Quite some time ago, I was asked by a reader to describe why I moved A) away from my native country and B) why the heck Ecuador, of all places? I get asked that question a lot by folks back home as well as others who've made the move, too, who wonder if we might have some of the same reasons in our respective lists. Some time back, I started to put together an article to answer the questions but quickly realized I was just formulating a lonnnng list of bitching and the tirades were getting quite long. So, I abandoned it.
I'm going to try again, but this time be a little more organized and succinct. This time it might be a little easier because I'm currently writing this from my native country, known as 'there'. I'm on a 3-week visit for the first time in almost a year and a half. So, I have the perspective of living in my native country for a gazillion years, then switching to South America for 19 months where differences really stand out as a newbie, then a fresh dip back into the former native waters for a few weeks which has illuminated many things I used to take for granted.
Here goes. In no particular order. Let the bashing begin!! How many readers will label me an 'Ugly (enter native country)' and how many from 'there' will label me an 'Ugly Traitor'.
Here: People honk their car horns all the time. The moment the light turns green, sometimes even BEFORE. The driver honks if any car or any person is anywhere nearby because if they didn't honk, they would surely walk or drive into their path. Taxi drivers honk to get your attention and let you know they're available. They honk to say 'hi'. They honk if caught up in a traffic backup...as if it will suddenly clear the traffic because they honked their horn...if they didn't they would be trapped forever.
There: Rarely is a honk heard. If one is sounded, it's because of impending danger or it's a toot-toot to say 'hi' to someone. In fact, I am 'there' as I write this. After nearly 2 weeks, I think I have heard a horn less times than I have fingers.
Here: Cost of regular gas is $1.48 a gallon.
There: Cost of regular gas is around $4 a gallon.
Here: Graffiti is all over the place. A clear sign of disrespect for others properties. It's on peoples homes, it's on historical colonial buildings, it's on schools, it's on fences, it's on everything.
There: In my city of nearly 1 million people, there is little graffiti to be found, whether in 'bad' neighborhoods, downtown, or anywhere else. Oh, there is some, but dramatically less than 'Here'.
Here: Almost everyone has a job. The unemployment percentage rate is very low. Many jobs may not be 'necessary' but people have jobs, which earns them money, which goes back into the economy. The government is taking steps to tax imported products to encourage people to buy products made here.
There: Jobs are pouring out of the country and the money with it. Big corporations favor profits for the already-overpaid, over-bonused executives and the rich stockholders at the expense of the average person...the person who actually keeps the economy alive by purchasing things such as homes, cars, electronics, etc.
Here: Costs of medical services are reasonable. You can see a doctor for a half hour or more, receive the treatment you need, and have their personal telephone number given you, all for $25. Medical coverage premiums don't cost you more than a house payment. In fact, I pay $2.83 a month.
There: If you're unemployed, medical premiums cost more than 1/2 your total take-home unemployment check. You need to bone up on speed-talking as you only have 10 minutes with your doctor to rush through an examination before they need to move on to the next guinea pig....errr....patient. Cost to see that doctor for a few minutes....hundreds of dollars.
Here: Attorneys are not money grubbing, ambulance chasing, self-serving, opportunists of the misfortunes of others. Contracts are basic, straightforward, simple, to the point and, many times, only a few pages long.
There: Attorneys have caused medical costs to soar due to litigation. Insurance premiums of all types are sky-high because of, again, litigation. The belief is to hold everyone else accountable no matter what the specific circumstances are and the goal is to attain giant monetary settlements so the attorney's cut nets them huge windfalls. The phone book attorney ads are the first thing you see. On television, attorneys advise you to contact them no matter what transpired as they will guarantee you a hefty monetary gain. Attorneys dictate the content of legal documents to the point no one understands the terminology and there's so much content no one reads it, they just sign it. Then, in court, they don't abide by any of it...they throw it all out and go for the 'gold' (money).
Here: There is very little in the way of 'fast food joints' and only a few drive-thru's exist in the entire country. There's no Taco Bell, Jack in the Box, Carl's Jr, Dairy Queen, Arby's, Fatburger, In-and-Out, Wendy's, etc. However, there are a FEW McDonalds, plus Burger King and KFC exist. Fast food is not an integral part of the culture.
