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Friday, June 5, 2015

Cuenca - it’s like the good ol’ days of the 1950’s

Hola from my little town (400,000 people), high in the Andes (8,200 feet), of a Third World Country (Ecuador, South America).

I’ve heard it said many, many times over the 4+ years I’ve lived here, that living in Cuenca, Ecuador (South America) is like living in the 1950’s.  Why?

Is it because we don’t have internet?  No cell phones?  We watch TV in negro y blanco?  We drive 1958 Chevy Station Wagons?  

Mom/Dad actually had one of these, same color config, too.
Or, because we have phone party lines (if you don't know what that is...go ask your mother....or Grandma)?
What does LA6-8991 mean to you?
Would you believe I actually operated one of these things in a hospital in my home town when I was 19?
Do you even know what it IS????
No, No, No…ummm….and No.  We have internet, cell phones, flat screen TV’s, 911, modern cars, and soon we’ll have light rail.

Let’s first look at WHO is saying it.   In my line of business I’ve met hundreds of people in the past 4+ years who are either tourists just visiting Cuenca, tourists who are putting Cuenca to the test to see if it might be a fit for their retirement, folks actually making the move, or people who’ve MADE the move and are full-blown expats already.

Secondly, the vast majority of those who’ve moved here are people born in the late 40’s or sometime in the 1950’s and they’re predominantly from the United States or Canada.  Without getting out a calculator, that means ages 60 and over.

It’s practically a given when you meet an expat (or to-be-expat) for the first time, the conversation will include 3 questions;
  1. Where are you from?
  2. Why did you move here (leave your home country) slash why did you choose Cuenca, Ecuador?
  3.  Do you like it here?
After a hundred or more of these conversations, it was very evident there was a lot of commonality in the response,
  1. United States or Canada
  2. Pick any 3 of the following:
a.     Economic/financial.   Can’t afford to retire in XXX and live the way we want to.
b.      Frustrated with the government, politics, etc
c.       Medical costs (see ‘a’ above)
d.      The downward spiral of society (more on this later)
e.       The Kardashians (see ‘d’ above)
f.       Always being at war(s) (see ‘b’ above)
g.      Not going to spend another (expletive) winter (or summer) in XXX
3.  Yes, very much so
a.       People are so kind
b.      It’s much cheaper here
c.       The weather is mild
d.      It’s like the 1950’s


Those who grew up in the very early 60’s or before, have actually experienced two VERY different worlds in one lifetime.  What used to be the standards of society for many, many decades has been virtually obliterated since then.  It’s a shame people born in the 1970’s and afterwards never got to see the light of what it was like to live ‘back then’.  They only know now.  Their standard, their baseline, is NOW, from which all will be measured in their future.  For example, their baseline starts with ‘never talk to strangers’, whereas that mentality never existed in the baseline of those raised in the 50’s.

Okay, before your eyes roll back in your head (too late?) let me share some examples.  The following is a list of observations compiled from my own experience as well as countless comments I hear from fellow expats.  Warning:  This article may take 10 minutes to read.  

The first few entries, I’ll enter a statement of what it’s like here in Cuenca, then a counter statement about what it’s like today in the USA.  Then, I’ll stop making the comparison as you’ll get the idea.  Just presume the opposite for the ‘today’ perspective.  When you read the list for Cuenca, these are characteristics of what it was like when we were growing up in the 1950’s.

  • Cuenca
o   Kids walk home from school alone or with friends
  • Back home today
o   No way in hell.  They are to be picked up by parents or escorted by an adult.  NEVER walk alone.
  • Cuenca
o   You can talk to strangers
  • Back home today
o   NEVER talk to strangers
  • Cuenca
o   There are zip-lines in public playgrounds for kids and young adults to ride.
  • Back home today
o   Couldn’t possibly exist without the law offices of Bernstein, Weingate, Cogburn, Predovich & Associates at the landing end of the zip-line.

Continuing on....

