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Gringo Superiority Complex: Are You Guilty?

Posted in: Living in Ecuador, Our Perspective

We’ve realized that as foreigners we need to be careful not to come across as having an attitude of superiority.

The idea seems to exist amongst some that North Americans feel that they are better, and their ways and customs are better than the ways and customs of others.

Granted, there are a few from North America that probably do feel that way, but our family and the majority of other gringo families and friends that we know here do not share this attitude.

Gringo Superiority Complex: Are You Guilty?

That being said, there is still the need to be careful of how we act and what we say/write. Schooling is mandatory here, and English is part of the curriculum, so we can be certain that when we are overheard, some or most of what we are saying is understood. Because of this, an innocent conversation comparing differences in habits or culture could be easily misunderstood.

For example, there is a custom here of taking time in the middle of the day to eat and spend time with family, during this time businesses close.

This is very different than what we are used to in North America so we may be surprised when we arrive at a place of business expecting to be able to what we intended, but we are unable.  This may lead to a conversation something like this:

Wow, they are closed, what are we going to do now?  We can’t come back later today, we don’t have time!  This never would have happened back home! This is going to take some getting used to!

To someone overhearing that conversation, especially if they are already inclined to think North Americans feel superior because of past experience, they may think that we don’t like this custom.

But the reality is that we do like it, and we actually think North Americans could learn a thing or two from the importance placed on family.  The overheard conversation was merely stating the difference, but again, may be misunderstood.

I recently wrote an article listing some of the differences we notice here as compared to back in Canada.  I received a negative comment to the information telling me to go back to my perfect world because I was not needed here.  It was not my intention to come across as feeling that the ways back in Canada are better, and we didn’t move here because I felt people here would be better off because of my presence.

We moved here because we thought it would be better for our family, we are staying because it is.  And although I understand that I can’t please everyone all the time, this comment made me realize the need to be extra careful about the things I say.  I reviewed the article and removed the aspects that I felt could have been misunderstood.

We love it here in Ecuador, that’s the reason this website exists.  As foreigners we are thankful that the majority of Ecuadorians welcome us with open arms, the people here are very warm and friendly.  I’m sure that other foreigners feel the same way, that’s why they choose to live here.

We don’t want to go home – we realize North America is far from perfect.  I too have overheard foreigners talking and thought they sounded like they had a superiority complex.  This was embarrassing and slightly upsetting of, but it made me realize the need to keep our sense of humor tuned up.

It’s funny when you really think about it. . .

We are all humans; none of us are better, just different.

The idea that a person could think that they are fundamentally better because of a difference in the number of hours business are open in the country they were born in, or because of the difference in the way fruit and vegetables are displayed in the country they were born in, is a faulty way of thinking, and kind of comical.

It’s my hope that foreigners will be very careful about what they say, so as not to give the impression of superiority.  And it’s also my hope that if local people overhear foreigners sounding superior that they will tap into their sense of humor and just laugh it off.  It’s much better to realize that small minded thinking is something to be pitied, rather than to take offense at a faulty thought process.

It’s also good to realize that living in a foreign country takes some getting used to, so what’s being heard is probably just part of the adjustment period.  So please have patience with us gringos and don’t take us too seriously.  We, as foreigners choose to live here because we like Ecuador and Ecuadorians.

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Meet the Author

Dena Haines is co-editor of GringosAbroad - Ecuador's largest blog for expats and travelers. She is a travel blogger and content marketer. She is also co-founder of ClickLikeThis (GoPro tutorial blog) and Storyteller Travel.

24 comments… add one
  • Maria Jan 2, 2018, 2:55 pm

    as Morris Berman has aptly stated, when most americans talk, it’s as if they’re breaking wind through their mouths. Most are economic hustlers, hucksters, and imperialistic war mongers with only one ‘thought’ through their head–get money and get more money.

  • Jim Dec 11, 2012, 10:07 am

    I think if a person comes here with the correct non-arrogant attitude you shouldn’t really need to worry about offending locals and if by an off chance you do offend someone, there is no need to apologize, just move on. You will never make everyone happy no matter where you live. My point is, don’t live in stress over the worry of offending. Except for the middle to upper class Ecuadorians, it is very difficult to offend the local people. They are very tolerant people and very accepting. One would have to be very obnoxious to offend a lot of Ecuadorians.

