By Christopher Lux
Nicolás Vergara, a Chilean living in Guayaquil, has put together an amusing and instructional list for expats in Ecuador: “15 signs you’ve been in Ecuador too long.” When I read it, I only understood half of the “signs” he discusses. My first thought was, “Great, I haven’t ‘been in Ecuador too long.'” I was happy because that meant — by Vergara’s analysis — I could stay in this beautiful country a little longer.
My next second thought was that I wanted to understand his list. So, in an effort to know my new home, I went searching for answers. Here’s his list and what I came up with.
So, according to Vergara, you’ve been in Ecuador too long if …
1. You add canguil to your ceviche.
For reasons of personal taste, I have never had ceviche. Ceviche is made with shrimp, fish, clams, or even a mix of seafood. All of these are on my foods-not-to-eat list. Ecuadorians, as far as I can tell, also add canguil to other soups — it’s not reserved for ceviche. Though I’ve been served canguil (or “popcorn” as I know it) with my soups and almuerzos, I haven’t tried this combination. It took me a while just to get use to this snack being served as a part of my meal. Now, I’ve gotten to the point where I order a large Pilsener and take advantage of the free popcorn.
2. You know the difference between guineo, maduro and verde.
In my Spanish classes in the United States, I was simply told “banana” is “banana” and “plátano” is “plantain.” To distinguish different types of plantains (or different levels of maturity), I was told “plátano” and “plátano verde.” In Guatemala, I was told the same thing. In Chiapas, Mexico, though, they call the small, sweeter bananas “guineo.” What we call “banana” in English is called “plátano.” The one we call “plantain” in English is “plátano macho.” In Ecuador, though, “guineo” is what I call a “banana.” “Maduro” is the yellow plantain. “Verde” is the green plantain. The little bananas (the ones called “guineo” in Mexico) are called “oros” or “oritos” here.
I’m told that you can use “banana” for a “guineo” and you will be understood. However, for the sake of experimentation, I asked for a “banana” at one tienda. The owner was confused until I said, “guineo.”
3. You refer to everyone as man … even females.
Vergara says, “If it breathes and seems human, then you call it ‘man’, using that English word. How do you differentiate genders? Easy, ‘el man’ and ‘la man’.”
This one really confused me. I asked around and I was told, “Yes, that’s right.” A common way to use this is, for example, if someone asks you, “Who is John?” You reply, “El man cerca de la puerta.” You could do the same with “Who is Mary?” You’d answer, “La man cerca de la puerta.” Notice this time I was talking about the woman near the door, but I still said “man.” The only difference is “La” or “El.”
4. You understand that “right now” does not mean “right now”.
When people tell you “ya mismo” (right now), it doesn’t mean now and it doesn’t mean “later.” It is that illusory space in time between now and later. It’s something like “some time soon.”
For me, this one did not need any further explanation. And if you’ve been in Ecuador for more than a week, I’m sure you completely understand it. The same applies when someone tells you “mañana.” We all know that “tomorrow” is not actually “tomorrow.” It just means “Not right now.” For more about this, click here.
5. You eat everything with rice.
In Ecuador the menu goes from rice with meat, rice with beans, rice with chicken, rice with shrimps, rice with sausages, rice with cheese, rice with maduro, and even rice with pasta.
My first almuerzo in Ecuador came with canguil. Then, I was served a soup and choclo (a type of corn). After that came the main dish: chicken, beans, avocado, fried yucca, fried potatoes, and rice. As I ate the rice, I thought, “This doesn’t really need the rice.” Now, after living in Ecuador a year, I know it did need the rice — it always needs the rice.
6. You curse and honk while driving … and at everything that moves and that doesn’t move.
I’m still working on the seemingly endless process of getting a driver’s license and an extremely overpriced car. So, I don’t drive. Still, I know about the honking. Whether you’re an elderly man, a bus driver, a motorcyclist, or a taxi driver, you honk. The idea that each car must move one at a time when the light turns green before the car at the end can move seems to be incomprehensible. No matter how long the line of cars, someone in the back of the line is bound to honk as soon as the light changes — as if everyone should move simultaneously when they’re given the green light.