  • Ecuador is not at war, nor has been in a long time.  Ahem.
  • When you see a Doctor, there’s no need for an appointment.  Just go in, take a number or take a seat in order of arrival, and wait your turn.  When a client leaves, the Doctor will lean out the door and say ‘Next!’ and in you go.   He (or she) will enter your data into the computer…not a receptionist or other office staff.  You might spend 30-45 minutes with the doctor.  At the end, you might pay $25 for the office visit and the doc will take your money and give you a receipt.  Other than the Doctor, you MIGHT see one other support person and/or assistant.  Oh, and depending on the situation, you may be given the doctor’s home and/or cell phone number because he (or she) wants you to check back on Sunday.
  • We don’t have terrorists out to get us.  I don’t think they want our bananas.
  • We have the good ol’ fashioned Mom & Pop shops.  Little stores sprinkled throughout every neighborhood where you can run down to get some milk, eggs, candy, or some nails from the little hardware store, or get the car oil changed by the local mechanic.  They know you, you know them.  Everyone has a job.
  •  At the gas stations, the gas is pumped for you.  There’s no self-service.  They have jobs.
  •  Complete strangers say hello to you on the street by saying ‘Buenas Dias’ (Good Morning), ‘Buenas Tardes’ (Good Afternoon), or ‘Buenas Noches’ (Good Evening).  There have been times when I’m at work in my yard, face pointed to the ground, unaware of someone walking by, and they’ll still make a point of greeting me!!
  •   There’s no Lean Cuisine, Weight Watcher, or Healthy Choice type of complete frozen meals to nuke in the microwave.  People COOK.  GASP!!!  Mom prepares a full meal for the family, cooking from scratch with fresh ingredients.
  •   Are you sitting down?  And, the family EATS TOGETHER!!!  They LIKE IT!!  They REALLY LIKE IT!!!  Many times I’ve been turned down to do something with a friend because they ‘need to go home to eat with my family’.  Gasssssssppp….where’s my inhaler?
  • We’re not a litigious society here.  No one fears being sued because someone chose to walk across their yard and twisted their ankle in a hole.  If you spill hot coffee on yourself and you didn’t realize it was hot, then you’re an idiot.  You’re not going to get a $6 million windfall because you walked across the roof of a school, intending to break in, but fell through a skylight and got injured because there were no signs on the roof warning you of the skylights.  During our breakfast, we’re not haunted by TV commercials inviting us to call the law offices of (you know who) as they will get you (and more importantly, them) boatloads of money even if you were in the wrong.  NO PROBLEMO!!
  • People embrace hard work here.  They take pride in hard work.  They’re not above working at entry-level jobs and earning their way up, digging ditches, sweeping the streets and picking up garbage, or being a security guard in a condo building.
  • Other than big-box stores, most businesses are closed on Sundays.  Sundays are for church and family.
  • Homes are simple.  Homes are functional.  Homes are not showcases.  If a house has a garage at all, it’s generally for 1 car.  Kitchens are not fancy.  They’re designed simply to get a job done…to prepare meals.  It’s very UNcommon to find a dishwasher (the machine type) in a typical kitchen.  There aren’t bathrooms for every bedroom.  Many times, more than 1 person shares a bedroom.  And, laundry?   IF a household has a washing machine, they oftentimes don’t have a dryer.  The laundry is hung out to dry.  Sooooo 1950’s!!!
  • There’s very little drug presence here.  Probably because they can’t afford it!
  • Seldom seen are drunks, bums, homeless camped out under a bridge or other sheltered area, or panhandlers with outstretched hands.  If someone is extending a hand or hat, it’s because they’re working for tips, performing for you at a stoplight by juggling, doing magic tricks, bouncing a ball on their head (without dropping), and the like.
  • Along the same line, you can bet 99.99999% of the time you will not find a person holding a cardboard sign informing you they are a veteran of a particular war and, therefore, you should give them money.
  • Being PC (Politically Correct) is not a part of our mindset.  We don’t walk around on eggshells being ever-so-careful and paranoid of what we can/can’t say.  We can still say MERRY CHRISTMAS for cripes sake!!!
  • We don't have ROAD RAGE!!!!   Though, some drivers can be, let's say...assertive....you're not going to get shot at or suffer other types of retalliation.
  • Want to rent an apartment?  The lease is one or two pages, written in simple language that’s easily understood.  No credit report/credit score check, no criminal background report, no income verification.  NADA.  Simple.
