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Living in Ecuador: Seeing Myself Differently

Posted in: Everything Expat, Living in Ecuador

Most of the people in Ecuador have dark skin, eyes and hair, which is a beautiful combination. I’ve always wished I had darker skin. I think a lot of light complected people from North America do, judging by how popular tanning salons and self-tanning creams are.

Many people also talk about getting that “healthy summer glow,” so I think a lot people with fair skin would like to have darker skin. I find light skin tones beautiful as well, but I guess it’s just the way it often goes – when we have one thing, we wish for something different.

Seeing Myself Differently

A Little Shock In The Mirror

A Little Shock In The Mirror

A few months after we moved to Ecuador I remember being shocked as I looked in the mirror.

I had spent the entire day with some Ecuadorian friends (Bryan and Drew were off doing other things) and when I got home I looked in the mirror. I guess I was expecting to see a dark skin tone looking back at me but instead I saw my fair skin and it gave me a little shock.

I know that sounds really funny – and it was – but it kind gave me a little glimpse into how different I must look to everyone here.

I know I’m not the only one that has gotten a little surprise when they saw their reflection. My father in-law told me that the same thing happened to him while they were here on vacation. That got me wondering how common it might be.

Being Seen As Different

We’ve noticed that peoples eyes linger on us a little more here than they did back in Canada. We lived in a small town and we hardly ever saw anyone of a different race or nationality. So when I would see someone different, I would take an extra long look, especially if there were children present.

I have always loved seeing people with different features and skin color. Diversity is so beautiful!

I think that is why people stare at us here in Ecuador, we are different There are not all that many tall people with fair skin here.

Some Foreigners Get More Attention Than Others

I have dark eyes and hair so I don’t get nearly as much attention as Bryan and Drew. Ecuadorian friends have told me that I look like a local, especially when I have my sunglasses on. Some Ecuadorians have light skin like mine, but I guess my eyes are shaped differently. It’s a different story with Bryan and Drew.

Bryan is 6’3″ and literally towers over almost everyone. Combine that with his light hair and blue eyes and you’ve got an attention grabber. It’s pretty much the same mix with Drew, and because she is a child she stands out even more.

Everywhere we go we meet people that are excited to meet Drew because they don’t see many children that look like her. They smile and say “hi” to her, often commenting about her hair and her eyes, they also whisper to their children to look at “la suca” which kind of translates into “the light (or fair) one.”

That may sound funny, but I often do the same thing. I tell Drew to look at “that beautiful child.” I find the children here gorgeous – their sweet round rosy cheeks with their big round dark eyes!  I’m so taken with them.

Strange But True

She's not pale, she just has a light skin tone :)

She’s not pale, she just has a light skin tone 🙂

Another funny thing (aside from being shocked at my own reflection) that happens is when I’m looking at photos of Drew with her friends. It’s easy to forget how different we look because we live here, and we are used to looking at each other all day long.

It’s also normal to see dark skin tones everywhere, so sometimes when I see a photo of Drew she appears pale. A second later I realize that she only looks that way because everyone else in the photo has dark skin. Drew has very light skin, so the contrast is dramatic.

This only happens when I see photos of Drew with her friends, not when she is actually with them – strange but true.

Needless to say, I think my daughter is beautiful and I love her skin tone. This is just one of those funny little things that never happened before we moved abroad.

Are There Problems Involved With Standing Out?

The attention we receive is not negative attention, just as the attention I gave to different people in our small town in Canada was not negative, it only came from good thoughts. I can’t speak for everyone  in Ecuador, but I know that the vast majority of people enjoy seeing the diversity that foreigners bring.

The problem with standing out is that there is an idea that foreigners are rich, and make good targets for theft. But it’s not that only foreigners get pick-pocketed, a number of our Ecuadorian friends have told us that they have been or have had their cell phone stolen. As with life in any city, it can happen to anyone.

Update (June 8 2014): We were robbed in Cuenca, although we are confident that being expats had nothing to do with it. 

Yet it can not be ignored that we stand out more. Because we are aware of that, we are probably more careful than the average local about where we are and what time of day it is. It’s important to remember that most people here, just like anywhere else would never think of harming anyone.

Have you ever been shocked at your reflection after extended travel or moving abroad? Do you have any funny stories to share with us? Please share by commenting on this post.

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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.

35 comments… add one
  • Barbara Scott Apr 14, 2014, 8:01 pm

    The first time I went to an African country (Swaziland) I found myself looking at my own skin as if it were inferior. I was blotchy and thin skinned whereas the Swazis, the women from Botwana and Lesotho, and the Ghanaians I was with had this lovely healthy deep and even coloured skin. I felt ugly in contrast.