There: Fast food joints exist in every hamlet, town, city, and megalopolis and they seem to reside in every neighborhood thereof. The culture here is to get food fast no matter the quality or makeup of fat or calories. It's quick satisfaction but one of the results is an obese, unhealthy population. There's no ethics when considering the marketing of such products such as 'heart attack burgers', triple patty burgers with onion rings, bacon, and cheese piled on, or a pint of ice cream with 80 grams of fat in it. Stores now have clothing sizes 2XL and up, plus waist sizes 40 and up, as part of their common stock.
Here: Kids and young adults treat their parents and elders with respect. Many people live with their parents well into their 20's and 30's (even if married) and they LIKE IT and their parents LIKE IT. They ENJOY spending time with one another as well as relatives.
There: Parents are treated with disrespect. Kids demand things from their parents regardless of whether they earn it or not. Elders are treated with contempt and utter impatience. They have little value. Parents want their kids out of the house at 18. Kids can't wait to get away from their family home at 18.
Here: Kids walk home from school by themselves or with friends....unaccompanied...without fear. They play in their yards and streets....without fear. They talk to strangers...without fear.
There: Kids are taught from an early age to not talk to anyone they don't know. Fear others. Kids should never walk alone or without an adult. Kids cannot play outside, even in their own yard, without being supervised. Fear is always present. Don't trust anyone.
Here: Kids have fun with the simplest things. They kick a ball around with buddies. They make their own fun.
There: Kids are not content unless they have the latest technology such as X-box, or an I-Pod, or an I-Phone, or their very own (latest version available) computer loaded with lots of video games. Kids plant themselves in front of an electronic device, many times involving violence, and become addicted to mindless, electronic fantasies to fill their time. Murders and mayhem are made to be fun and not taken seriously.
Here: People take responsibility for their own actions. Twist their ankle on a disheveled sidewalk? No one is held accountable but themselves. Violent movies? Don't buy them. Bad politician? Vote them out...which, as a result, they've ousted a few Presidents in recent times.
There: Everyone else must be held accountable no matter what happens. And, that 'everyone else' must include anyone POSSIBLY remotely involved. Buy a cup of hot coffee and burn yourself? Get several million dollars in payout (with the attorneys getting their hefty share) and be sure to include the coffee cup maker, the maker of the coffee beans, as well as the retailer who sold the product. Didn't have a sign on the roof of the school you were planning to rob informing you the skylights posed a danger? Win millions after falling through the skylight (of the school you were going to rob). Push politicians to make laws forbidding certain types of products from being produced (ie; videos containing violence, music with blasphemous language) versus....STOP BUYING THEM!!!
Here: My property taxes are approximately $150 a year, discounted if I pay early in the year due. Have one year to pay.
There: My property taxes are $5,600 a year. No discounts for early payment. Penalties 1 day after due date.
Here: Designer coffees don't exist. Yes, we produce a lot of coffee bean product but consumers drink a good old fashioned cup of coffee. Only a small handful of 'coffee houses' exist in the country.
There: Designer coffee houses flood the landscape, sometimes several on any given block. People are addicted to the trendy, hip fashion of ordering custom coffees to their demanding tastes. It's a whole new vocabulary to learn: no fo (foam), 1 1/2 pumps, 1 sweetener, light ice, extra hot, 122 degrees, no-fat, room-for-cream, almond/peppermint/pumpkin/vanilla, # of shots, tall/short/vente/grande, double cup, blah blah blah. Oh, and a mere $5 a pop with many folk consuming more than one a day. The other day I ordered an ice coffee 'there'. It was a large cup, filled 3/4 full of ice to take up space, then coffee and vanilla syrup. 10 gulps and it was gone. Price? $3.50
Here: You can earn anywhere from 5.25% (Bank) to 7.25% (Credit Union) on a government insured CD deposit. Yes, the dot is to the RIGHT of the first number. At other financial institutions, albeit not government insured, you can even get 10%.
There: The dot is to the LEFT of the first number.
Here: Moms cook. From scratch. You're hard-pressed to find pre-made boxed meals (ie; Healthy Choice, Lean Cuisine, Hamburger Helper, etc) in the grocery stores. Families eat together around the table.
There: It's all about time...don't have it. Too busy to cook. Buy a box, throw it in the microwave. For the kids, too. No time for sit-down meals with the family. Must keep moving. Money to make.