  • Big-box grocery stores have employees bring your groceries to your car (or taxi) and load them up.  Remember those days?  They’re usually tipped 25-50 cents.  Carts stay behind the check-out counters while ‘boxboys’ use special carts on the other side to take your stash to the parking lot.  That way, parking lots are free from carts scattered about and none end up somewhere in someone’s neighborhood.
  • Schools are fun, a place to learn, make friends, go to dances.   No security guards, examinations of backpacks for aspirin, patdowns, etc.   Dress code is uniforms, so everyone is on the same level playing field fashion-wise.
  • We’re not a gun-toting society.  Guns are just not part of our day to day mentality.  It’s almost if they don’t exist.  There’s no anxiety on campus’s, malls, or movie theaters.  No one is concerned of the potential outcome of a parking space debate….if such a debate even occurs.
  • The government seems to do things for the people versus corporations and the rich.  Well, fancy that concept!!  In the 4 years I’ve been here, I’ve witnessed roads being built/improved/widened, parks and plazas and buildings restored, light rail construction, 911 implemented, dirt streets paved and sidewalks built or repaired, school and hospital construction, fire departments outfitted with the latest equipment, traffic signals replaced with LED, and on and on.
  • Kids don’t need X-Box or other high tech gadgets to be entertained.  All they need (and want) is ….a ball.   It’s amazing to see, all over the city, groups of kids, young adults, and adults alike simply having fun kicking a ball around (soccer) and/or playing volleyball.   All they need is a bare patch of ground and a ball.
  • Materialism.  It’s not about McMansions.  It’s not about having I-phone  It’s not about every kid having a car, yet alone a NEW car.  It’s not about a TV in every bedroom.  It’s not about Nike Air shoes.  It’s not about a coffee-maker where you pop a plastic, throw-away pod in the machine and 2 seconds later, voila, designer coffee, it’s not about a 40ft Winnebago complete with AC, dishwasher, Bluetooth, vibrating bed and gets a whopping 4 mpg.
  • Younger people respect, even admire, their elders.
  • Along the same line, they LOVE to play with their younger/older brothers, and sisters, and cousins, and neighbors, and aunts, and uncles and their grandparents.
  • We make things.  WHUH??  Yeah, we don’t get EVERYTHING from China and Japan.  We assemble cars, produce coffee, make TV’s, washers, dryers, microwaves, cooking stoves, cell phones, and jewelry.  Furniture is typically handmade and with REAL wood.  We export fruits, mine gold and silver, and produce our own electricity from dams.
  • Love a seque.  We also FIX things!!!   Huh…get outa here!!  Why not just throw them away and buy another?  We fix TV’s, toasters, blenders, cameras.  That’s unheard of!!   Not when I was a kid it wasn’t.
  • Unlike today, we’re not a UOME society.  Sorry, that was an acronym wasn’t it?   You owe me society.  The mentality of entitlement.  Something the 1950’s generation never heard of.   Doesn’t exist here…in Cuenca…Ecuador…South America.
  • Most people here are not in a hurry.  They aren’t running around stressed out because they have to squeeze more into every second of every minute of every hour of every day.  It's about QUALITY of life, not QUANTITY.
  • We don't get a dozen pieces of junk mail every day.
  • You can get milk DELIVERED!!
  •  Outsourcing jobs.   Oi Vey.  Need I go there?  Jobs are HERE.  Like they were THEN.  Not THERE.
  • People don't mind taking 10 minutes to read a good article.

  • This isn’t about criticizing or saying ‘we’re better than they are’.  It’s just recognizing Cuenca seems to have those certain aspects of life we used to enjoy when we were (much) younger…and missing those elements in today’s society back home.  It’s one of the many reasons so many have been drawn to the lifestyle of Cuenca, Ecuador (South America).


    About Me

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    Palma, Mallorca, Spain
    This is all about my transition from an American lifestyle and culture to my newest adventure, life in Spain, in the city of Palma on the island of Mallorca in the middle of the Mediterranean sea!! I moved from the USA to Cuenca, Ecuador, South America and lived there for 7 years before moving here to Spain in early 2018. To read about my adventures in Ecuador, check out my other blog "Ahhh Cuenca!!". I'll be recapping some of my day-to-day experiences (and mishaps) to highlight what it's like to live in Europe....across the pond.

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