10 Years of Blog Archive

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

There Are Two Different Kinds of Gringos in Cuenca Ecuador UPDATED 2016

We are in the process of updating all of our material (this article first published August 2011) about Cuenca Ecuador that needs updated and this one sure needs it. It's a big job because we have been sharing 'what it's like to really live abroad' on a consistent basis for a number of years, so we have lots of informative content about retiring here so you can get a better idea if Ecuador is right for you. We can't make the decision for you but we can sure help. 

New updates will be in red text.

Update 2016 - The title to this post seems to need a little clarification to us five years later, but rather than change it, we're just going to let you know what has changed. 

In actuality, there are many different kinds of gringos that move to Cuenca, not just two. Every individual and every family is different in their own way because each couple or family has their own reasons why they want to move to Cuenca and how they are going to live when they get here. 

There are two different kinds of gringos that move to Cuenca Ecuador. And there is nothing wrong with either kind of gringo except for this is Latin America with a much, much different cultural mind-set and so coming here and behaving like one does in the USA will cause issues and maybe negative consequences for them.

There are those that "mesh in" with the culture and don’t allow the slower pace to bother them; they become a part of Cuenca Ecuador and enjoy the family oriented culture and way of life. 

Then there are those who come here and remain indifferent to the way things are done and always complain and really aren’t happy people. If they can’t find their Skippy peanut butter or brand of bologna on the store shelf they become frustrated. This is where the label of "ugly American" came from. We think the term is rather disparaging to say the least; a better way to see it is there are people who come here and do not know what they're really getting into. Why am I telling you this? Well, many people have this mistaken belief that life here is going to be like it is in North America. 

Update 2016 -  We do not expect 100%  integration. We've written about how for a foreigner to totally integrate into a foreign culture it would mean to change your ideals and beliefs and that is something that most people cannot do and shouldn't necessarily do! The word "integrate" defined is not the same as 'going local'. 

For example, integrate means that if you take the color blue and mix it with green it becomes a whole new color by combining the two colors into one new color of teal. There is no more blue and there is no more green; its now the color TEAL. That's what integrate means, so we stopped using that term as it is not appropriate wording.
It is different here; not in a bad way, at least not for us, but some people have moved from Ecuador because they don’t like the Ecuadorian fare of rice, chicken, beans, and corn. Some folks, who live here, complain about the food being bland.  It's funny because people will ask about the "food" and we respond: "its very good" but then figure out they meant restaurants and we were referring to natural fresh food cooked at home.  We say, cook at home and be happy!

The availability of international restaurant fare in the states has people expecting and/or wanting that same availability here. They do have international restaurants here and more are popping up all the time but you will pay international prices and the international restaurants do not give you very much food, as you'll soon discover. You can buy everything you need here in the Supermaxi store to make your own favorite meals at home. 

Some people move away because they are afraid to walk outside of their gated community, which after awhile they end up feeling restricted by that. The problem is they are restricting themselves by living in fear. 

We do not live in a gated community or in gringlandia and we've never had any crime issues with us or in our neighborhood we live in.  We love to walk and we walk all over the place in Cuenca. We live on the west side and walk to Supermaxi, Coral, and have even walk several miles downtown a couple of times a week, to the historic district and we feel safe. But keep in mind: We never walk alone; we never walk at night; we never walk with purses and fat wallets; we don’t wear expensive jewelry or dress like tourists, we dress like everyone else. 

Update 2016In late 2015 for several months, every week on a consistent basis, we had some burglar problems but ever since we ramped up security, it's no more. Things can change at any moment. And we've learned how to plug some of the holes that were making us vulnerable.

Some gringos never find that comfort level while living here because they came to Cuenca with rose-colored glasses on and have too high of standards about living here. For instance, they don’t buy produce from the local farmers in the outdoor markets, such as Feria Libre because they don’t like walking on dirt floors, or they don’t like the fishy smells from the fish vendors, or they don’t understand basic Spanish and therefore, can’t interact and bargain with the vendors or farmers. 

Update 2016 - We don't blame them about not liking the fish and meat smells. At first Feria Libre is like a tourist attraction; its fun to go there and see all the variety of produce and negotiate but after awhile its not that neat anymore, especially after seeing you can get almost the same prices at a regular grocery store chain that is clean, no smells, no fear of pick-pockets, no gringo gouging because everything has a fixed price at the grocery store. Let's face it, it's easier and less burdensome to shop at the nicer grocery stores.

In fact, we don't think that shopping at the local Mercados is a panacea for going local! 

Some gringos spend just about as much as they do in North America for their cost of living because they don’t really know any other way to live. They live in the luxury high rise condos (luxury to Ecuador standards, not North American standards) at $700 to $1,200 a month, they eat out in the International Restaurants, they buy their produce and imported favorite foods at the grocery store Supermaxi, and fill up their apartment with expensive furniture before ever seeing if they are going to want to live here! 

Now, what's wrong with this picture? People really need to live here for at least 6-months, preferably a year, to really know if Ecuador is for them. 

We've read some forums where the gringos living here were complaining that the cost of living was expensive just as if they were living in North America.   

Surprise, surprise!

UPDATE October 2014 - We still pay $250 monthly for our rent. Update March 2016: We still live in the same house same rent.

Yes, there are two different kinds of gringos living here in Cuenca. The ones that come here with rose colored glasses and just aren’t ready for the change of pace and the different ways that things are done here. They aren't bad and they aren't ugly, they just don't know of any other way to handle their dissatisfaction. They complain a lot on the blogs and forums and that's ok. Everyone complains once in awhile. 

Update 2016 - The situation becomes ugly is when expats take their frustrations out on the local people and try to change the culture.  This is blatant disrespect and these type of people should not be here. We do not mean that in a bad way but how some expats behave toward locals does affect how locals see us all. 

