10 Years of Blog Archive

Friday, June 05, 2015

Cultural Crime Differences between South America and North America

In the U.S people are told to report anyone that looks suspicious. What really does that mean “looks suspicious”? Lots of folks look suspicious, and yet wouldn’t do anything to hurt another person; perhaps they are only a bit eccentric but to some people eccentricity looks suspicious. 

Many folks can look suspicious when really they are just ordinary folks like you and me just trying to get through the day without nosy people interfering in their lives. Good luck with that; many people have been conditioned to live in fear and be afraid of everything and anyone that doesn’t behave like them. 

Suspicious Behavior or Just Normal?

In Ecuador some of the people look suspicious, especially when you first get here because you are not used to seeing certain behaviors. You’ll see young males in groups loitering on street corners, watching you as you walk by.  This is not suspicious for Ecuador, although it can be… so still be aware of your surroundings.

In Ecuador you’ll see young men wearing black hoodies with the hoods up over their head, even when it’s not raining; to top it off they are also wearing sunglasses. Who knows what kind of character may be lurking under the hood? But this too is normal for the Andes of Ecuador and not the least bit suspicious. After living in Ecuador for several years you come to find that it’s perfectly normal to wear your hood up in 70ish degree weather and even when it’s not raining.  It’s a great way to stay comfortable in the mountains, where there mostly isn’t any need for central heat or air conditioning.

If these young men walked in any city in the U.S with hoods on and wearing sunglasses they’d probably be stopped on the street and asked to show ID because it looks suspicious hiding or covering up your face and hair walking down the street in North America.  It also seems to be suspicious to loiter around businesses and street corners in the U.S, but here, it’s normal.  You’ll see a lot more of the loitering around businesses all along the Ecuador coast too.

Here in Ecuador this behavior is not only normal but necessary.  Instead what you want to look for is whether their clothes are dirty and torn, whether their hair is combed as most school boys’ and how they look at you and how they behave toward you.  Therefore not everyone that wears a hoodie is suspicious in the Andes, thank god because hoodies are very popular here.

Less Crime in Ecuador than the US? 

People love to talk about on forums how there is less crime in Ecuador than in the U.S. Funny, someone did a Numbeo comparison of Cuenca and Pittsburg, Pennsylvania  and then started boasting about how there is more crime in Pittsburg than in Cuenca. Now, what’s wrong with this picture? Come-on you can guess.  First off we have to compare apples to apples and pears to pears; and as we’ve said already, cultural differences say a lot.

Well first off there’s a big difference in the way things are cataloged in south America vs north America. Perhaps in some countries such as Ecuador only as an example, and many other countries in the southern hemisphere, many types of crimes such as  the under $600 of loss are not even well cataloged at all, or reported, and so when one uses recorded statistical analysis as their conversational basis, there may be a very large skew.

Let us not fall into the trap of minimizing this type of crime.  If you’re an elderly retiree walking along the street during the day in the latest best retirement city in the world, and a perpetrator shoves you and knocks you down on the ground and pulls your purse from your hands, it is something you will not quickly forget.

And then, one has to ask him/her self:  why and who would have an interest in showing a lower crime rate in any particular place, again such as Ecuador as an example, or the next place that will be named ‘best place to retire in the world’.

The fact is it really does not matter if Cuenca has more crime or less apparent statistical crime than comparable size cities in the U.S because Cuenca is in South America!! The culture is different, the amount of proactive police force is different, the crime is different, laws are different and people behave differently, as we have already explained.

Finally because it is different means you have to also behave different than how you are used to behaving back in the good ole USA.  For example in many cities people leave their bags and other things unguarded when grocery shopping, waiting in airports, or eating out in restaurants; here in South and Central America you cannot take your eyes or your hands off your things. There’s many example we could talk about here but we won’t go into all that in this article.

The point is, there is no use bragging about how there is less crime in a South American city than in a North American city because it’s like talking about apples to pears. Instead what you’ll want to do is compare OTHER cities in Latin America to other cities in Latin America that are of comparable size. Bigger cities will almost always have more crime and much more violent crime.

If a person were to compare Cuenca to another city of comparable size in Latin America, try one of these three cities in Latin America: Valparaiso Chile, Cusco Peru, and Popayan, Columbia. (NOTE) We did not choose these cities for any particular reason, other than they are also in Latin America. These cities have similar cultures and are similar in size.  Or?  What other south or central American cities would make a good comparison? 

We're an Expat Family of Five, Living Frugal, Healthy and Happy in Cuenca Ecuador! Enjoy the Discover Cuenca Ecuador blog!


  1. Hummm I beg to differ, I'm Ecuadorean and have lived pretty much my whole life in the USA. I have traveled by home many times and as far as I'm concerned living in CA, there is no place in Ecuador that is worse than the USA. Drive by shootings etc, just last week driving a block away there were crosses and flowers in two places on the same side of the street due to drive by shootings. I'm not saying there aren't crimes in Ecuador I wouldn't be honest but it's not even close to the crime in the USA. Just don't agree with you on this one. We can't go out at night for walks here either and maybe there is no such place in the world you can do so no matter how lovely and clean it is. :) Putty tat007

    1. Hi Putty, Please reread the article. I'm not sure what you are disagreeing on. The article does not say there is more crime in Ecuador than the USA. The article is pointing out that when we COMPARE crime rates we should compare apples with apples, which would be a South American city to another South American city of comparable size. NOT Pittsburgh to Cuenca Ecuador. Thanks for commenting.

    2. The combined metropolitan area of Pittsburgh is almost 3 million people and Cuenca's combined metro area is less than 700,000 people. No comparison whatsoever and yet people go on forums and talk about how Cuenca has less crime than Pittsburgh. I sure hope so!!

      These people who like to minimize crime abroad don't help people; it gives them a false sense of security and that is deceiving...something we veer away from because we're actually trying to help people make a more informed and wise decision.


HMFamilyLife and Discover Cuenca Ecuador Comment Policy
We welcome applicable and respectful comments. Off-topic comments may be removed.