  • Joyce Oct 1, 2011, 9:02 am

    I love your website, FB page, and everything you write. I was born and raised in South America of American parents, missionaries. The one most important lesson that my dad taught his five children was to never, ever speak in English in front of people who do not understand it. We were punished if he did. Even 60 years ago Dad was finely attuned to civility (sadly lacking in today’s society) and knew how offensive and how bad it looked and sounded for a bunch of foreigners to shut out the society of a country by speaking their own language in public. Nothing adds fuel to the perception of snotty, superiority-complexed “gringos” as much as that! Keep up the good work! By the way, I am 54, a long-time resident of Mexico, married a local, and cannot bring myself to move to the USA, a country I have never, ever lived in and that I find foreign.

    • Bryan Haines Oct 1, 2011, 9:47 am

      Thanks so much Joyce! Really appreciate your feedback – and you make a really good point. Speaking English in front of people who can’t understand it is very rude. We’ve only been in Ecuador just over two years and we find it hard to imagine returning to Canada.

      Thanks for reading – hope you’ll continue to comment.

      • jorge Aug 7, 2015, 5:06 pm

        Nice blog. I realized many foreigners dislike many things and make sure they say it. They are continuously looking for cheap everything. Lots of them do not like locals seams like they have no other choice but stay here due to financial matters and locals are learning that. I hope your blog gets to asa many foreigners as possible. Many need to shape up

  • David Akins Oct 1, 2011, 8:56 am

    Being from the Southeastern US (raised in Georgia, spent most of my married life in Florida, born in Texas and lived in Alabama, North and South Carolina), I appreciate the need to respect the importance of living in a culture where significant migration has occured. While living in the South, over the years there has been much migration from citizens from the northern part of the US. Many adapt to the culture and enjoy the Southern lifestyle. Many complain about it being ‘backwards’ and start every sentence with “up North we did it this way…”. It quickly alienates the natives of the South. Thus, when one rides though the South one can see bumper stickers and license plates that say: “we don’t care how you do it up North”, “I 95 (or I-75) goes both ways…please head North” or “Get your Heart in Dixie or get your Ass out”.

    I have kept this in mind since moving to my new home in Cuenca. I am a guest here. Things are different, but I don’t constantly point out the differences in a condescending way. Either I get my heart in Cuenca or I will get my ass out. I came here because of the culture and don’t want it to change to become a ‘mini-US’ that looks like a franchise template of replicated neighborhoods and businesses.

    Just sayin….

    • Joyce Oct 1, 2011, 9:05 am

      Well put, David. Key word: ASSIMILATE

    • Bryan Haines Oct 1, 2011, 9:56 am

      Its true that this attitude exists in every country – always comparing to “back home” can be a real curse – and an irritant for everyone around us. Now bumper stickers is not a bad idea…

  • Len Langevin Oct 1, 2011, 8:12 am

    The more time I spend in Ecuador, the fewer gringo friends I have – mostly because of the gringo superiority complex. It amazes me that so many gringos have been here for years and still can’t speak any Spanish other than cerveza or baño. Oddly enough, these same people are offended by immigrants who come into their country and can’t speak English.

    I’ve been enjoying your blog for quite some time now, but this is my first comment. Look me up if you ever travel to Baños.

    • Bryan Haines Oct 1, 2011, 9:51 am

      Thanks for sharing this Len. While we do have some gringo friends (not everyone has this complex) we spend the majority of our time with Ecuadorians – a people that we really love. They are humble and genuine in a way that we just weren’t used to. All of our daughters close friends are Ecuadorians – its been so good for our family to have been allowed to become part of this culture.

      Thanks for sharing – hope you’ll continue to share your comments.

  • RENATA Jul 19, 2011, 12:16 am

    I’m from Ecuador and I really enjoyed reading your blog. I live in Guayaquil and things are more fast-paced here, for example large business don’t close from 1-3pm but small businesses and even offices do close (my office doesnt completely shut down but I do have a long lunch break, so I can home eat lunch with my family and somedays I take a quick nap and btw Im 28… we southamericans love to nap no matter what age :)) …

    I love my country, and I’m very glad you can call it home, I hope you an get the time to visit everything this country has to offer: beaches, forrest, highlands, etc.

    Your blog is perfect for clarifing a lot of concerns people (specially gringos) have about Ecuador. I went to a boarding school in the US and I had people ask me if I lived in a tree house :s

    Keep up the good work and Congratulations!!
    And I hope you’ll stay many more years in Ecuador

    • Bryan Haines Jul 19, 2011, 6:27 am

      Thanks Renata, really appreciate your feedback. People (especially North Americans) can have some pretty bizarre ideas about what Ecuador is like. We’ve explored the Sierra, Costa and Galapagos so far – we love it all. Just el Oriente is left. Maybe later this year… You know, we weren’t napping people in Canada, but since we’ve moved here … we are adapting well to the different pace.

      I hope you’ll continue reading.