Then there are those that did their research, and can see past the different ways of doing things, which is actually pretty cool, and they just live and let live. You know, be happy and be blessed! This is a a part of what going local is: until we can "live and let live" we will not be able to go local and we will not be able to be respectful residents either. Life in Ecuador takes some adjustments and some people are more flexible than others...that's all that means. Ecuador is not for everyone.

Cuenca has some great people, a great culture, and is a beautiful city with gorgeous mountains and countryside. You can live here for far less if you take your time doing things, learn Spanish, enjoy family time at the dinner table for three hours, and live the manana (tomorrow) way of life. 

If you're coming here to scope Cuenca out, or to live, you best get the DIY Cuenca Landing Guide so you can SAVE money, ENJOY your time here and RELAX. The Guide will take you where you need to go!  Just go read what everyone is saying!

Until we write again, you might like to read some of our related articles about the subject of going local in a foreign country.
We're an expat family of five living frugal, healthy and happy in Cuenca Ecuador. We vlog about what its really like to live abroad. We leave out the hype and tell it like it is through our experiences. So come and join us and you will soon come to know if moving to Cuenca Ecuador or any other Latin American country is for you.


  1. Thank you for this info. I am brand new to this. Am planning to come to Cuenca in Dec or Jan. I actually need to be one of the frugal, fit-in with the local culture people. Why would I move so far away if all I was going to do is live behind a gate to shut out the "scary" people? Nancy H

  2. Hi Nancy,

    This is Angie. Frank forwarded your email to me about wanting to know about fabric shops and sewing machines. Oh yes, there are 2 big fabric shops in Cuenca that I have seen just walking around downtown. One of the shops is H-u-g-e, you'll love it if you like to sew.

    Next time we go downtown, which will be in a few days, I'll get some prices for you on different types of fabrics. Yes, I've also seen sewing machines here for sale, I'll look at some prices on those too.

    There are a couple of shops downtown where there is like ten or 12 women in there all sewing at a machine, I think they do tailoring and dress making. A lot more women sew here than in the U.S.

    Ecuador is a more frugal minded country than North America, and they are very resourceful people. If a zipper in their jeans breaks they buy a new zipper and have it sewn in instead of buying a new pair of jeans. If the soles on their shoes get a hole, they have their shoes resoled.

    There are no thrift stores here to buy used clothes for $1 to $3... it makes sense to fix what breaks or sew what tears here.

    In fact my backpack zipper broke and I took it to a repair shop here in Cuenca and they fixed it for $3...now that sure beats spending $20 to $25 on a new backpack. They can fix virtually anything that breaks here.

    I'll keep you posted on what I learn on the fabric.
    Take care,

    1. Like Nancy, I plan to visit Cuenca later in the year. Meanwhile, I read all of what you publish and store in my brain for later use, thank you and Frank for sharing your experiences in Ecuador. I hope to meet you in person upon arrival, as I expect a pleasant experience then.

  3. Hi, thanks for all the great information. I am a retired male age 55, and speak no Spanish, although I am definitely going to try to learn when I get there. I have a male friend who is also wanting to move either to Cuenca or Quito. We know the differences in the sizes of each town, but we were wondering how difficult it is for a couple of single guys our age to meet and date local women? Are Cuenca local women open to dating Gringos? I know the language will be a barrier, but I was hoping a lot of locals speak English, and hopefully would be willing to help us learn. We're not a couple of losers moving to Ecuador to pick up on women. We just want to be able to have a normal relationship, with normal women. We were just wondering because it is important to be able to date. Thank you and keep up the good work. Chuck

  4. Hey guys, Very interesting updates! The "2 type" of gringos thing reminds me of something I read from a reader in another website about living in Ecuador. The reader was commenting on why some expats leave Ecuador and stated: Some think the grass in greener on the other side and then there are the others that don't really care what color the grass is as long as someone else is cutting it! I took what she was saying as like you guys say about certain unhappy expats, they think Ecuador is going to be like living say they did in the US. Then there are the expats that are happy to live in a low costs, beautiful and interesting country with so much to offer! I just though it was such a great analogy in comparing the "2 types" that move there. Keep up the great, useful and interesting information! Oh I also just read a new thread about a couple looking for information on rental agencies for a move to Vilcabamba. I warned them about the potential of being gringo gouged, highly recommended you guys and added a link to your website. Take care.

  5. Have lived in Cuenca (Misicata) for two years, I love it here but having lived previously in Kenya, East Africa was aware of the differences in availability in other countries of things we are used to or prefer. Had a recent attempted robbery on a neighbor's house thwarted by arrival of another neighbor and two days later in broad daylight a house robbery on road nearby so the City officials called a meeting in a large tent to hear concerns and are putting more lights along the road and buttons on homes that immediately will connect to 911 (police)as are very concerned about keeping Cuenca safe for all. Only Gringa there out of 45 people and was an interesting event. Neighbors passed out shots of the local favorite, heated, sugar cane liquor to all in attendance and a nice way to meet more neighbors. About to take on a tutor enabling me to know Spanish well, hopefully, to allow me still further involvement in local culture although have been blessed by being adopted into a large local family here who share many cultural events with me. Lack nothing in living here and after a recent visit back to the US, I was getting homesick for Cuenca actually. Slower pace, less focus on things vs. people and many more blessings if we care to focus on them instead of what is not here we are used to having. Thanks to your family, Frank, we continue to learn how to fit in and be appreciated here in a new homeland.

  6. I'm looking for someone that is an American and lives in Ecuador for an interview. I'm working on a project. I will tell you more about it. Email me at: marco.v.tacuri@gmail.com

    I'm looking forward to hearing from you!

    Thank you



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