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 2016 - In 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.
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.