It was our intention to do so before we arrived, and we’ve been living like the locals ever since we began our Cuenca journey 4 plus years ago. We know the basic behaviors you need to have to blend in with the local community and live a frugal and happy life in South/Central America.
Going local is not the same as “integrating” oneself into a culture. Integration is actually adopting the beliefs, traditions, values and customs of the new land into your own belief system and vice-versa, which is not easily done. To read more about what it really means to integrate into a culture, click here.
One of the first things we did when we first moved here was let all the local folks know we were not rich Americans. Breaking the stereotype with the real estate/rental agents is a must; otherwise, somewhere down the line someone will take advantage of you. The reality is gringos are often financially taken advantage of in Latin America and most of the time they are oblivious to it.
I’m Not a Rich North American
Have you ever been sized up financially? When the local folks don’t know you they automatically think you’re looking to spend like a tourist would spend. That would be someone who doesn’t know what the local price for something is? We have had to tell many of the local people that “We are not tourists and we live here.”
When we rented the home we live in now we had to let them know “We were not rich gringos and if the price is right we’ll sign a one year lease and rent it on the spot—today! The asking price was $350 but we rented it for $250 per month four years ago and we still rent today for $250.
We live in a nice home in a nice neighborhood that blends in with everyone else’s home. Our rental house does not stand out in anyway, nor is it the nicest home in the Ecuadorian neighborhood that we live in. In other words, it is unobtrusive. We live like the locals live and that’s the way to live if you care about “peace of mind. Locals also have prowler and thievery issues, and noticing how they handle it is a very good idea.
Can I Please Get a Discount?
Department Stores: You wouldn’t believe some of the things we have gotten a discount on just because we asked for one. We’ve gotten discounts on appliances from department stores. Many people think the prices at department stores are fixed like in the U.S, but that isn’t necessarily so. Ask, and you shall receive.
Notary Office: We asked for a “family discount” at the notary office because we’re five people and that’s a lot of paperwork getting notarized and the notary guys just chuckled and gave the discount to us. I doubt they have ever been asked to give out a discount before, especially from a big group of gringos.
Most of the locals get a kick out of us gringos asking for discounts; it actually brings on friendly interactions with the locals because they respect us for being humble with them. It allows them to see that NOT all North Americans are rich like we have been labeled to be and that some of us can behave like ordinary folks…just like them.
Mercados: We all know that bargaining is expected in Mercados, but what many people may not have considered, is that if you don’t know what the seasonal prices are around town in the various grocery stores already, before you even start, then you will surely pay for it…prices in outdoor markets should be half of the best bargains around town already, and if you weren’t already a frugal and diligent shopper before moving to South America, going to an outdoor Mercado won’t necessarily turn you into one. On the contrary, I’ve had vendors quote me triple and local bystanders snicker. All because the color of my skin says: rich foreigner. Ha.
Hiring Taxi: When we were in Panama the taxi drivers do not have meters and so we always had to ask first “how much” or tell them “what we want to pay”. If you just jump in the taxi you’ll surely find that some taxi drivers are not exactly honest about a fare, especially if they think you do not know what a fare should be.
So, firstly what we had to do was ask a few taxi drivers what a fare should be and once we gathered that information we were able to take a taxi to and fro like a local. Simply jumping into a taxi cab, without a care in the world will surely help prices go up for all the gringos just like they did in Cuenca BEFORE they got the meters in.
In 2011 in Cuenca (before meters) we could easily go all the way downtown from Las America and Coral Centro for $2.50 by 2013 the price had risen to $4 and if it was raining out, or night time, make it $4.50. Then, magically Cuenca taxi drivers had to start having meters in their cabs because of all the locals complaining of the high fares. Today, with the meters that same route/fare is $2.50 to $3.00.
Speak the Language
And last but not least, the best and easiest way to go local is to speak the language. It is not absolutely necessary to speak the language but if you do, it will become one of your biggest assets of your move abroad because you will be rewarded ten times over in almost every interaction with locals.
Until we write again.
You might also like these articles.
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!