Here: We're not at war, haven't been in a long time. We don't butt into everyone else's business. We are not a gun-toting society. Cops don't have to fear for what the other person may be armed with.
There: Violence leads the televison news every night. Someone was shot or murdered yesterday. Someone got pissed off because their parking space was taken so they took out their ever-ready-and-handy gun and ended the other persons life. Random shootings of multiple people (ie; people in a theater, high school and college campuses, coffee shops, malls) have become part of the fabric of our lives 'there'. Cops are trigger-happy. News about the war (or wars) we're currently (and seemingly always) engaged in fills newspapers and news hours. We butt into everyone else's business and tell them what they should/should not do. As a result, people get mad at us and attack us. Trillions of dollars of citizen-worked-and-earned money is spent on the great war machine instead of job creation, infrastructure, schools, mass transit, medical and social programs, etc.
Here: Cops drive the same cars as the general population. Their motorcycles are rarely bigger than 250 cc's...the same as the general population. It is rare to see a cop speeding, sirens blaring, to some destination. It is very uncommon to see police sitting alongside the road to catch speeders or someone who has done some other infraction of the motor vehicle law such as running a stop sign, making an illegal u-turn, or having a blown-out taillight. Cops don't have rifle-filled gun racks in their unit, nor a shield between the driver and the people in the back.
There: Cops drive big 'souped up' cars and motorcycles. They're loaded down with rifles, computers, and protective shields separating the officers from the criminals. It's quite common to see them racing at high speeds to a call. Speed traps are all over the place and police constantly watch over traffic to snare anyone breaking any part of the motor vehicle law.
Here: Dogs are everywhere. In the streets, in the parks, guarding parking lots and businesses after hours. Leashless, ownerless, unbathed (and certainly carrying fleas, ticks, and whatever else) and likely not vaccinated. Very few dogs are neutered/spayed. I have seen more dogs in one year, that have just given birth, than I have seen in my lifetime 'there'. The vast majority of dogs that owners keep in the house are small, yappy dogs...and they yap, Yap, YAP a high-pitched, ear-piercing (and I'm half deaf!!!) screech that sounds like they're in full cardiac arrest. Yet, rarely does the owner do anything about it...they let them yap away even though the neighbors are forced to listen to it and the screeching sounds invade the tranquility of their home.
There: Before anyone can adopt a dog from a shelter, it is required they be neutered or spayed. This keeps the population under control and reduces the amount of abandoned/homeless dogs. Most people keep their pets vaccinated against diseases. Rarely do you see an unbathed dog. Laws require people to keep their dogs on their property or properly leashed when not. Laws also protect people from unreasonable noise...it's called 'disturbing the peace'. Police will be summoned if someone's dog is barking for an unreasonable amount of time and out of control. Dogs running loose will be picked up by Animal Control and taken to a shelter where the owner must pay a fine to retrieve it. Loose dogs may also be spayed/neutered if they remain unclaimed.
Here: I have not seen any child attending school who was not wearing a uniform. Each school has their colors and standard uniform for the kids to wear. This puts everyone on the same level playing field...no competition to outdo one another, no difference between poor, middle-class, or the rich. Parents only have to be concerned with meeting one need...not the demands of a child wanting this or that label, or trendy style, or something too high or too low. When they come home, THEN they can express themselves in their individual style.
There: Only a few institutional schools enforce wearing a uniform. In public schools, where students are free to wear whatever they want (within certain rules), there lurks a competitive attitude to stand out from others which requires wearing the latest fashion trend, the most hyped label (and, therefore, a hefty cost to the parents budget). Violence sometimes erupt over something as benign as tennis shoes. How others are treated is sometimes influenced by whether they are wearing acceptable (to the judger) clothes or not.
Here: Schools are seemingly a place of learning. Imagine that. Schools are safe places to be. Parents support the school system, its administrators, and teachers. Parents supplement what the schools provide by being a teacher themselves at home...the teaching a parent should do.
There: Schools are very often chaos. Teachers spend more time dealing with conflicts then they do teaching. Parents hold the schools accountable for their childs development, rather than the other way around. Schools are convenient babysitters. Parents don't have time or energy (after both parties work all day) to devote to their kids development when they come home. If their child does something wrong at school (ie; has marijuana in their backpack) the parent responds 'oh no....not my child...my child is perfect' and launches a lawsuit because the child was expelled. Schools are not safe havens. The norm has become an environment where they have guards, metal detectors, zero tolerance rules, drugs, fights, gangs, and sometimes violence.