      • Paola Dec 7, 2011, 4:00 pm

        I am Ecuadorian from Quito, but my mother moved us to the U.S. for about 12 years, until I realized on my own at 22 that I just didn’t want to live there, that I missed the warmth Ecuador gives, but many times I found myself critizing a few things like local transportation, and a bit of customer service, but I have really learned to take a step back and realize that It is not New York, and why i rushed here. So i’ve learned to smile and say Thank You no matter what. Really also enjoy your website, I wish I could express the joy I feel everytime I read one of your articles about Ecuador, really wamrs my heart. Thank You.

  • Maria Jose Jan 31, 2011, 9:10 pm

    I really like this post in particular. Especially after having read that instead of enrolling your daughter in an Ecuadorean school you home school her. The fact that she is learning Spanish from a Primsler program is over the top! You know that you could find very open minded school directors who might love to have your daughter participate in at least the grammar lessons offered to kids her own age? There is nothing like real immersion if learning from a different culture is really what you have in mind.

    • Bryan Haines Apr 14, 2011, 2:15 pm

      Hi Maria Jose,
      I'm sure that there are very open minded school directors here in Ecuador, as there are in Canada, but we do not home school our daughter out of fear of the local school system. We have home schooled her for her entire life. We home school because in Canada we had the choice, and we feel it's the best option for our family. She has never been in the school system.

      There is a misconception that home-schooled children are ill socialized, this is only the case if the parents are irresponsible. Not many parents that home school their children are irresponsible, because it's much harder to home school a child, than to send a child to school.

      Our daughter enjoys the added understanding she receives from the Pimsleur program, but don't worry about her, she is totally immersed in Spanish, and has also enjoyed the local language courses we've taken as a family .

      With the exception of a very few, all of our friends are Ecuadorian, so it would be impossible for her not to be learning from the local culture. She enjoys spending time with friends of all ages, and can communicate in Spanish freely with children, as well as adults. All of our Ecuadorian friends say she speaks Spanish like a local, too bad they don't say the same about Bryan and I 🙂

      Thanks for your comment, and thanks for the others on this post as well.

  • Colin Jan 29, 2011, 5:54 pm

    I do hope that I never forget that I chose to live in their country. They didn’t choose me.

    Had an experience last year in small town Mexico. The local mayor invited all to a concert on the local plaza. It was noted that the town’s gringo population would be given special seating. I realize that the gringo population has done much for this once run-down, now thriving town and it was probably meant as a goodwill gesture. However, I also think that maybe the locals feel somewhat inferior to gringo’s. I wish this wasn’t so. We have so much to learn from them.

  • David Jan 29, 2011, 3:37 pm

    Dena, this is a very well written article and is a very good reminder. What a shame it would be to offend the the very kind and helpful people in Ecuador. We have some life skills to learn from people who value family and who take pride in being tranquilo.

  • Trudy Marshall Jan 29, 2011, 9:11 am

    Dena, we want to move to Ecuador because we want to experience another life, another culture, and grow as people ourselves. We already realize that we have to be mentally prepared to see, hear, and experience things that we are not used to, and even some of them we may find shocking to the system! Your articles help us be prepared ahead of time for what some of these things are, so we really appreciate them. As well it gives us a chance to ask ourselves – Am I really prepared for this. Can I really fit in and adapt to this culture, without making those around us uncomfortable. As well, it can be refreshing, and enlightening to read about these differences, and be able to compare now – a broadening of the mind – there IS another way to do things, and it might have some advantages, and I can become a bigger person because of it. But at the same time, I cant kid myself – when you have looked at the world one way for 40 years, ANY change can be a shock, and needs time to be examined, digested, absorbed, and finally adapted to.
    Please continue to educate us about life in Ecuador!

  • T Tillman Jan 27, 2011, 12:40 pm

    Very well put Dena! I did read your article that you are making reference to. I too am sorry that anyone was offended. I know from reading it that you were pointing out some facts that we, who come there, need to take some things into consideration. Thank you for this article. Since we plan to relocate there, these types of articles are helpful to us. We, like you, would never wish to offend anyone. Keep up the good work

  • Lisa Jan 27, 2011, 1:10 pm

    This is so true. The easiest way to alienate yourself is to knock the country you have chosen to live in by comparing it negatively to your native country.
    Here in Spain, I am so fed up of hearing British expats say … "but, if we were in England …" , my response is "well, go back there then!".
    If you have chosen to live in another country then you should learn to adapt to the habits and customs of that country. Otherwise, you will find yourself on a never ending uphill struggle with obstacles and boundaries coming at you from every angle.
    Embrace the change and live life to the full … as we do!

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