The howl of expat cheapskates in the Land of Cheap

May 5, 2021 | 112 comments

One of the more curious subspecies of Ecuador expat is the small but noisy contingent that is utterly obsessed with the price of things; more specifically, they are obsessed with the notion that they are being ripped off, not only by Ecuadorians, but by other expats who are complicit in the rip-off.

chl-davidm-logoIt almost doesn’t matter what the commodity or service is, these folks work themselves into a lather. It can be the price of dinner, an ice cream cone, a manicure, a haircut, a restaurant tip, maid service, legal services, or an apartment rental — or, more recently, the donations given to Venezuelan beggars squatting on city sidewalks.

In calculating the value of things, many of the cheapskates presume to have inside knowledge of the finer points of the Ecuadorian economy and culture, claiming to know what’s best for Ecuadorians and how things ought to work if only those other expats weren’t upsetting the status quo.

Mostly, they rant on social media, where they are easily ignored, but all too frequently they hold forth in public at social gatherings, and in restaurants and bars, where they are impossible to avoid.

Does it take a genius to figure out a fair price?

Strong opinions are fine, of course, and real rip-offs and gringo-gouging should be confronted and rejected wherever they raise their ugly head. There are plenty of helpful expats to advise newcomers about fair prices. On the other hand, it is the obsessive “people-like-you-are-to-blame” outrage, directed at fellow expats, that crosses the line of common sense and begs the question: where does the anger come from?

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Back in the home country, which is almost always the United States, most of these angry folk kept their feelings contained, understanding that they would be seen as ignorant bores and bigmouths had they voiced their complaints. If the object of their consternation was, say, a high-priced meal, they would, like anyone else, simply go to a cheaper restaurant. Or, if they couldn’t afford one apartment, they would look for another.

It is hard to imagine a customer in a Manhattan restaurant being told, after leaving a generous tip, “Big tippers like you are ruining things for the rest of us New Yorkers.” Or, a new tenant in San Francisco, after signing an apartment lease, being advised, “You know, you could have gotten the same place in Petaluma for a fraction the price.”

But in Expatlandia, where personal histories are sketchy or entirely unknown, all restraints are off, and the price-obsessed anoint themselves experts. They are free to advise fellow expats that so-and-so restaurant is run by thieves and you could have gotten the same fetuccini alfredo down the street for half the price or, that the driver taking you to Guayaquil triples the price for gringos.

They position themselves as protectors of the innocent, sometimes assuming the role of facilitators to incoming expats. Their pitch: it’s a dangerous world out there, filled with shysters, snake oil merchants and mountebanks and we’re here to help you navigate the treacherous rapids and shoals of living in a strange land; and don’t, by the way, listen to the other expats who tell you to relax and enjoy yourself.

So, what’s the source of the cheapskate sound and fury?

It starts, obviously, with Cuenca’s reputation for being one of the least expensive overseas destinations, which, naturally enough, draws a crowd focused on cheapness. Needless-to-say, many of them are sorely disappointed when things are not as cheap as advertised.

And then there’s the undeniable element of class warfare: anger at those who can afford something better and are willing and able to pay for it.

Most of all, however, the rip-off obsession is a product of the U.S. culture of entitlement and its component part, the culture of victimization. They come to Ecuador filled with the anger of being denied what they feel was rightfully theirs back home, ready to make a new start in the land of the Big Rock Candy Mountain. When their expectations are dashed, the anger reasserts itself with a vengeance and they look for scapegoats.

Fortunately, most of the malcontents don’t last long here and will return to the U.S., still nourishing their anger and unhappiness. Unfortunately, more of them seem to be on the way.

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