Here: People live simply. They don't require a new car every few years, the old one is good enough and many times they keep it running by fixing it themselves, or maybe an uncle or cousin helps out. And, not every person who has a drivers license has to have their own car. Their houses are simple, nice, and functional. It's all they need. They don't need to show off fancy artwork or designer sofas, have Kohler faucets and light fixtures, or a double-wide fridge. They don't even need a dishwasher machine (they happily wash by hand), nor a clothes dryer (drying outside on a line is fine). Waterfront or million dollar views are unimportant...nice...but no big deal. For the most part, the latest technological gadget is not a must-have. A basic cell phone is fine. If they have a computer, great...it doesn't need to be the latest version software or be outfitted with a huge flat-screen monitor (or monitorS). Using a computer in one spot in the house is perfectly ok. Clothing is functional with a bit of individual style. Labels are unimportant.
There: A big house is the goal and a 3 car garage is the new standard. Every person with a license must have their own car and it must be relatively new. Parents must buy their child a new car. BIG cars or trucks are also very important as the bigger they are (regardless of the need) the more the owner can feel superior. 4 x 4's rarely see anything other than pavement. Kitchens are the centerpiece of pride and stature. What neighborhood you are associated with, is critical. View? Waterfront? Those really 'up' your elite status. That's what its really all about...STATUS. WiFi is a must. An I-phone (for every person), an I-Pod, an I-Pad, and a laptop (again, for every person) is also a must. Life doesn't function without them. Labels are important, therefore paying $100 for a tee-shirt is no big deal as long as it has the proper label....regardless of whether the item was made in a foreign country for pennies.
Here: People work HARD. No matter the age or height or build or gender, people do what is necessary to get done and earn a wage. Haul a bag of cement up stairs? No problemo and no gutteral sounds as they do it. A girl lug a big bag of dirt to your car? Ditto. Get into a high spot to paint a ceiling and they're only 5'6"? They'll figure out a way if it means rigging something that looks like a teetering circus act. Work a menial job requiring next-to-no skills? Sure, they'll do it if it earns them a wage. Work in a crop field or work in a fast food restaurant? Sure, why not....it's not beneath them. They do it with pride. Most retail business employees work Mon - Fri, 10 hours a day, AND Saturday until 1pm. Sunday is their only whole day off....which is spent with family.
There: People don't want to work hard anymore. They want high wages, perks, benefits, time off, flex hours, short weeks, and other things on their laundry list. Work in a farm field or fast food restaurant?....no way, it's beneath them. They wouldn't be caught dead. Let someone else do it. Requires lifting and sweating? No, hurts their back. Grunting and groaning, they file a complaint with OSHA and go on disability. All the 'low level' work is done by other ethnicities that don't find it beneath them. People complain there's no jobs. But, the jobs that ARE there, they don't want. Welfare is a great treat. Free money and stamps for groceries. No need to look for work. But, use the money to buy jewelry, a nice coat, get their nails and hair done, and buy ice cream, coke, and chips. Great examples set for the kids to look up to and emulate when they grow up.
Here: Every day, every hour, and almost every minute you can hear someone's car alarm. Whether it's chirping mutliple times turning it On or Off, or whether it's wailing away for everyone to hear (and not care about) it is an integral part of day to day living here. No one seems to realize (or care) they can change their settings so the alarm is not audible every time it is turned On or Off. After all, the freakin things blink the car lights and you hear the clunk of the door locks, so the owner knows their action worked. But, nooo...it must make noise to invade everyone elses peace. When an alarm wails, it should be the EXCEPTION, which then causes people to take notice. But, here, everyone ignores the wailing of the alarms which totally defeats the intended purpose, NO? It's ineffective, so, what purpose does it serve??????
There: Though there are millions of cars (literally) outfitted with alarms, rarely do you hear one. If you DO, it's because there's a problem and people take notice. It is also rare that you hear any sound when the alarm is activated/deactivated. All is quiet. All is well. People use their car (and house) alarms as they were intended....to only be heard when there's a problem. And, when it does go off, people perk up and pay attention. It's effective, works as designed and intended, NO?
