A wonderful attribute we have noticed about most Ecuadorians here in Cuenca, which probably holds true in other Latin America countries as well, (and it does somewhat for Panamanians too) is the easy-going, worry-free kind of position they hold about getting things done. After all, it’s not the end of the world if the grass doesn’t get cut today, and it’s ok if the paperwork won’t get signed until tomorrow, what’s one more day, right?
It’s pretty cool to see so many people happy and content with this laid back lifestyle.
Update 2016 - ...that is until they get behind the wheel of an automobile, then things do a full circle and Ecuadorians become rushed and impatient. Kinda makes you go: hmm.
We attribute the Ecuadorians satisfaction of life to several factors that are readily apparent within the Latin American culture. These factors are not found in many other parts of the world, namely North America and some parts of Europe. The striving to make more money and have more stuff just to keep up with the Joneses puts a lot of stress on people. This kind of rush-rush mentality is not generally apparent here in Ecuador. We have put together several factors for the satisfaction of life for most people here in Ecuador, even for those who are barely making it on their small income.
UPDATE 2016 - Ecuadorians appear to be content with what they have and earning a living for their family. As long as the bills get paid and their children are clothed and fed they are content. Most Ecuadorians live a humble life, and aren't extravagant. Their priorities in life stem from their families, their children and grand parents.
You can see after thinking about it, how a foreigner invasion might cause conflict in some ways. Many foreigners come with an expectation that has been fostered from - living abroad like a king websites - and therefore are at complete opposites with this humble culture. It follows that eventually crime rates skyrocket. We've seen it coming all along and wrote about it in our guides from the very beginning. Unfortunately we don't see an end in sight until the foreigners change their attitudes.
Ecuadorian Families Work Together
As we walk around the beautiful city of Cuenca, no matter where we are in Cuenca, we see families working together. Young married families work right out of their home. Their business is usually on the first floor, whether it is a small restaurant, bakery, grocery store, produce Mercado, clothing store, or whatever they do, they all share in the responsibilities of the business. The living quarters are on the second and third floors, which makes it nice because they don’t have to get in a car and drive anywhere to go to work and they don't have to take their children to an expensive day care. They teach the children when they are really young how to count money and give back change and how to deal with customers. Ten-year olds are working behind the cash registers and selling things on the streets.
FACT: Families that work together are much more content and happy because they don’t have a boss stranger breathing down their neck; the women here have their small children (babies and toddlers) right there with them while they work rather than have a stranger take care of them; they are content with their business and live a balanced, peaceful life, budgeting around the financial means of their family business.
Just the other day, we saw a local indigenous family tilling their garden beds the old fashioned way; a cow was pulling the old plow. It seemed to work quite well. I wanted to take a picture but I stopped myself from doing so; I do not want to disrespect or goggle at their way of doing things.
Ecuadorian Families Eat Together
Lunch here, which is the Ecuadorians main meal of the day, is three hours long. Most of the family run shops and all of the government institutions close up shop between the hours of 1:00pm and 3:00pm. Don't expect to get anything important done between those hours. We have learned in the seven weeks that we have lived here is to enjoy this way of life by doing what they do and take a long lunch. It is actually quite enjoyable to know that for three hours life pretty much slows down to a snail’s pace and you don’t have to worry about nothing but eating good food and conversation with loved ones. If we have important business to attend to, we get up early and get it done, if it doesn’t get accomplished in the morning hours, we simply go back after 3pm.
UPDATE 2016 - This still holds true today. They also only work half a day on Saturdays and Sundays; everything in Cuenca is closed but grocery stores, some restaurants and Mercados.
FACT: Families that eat and converse together every day, during three hours of conversation and interaction are going to be much closer as a family and therefore more content with their life than those people who rush from work to grab a fast food sandwich only to gulp it down real fast so they can make it back to work on time. How many husbands and wives do you know that have lunch together every day for three hours in the states? Here, it is a way of life.
Ecuadorians Are Not In Debt
Many Ecuadorians are not in debt to institutions. They buy everything they need with cash. If they don’t have the money for something they make do without it, until they have the money, or family helps them with what they need temporarily until they can afford what they need. This is where the manana attitude comes in as a positive attribute. Instead of having the attitude, “I’ve got to have this washer today so I’m going to put it on my charge card”, they simply don’t buy it. Even property is bought with cash a lot of the time.
UPDATE 2016 - Most Ecuadorians buy what they need using cash on hand. They do not get loans from the bank, buy things with money they don't actually have, and let themselves go into debt. They live day to day, week to week.
They build their homes with cash they have and when the money runs out you might see a home only half constructed and just sitting there for months with no building going on. Then, all of a sudden the home begins construction again. Living here for almost five years, we have seen many projects sit for months and then later get finished.
Ecuadorians are not in a hurry to keep up with the Pablos like North American’s are with the Jones, it just isn’t in their character to be in a hurry to have stuff, or to work more just to have more stuff, and this is because they are content and happy with what they have, whether how little or how much it might be.
Some Ecuadorians wash their laundry in the river and we’ve seen whole families, moms, dads, and little children in tow, bring a picnic lunch to the river and spend the whole day doing laundry and drying it on the rocks it in the sun. What’s so incredibly neat about this whole picture is, instead of being unhappy that she doesn’t have a washer or dryer to do all the washing for her, she makes do with what she has; not that she wouldn’t love to have a washer to do all the work for her, but then how could the whole family get together for wash day and have a picnic by the river if she wasn’t doing it by hand? Amazing!
FACT: Being in debt harms our health physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually. Not having to worry about comparing our lives to our next door neighbor, or not feeling like we are laboring and working all day just to pay off debt is what gives us contentment and peace of mind. It’s good to work and stay busy, but it’s not healthy for us to work just to pay off loans and other debts and to over indulge in things we do not need.
Happiness is not about what we have but what we do with what we do have and our relationships we have with our family and friends. How do I know this to be true? I see it every day in Cuenca, through the eyes; through the smiles; and through the daily lifestyles of the content Cuencano’s who live here.
Update 2016 - The Ecuadorians have it figured out. They know that happiness is keeping your family together, not working so much that it separates you from your loved ones. It's always endearing to see on the weekends when some bus drivers have their wives and children with them as he drives his Cuenca route on Saturdays and Sundays.
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We're an Expat Family of Five, Living Frugal, Healthy and Happy Abroad. We live in Cuenca, Ecuador and travel the Ecuador coast whenever we get a chance. We just adventured throughout the country of Panama for five weeks! Come along and enjoy some of our experiences with us!