking about mass shootings.” ) Please compare any number of other crime stats such as murders and you will find that the U.S. incidence is significantly higher. And I would venture to say that escaping from crime in the USA is one of the reasons many people decide to become expats in Ecuador and not in Mexico, Colombia, Jamaica, Venezuela, Guatemala or any number of other Latin countries.)

      1. Huh? There are no stats for 2019 since 2019 is only half over. According to InSight Crime, Ecuador and the US were pretty close in murder rate in 2018, 5.7 to 5.4 per 100,000. Cuenca’s murder rate was 4.4 while Kansas City’s was 30.9, Philadelphia’s was 20.1, Washington, DC’s was 16.7 and Atlanta’s was 16.4. On the other hand, I’m sure there were more robberies in Ecuador than the US — crimes of opportunity are big here.

        1. I am always amused at this politically correcting whitewashing of facts regarding violent crime in Ecuador. Yes, if you select and focus on America’s most violent cities, such as Detroit, Chicago, Newark, and New Orleans, then yes, Ecuador comes out ahead. But the U.S. is a HUGE country with VASTLY differences in culture and statistics from region to region. By contrast, the threat of violent assault in Ecuador is pretty high these days no matter where you go.

  12. Beware! If you advise others about a corrupt business, so that others are not cheated or have similar bad experiences, you can be sued by the business owner, even if they are corrupt and you are just trying to protect others. If what you say is absolutely correct, and you are the victim, makes no difference. This is the voice of experience speaking, so be careful where and how you express your experience. It can be costly, not to mention, unjust.

  13. Know it alls in this comment section are criticizing how many know it alls there are in Ecuador. Gotta love old white guys…

  14. Yes, there are expats that I would avoid. There are definite gringo clicks here. I would rather integrate into the Ecuadorian culture and the people instead of spending my time with gringos.

  15. “If you don’t like it, go back where you came from”… this is what the president said to all immigrants..

  16. WOW! Well said! I’m only here three months and have had two women bite my head off when I merely stated an observation. I’m with you, Dr. Anna! Gringos need to be kinder all the way around!

  17. On more than a few occasions, I have expressed the same complaints about Ecuador that are very common among my fellow Ecuadorians, only to find that this provokes hysterical denunciations from English-speaking foreigners who assume I am American, though in one case I suffered unmitigated hysteria from an Englishwoman who knew I am Ecuadorian yet felt this odd entitlement, unique to liberals, to dictate to natives on their own soil what their political views should be.

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