Here: People walk. They ride the busses or take taxis. Not everyone has a car, much less multiple cars in a family. Inner-city streets can be congested at times, but it's primarily due to the fact the cities are old and streets are narrow. Highways and the few freeways that exist are rarely backed up. Commerce flows freely. For the most part, it's pretty stressless.
There: Freeways in and near large cities are choked at almost any hour of the day. Trucks transporting the livlihood of commerce are mired down in the mess with everyone else....burning fuel and going nowhere fast. Stress levels go up. Most people are not walkers. It's all about convenience, therefore they drive from one spot to the next to the next. In some cities, riding a bus is considered just for the poor people, whereas other cities bus and mass-transit are more widely used by the general population. Taxis are horribly expensive and used mostly by people with generous travel expense accounts.
Here: I haven't been through a major election campaign 'here'. Therefore, I can't really expound upon the pro's and con's of that experience.
There: UGH. Campaigns have bloated to the point they start a year before voting day. For a year or more, citizens are subjected to endless, nagging, nauseating television ads invading their homes. Lawns, roadsides, windows, and anywhere else you can stick one, explode with signs telling you nothing more than to vote for him/her....no reasons...just vote for them. The intenet is plastered with all sorts of they vs them stories. 99% of it is manipulated by one party or another to sway voters to their side. They rarely tell the entire story...only the part that benefits them. No politician will stand up and tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth. They will straddle the fence and tell you something in a way that doesn't offend any element of the voting population, but doesn't tell you anything anyway because it's so non-specific. Hundreds of millions of dollars are spent on conventions/parties and travel all over 'there'. Excuse me, what about the job 'we' hired them to do....who's doing it while they are out galavanting around the globe for a year campaigning for the job they want us to RE-hire them to do? And, when they do get the job, nothing gets done because XX party won't give into anything put forth by YY party, and vice versa. UGH.
Here: People are friendly. They greet you with a 'Buenas Dias' (good morning), 'Buenas Tardes' (good afternoon), or 'Buenas Noches' (good evening) depending on the time of day. Retail workers greet you with a genuine smile and, again, genuinely thank you for your business when you leave. You're 'invited' to sit down when in an office. People smile. If your car stalls on the street, several will jump out of their cars and help push you. Pedestrians will wait for YOU to drive by before stepping onto the street. If you ask for something in the store, they will take you there. Grocery clerks will bag your groceries AND take them to the car, or taxi, for you.
There: People are friendly, but only after you get to know them. They walk by with their head bowed down to not make eye contact, or their face is buried in a technology device. Generally, they won't help you out if you're in a 'situation' because they might be put at risk for liability. Don't get involved. Retail workers rattle off a scripted greeting with no sincerity...it's just required. If someone is about to step in the street and you drive through, you are cursed and flipped-off. Ask for something in the store? 'Aisle 8'.
Here: Yes, there's rules and laws, but they're pretty much common-sense stuff. Ride a motorcycle with a family of 4...sure, why not...it's up to you. Have a child ride in a car without a child seat, much less rear-facing, AAA-approved, rated for children between 12 and 16 pounds, etc etc....it's up to you. Stick a dryer vent out the window? Why not? Works!! No handrail on the stairs in your house....just be careful!!!
There: Rules, Rules, and more Rules. You can't do that, you can't do this, stay off of that you might hurt yourself, you must disclose everything under the sun but it doesn't matter how fast you rattle it off or how small the font is as long as it's there. Doesn't matter if anyone can understand it or read it. Because something happened to a few, all others must now stop. You must warn people of their stupidity. Hair dryers are not for use underwater. GAWD!!! I wouldn't have known that if they didn't tell me!! And, if they didn't tell me and I DID use my hair dryer while scuba diving I could've sued for MILLIONS and WON!!!!!!
I have heard over and over and over that Ecuador is like living in the 1950's when things weren't so complicated, so rude, so self-centered, so violent, so cautious, so litigious, so manipulative, so dishonest, so lacking of integrity and ethics.
A lot of us Expats who are retiring were born/raised in that era. We've experienced and seen first-hand the downward spiral of 'there' and, as a result, have chosen to retire in a place like 'here', though it isn't perfect it's a far cry from the world of 'there'.