Those horns have prevented many accidents, though. I’ve seen a large number of cars backing out and buses or taxis changing lanes only to be honked at. The warning — though it’s not always successful — is often viewed as a friendly reminder. As if to say, “Watch out, there’s a car here.” Unlike in the United States, the horn honk is usually not followed with road rage.
7. You don’t ask for favors, you say “No seas malito”.
This one was completely new to me. So, I’ll let Vergara explain: “No seas malito” (Don’t be mean), I was told just after arriving to Ecuador. I took it personally. Then I understood it’s just a formula for politeness around here. For instance, I would say, “No seas malito, and click the button below to like this article on Facebook.”
8. You are (almost) not afraid of iguanas anymore.
Again, since I live in Cuenca, this is better from Vergara, a resident of Guayaquil:
“You see them on public parks, house roofs, and crossing the streets. So you have no choice but to get over your fear of lizards.”
9. You have chosen your colors
I’m sure it’s no surprise that something on this list has to do with soccer (or “fútbol”). Your “color” is the team you support. From what I can gather, if you’re red, you’re Cuenca. If you’re blue, you’re Emelec (in Guayaquil). If you’re white, you’re Liga (in Quito). And if you’re yellow, you’re Barcelona (in Guayaquil).
10. You fear the cake and the belt.
When your friends cheer ¡Feliz cumpleaños! brace yourself. They will soon force you to “Bite the cake”, which means smashing your face into it. The most scary part, though, is having a birthday in the Sierra, where some people keep the tradition of hitting your butt with a belt for each year you’ve been alive. Now, I had “birthday spankings” as a child. But I was told stories of teenagers tying fellow classmates to trees and then hitting them very hard with belts.
11. You have experienced the chiva at the fullest.
These are colorful vehicles that might be used for rural transportation and touristic rides, but they easily turn into four wheels nightclubs, with lights, music, and dance floors. They are “party buses.” They get crowded, and they’re hated by some while loved by others.
12. You prefer one region over the other, but you don’t admit it out loud.
In the United States, people are proud to prefer the North to the South or the South to the North, West Coast vs. East Coast. In Ecuador, I’m told, within the politically correct discourse, “regionalism is bad: we need to encourage unity and celebrate diversity”. The truth is, deep down, people identify either with the coast, the sierra, or the Amazon. There are preferences, and they are strong. Sometimes you even consider them to be different countries and not different regions of the same nation.
13. You run away to Montañita.
When you feel like you need to clear your head, you escape to Montañita for the weekend. Or the week. This is especially the case around holidays like New Year’s.
14. You know too well what it is like to be with chuchaqui.
This is what we call a hangover, and it’s actually from the Quechau, the native Andean language, not the Spanish. Pilsener and Club come in large bottles. The aguardiente (the national spirit) is cheap. There is also a decent selection of wines and other alcoholic delights around us, though they can be very expensive when imported. To top it off, mixing aguardiente and Pilsener in the same drink is not unheard of. It’s bound to result in a bad morning. The chuchaqui is very real.
15. You are familiar with the “Mashi” and national politics.
“Mashi” is the Quechua word for “compañero” (“partner” or “companion”). It was used in regards to former president Rafael Correa. From protests, to visas, to taxes, to gas stoves, to Twitter, it’s difficult for foreigners to avoid taking a stance regarding his leadership style and policies.
I want to add a couple other items to Vergara’s list: You use “funda” and “plata” and “ito.” Call it a yapa.
When I first moved to Cuenca I asked for a “bolsa de Doritos” (bag of Doritos). I was looked at funny, and soon learned the word used here for “bag” is “funda.”
Then, I kept hearing my landlord talking about “plata.” I asked myself, “What is this lady’s obsession with silver?” I had learned “plata” means “silver.” Here, though, “plata” is also simply “money.” I was told that when I use “dinero” (the word I learned) I sound very formal.
I think you could also include on the list: “You add -ito to everything.”
But I’m still getting use to that addition to my vocabulary list. After all, for many words I learned in Spanish, I now have to learn a new one: “funda” becomes “fundita” and “malo” becomes “malito.” That one will take me some time to get use to.
This is just one gringo’s attempt to understand his new home. If you have any corrections, additions, or clarifications to add, I’d appreciate it if you comment below — but, please, no seas malito.