We knew before we moved to Ecuador that we were Gringos. And we have been called Gringos frequently – by store clerks, friends and even strangers on the street. I’ve gotten so used to it, I describe myself to Ecuadorians as “el Gringo” because its the easiest way to describe who I am. In a community of Ecuadorians, the term Gringo identifies me as the 6ft tall pale-faced guy.
The term Gringo comes in a few variations:
- Gringo – for the man
- Gringa – for the woman
- Gringita / Gringito – for the child or the “dear little gringo”. This is a term of endearment.
- los Gringos – the group of gringos
Online forums and blog comments are full of Americans and Canadians who are insulted at the thought of being marginalized, by being reduced to a word.
Here in Ecuador, a Gringo is anyone foreign – from any country. However, the taller and blonder you are increases the odds of being called a gringo. But the telltale give-away is when you open your mouth. Once you speak, either exclusively in English or with the distinctive English accent, you become a “Gringo”.
Something to remember: in Latin American culture, it is common, accepted and even a kindness to give people nicknames based on their physical appearance. For example:
- Flaco (thin or skinny)
- Gordo (fatty)
- Gordito (little fatty)
- Suco (fair skinned)
- Negrita (little black)
Two years ago, while visiting Margarita Island, I was driving with a Venezuelan friend. He referred to a friend of his as “negrita” – I was shocked. I thought that it was out of bounds – that it was an international insult. But no . . . in Spanish its common term of endearment. A professional friend, a Cuencano, calls his wife “flaca”. When translated literally means “skinny woman”. In English, it doesn’t sound so nice, but in Spanish it is a sweet expression from a husband.
In Ecuador, people are often identified by where there are from:
- Cuencano (a person from Cuenca)
- Guayaquileño (a person from Guayaquil)
- Quiteño (a person from Quito)
For us, being called Gringos is equivalent to being called Canadian. It simply identifies our origins. It isn’t uncommon to be walking downtown and hear two older Cuencanas say: “Mira – la gringita”, referring to our daughter. They say it with all the love and interest that her own grandmother would. To us, it is a very kind.
What Are the Alternatives to “Gringo”?
While most people from the United States consider themselves “Americans”, this doesn’t have the same meaning here. America isn’t a country: it includes everything from Alaska to Argentina. After all, Ecuador is part of Latin America, located in South America. Technically speaking, everyone from Canada south to Patagonia is an “American”.
If you are from Canada or the United States, you may be called norteamericano (North American). At a glance, it is impossible to tell Canadians, Britians, Australians and New Zealanders apart. So just as the the diverse nationalities of Latin America have been grouped (right or wrong) under the term “Latino”, it seems that “Gringo” have come to define foreigners as a group in Latin America. Have you noticed a Gringo Superiority Complex?
What do you say? Are you offended by the term? If you are Ecuadorian, what do you say about it?