  • Marjorie Hovey Apr 14, 2014, 12:55 pm

    Several years ago, I attended a religious convention in Prague. Included in our travel group was a very black lady. She was the center of attention where ever we went! At that time, very few black people were seen in Eastern Europe. People, especially children, would crowd around her. People wanted to have their picture taken with her. They wanted to touch her skin. One little boy actually licked his finger and rubbed her skin to see if the color would come off! But during all this, all that was manifested was curiosity, not fear of someone different. There was no prejudice there.
    It was so different in the little town where I grew up in the mountains of Northern California. I don’t know why, but there were elements in our town when I was young that made black people afraid to come there after dark. Happy to say that had changed over the years and now there are black families living there.
    I now live on the Big Island of Hawaii, and one of the nice things about lining here is the ethnic diversity. Makes it a very interesting place.
    We’re coming to Ecuador next January for a 6 week visit. Looking forward to it. I would love to move there, but my husband doesn’t want to leave our son, his wife and our grandson. That’s why we are living in expensive Hawaii.

    • Jakob Apr 14, 2014, 5:57 pm

      Marjorie… That was the reaction my wife got at the polish embassy in Germany, for the same reason, and they were diplomatic staff! At least there was no finger licking 😉

  • Melita Vega Sep 27, 2013, 4:31 pm

    Hi Dena:

    I’m new to the site, but I just wanted to drop a line to say great all this site is. I’m a fellow Canuck myself, athough more of a Ecuadorean/Canadian hybrid – born and raised in Toronto to Ecuadorean immigrant parents, moved to Cuenca at the age of 12 to complete high school and university, then moved back to Toronto for 10 years with my son and husband. I returned to Cuenca two years ago, and the culture shock is just starting to wear off. While I obviously look like a local, I’ve been told I don’t always act like one, which can also make you stand out. My peers and family members wouldn’t dream of walking or biking to work, but when I tell them I have no qualms about wearing a pair of shorts and sandals to walk around, I get weird looks from them like I’m from outerspace and a whole speech about safety. My mother muses the only reason I haven’t been mugged yet is because I walk around town with a scowl on my face like I’m caught in rush hour traffic in Toronto! 🙂

    • Stewart Sep 27, 2013, 10:26 pm

      Saludos Melita,
      I’m a fellow expate also born of Ecuadorian parents, but gringo from USA. I was just watching a video called, “Que dificil es hablar el espanol,” that gives examples of a lot of words in spanish with different meanings depending on the country or region. Anyways, sometimes at work coworkers share a joke that I don’t get, but I just grin and pretend it was funny whatever it was.
      It’s a strange life, but I do like it better than in the States.

  • Jakob Jul 6, 2013, 11:22 pm

    There has been an interesting article about an incident in Guayaquil about how appearance can make a difference in how people react to you. However, the article also makes a point of how the vast majority of people present at the incident were dismayed at the differences made by some. This is a good reflection of my experience where the attitude of a few sometimes eclipses the generally soft and welcoming character of the vast majority:

  • Dave S Jun 5, 2013, 1:43 pm

    Thanks for the feedback. I just call it the way I see it. A lot of how we are perceived is how we interact and the mentality we project. The only places I have never been asked where I am from are Scandinavian countries and Central and Northern Europe. Other than that I stick out like a sore thumb! I am sure that in Ecuador, with my argentinian Spanish accent and fair features, I will stick out even more. And I hear some of you when you say you miss life back home sometimes. Having cable tv, internet (skype) and even a vonage box or magic jack yes they do work overseas as well) I was able to call family and friends anytime. With the internet I could read my local paper, watch local tv (whenever I felt homesick). When it came to anything special I wanted, if I couldn’t cook it, bake it, or find it, after I ran out of what I took with me. I wanted macaroni and cheese badly, but where to find cheddar cheese? When I found it, I knew where to get it and my mac and cheese turned out ok. You adapt to where you are. I didn’t miss snow, I didn’t appreciate the bureaucracy or the b.s., but you deal with it. When it took South Americans 1 hour to renew their visas and it took me 4 hours, I didn’t say anything, I just did it. I think that sometimes the people want to see how patient we are. There were some foreigners sitting there who I could hear complaining, but it didn’t do them any good. You don’t go somewhere and expect it to be 100% like home. In other words just go with the flow. If you stick out, no big deal. Just enjoy being “famous.” I can’t wait to get down to Ecuador and am tempted to stop off in Cuenca for awhile, but I do love the beach!!!!!

    • Jakob Jun 5, 2013, 6:16 pm

      You fit into the Argentinian stereotype in Ecuador, so that’s what people will ask you. It happens a lot in Ecuador if you have the blond/blue eyed combination, but have no gringo accent. The first idea is often “gringo”, but when you open your mouth that often changes to “Argentinian” (note the lax definition of gringo). I get it a lot myself and I have never even been to Argentina. Actually, it is often enough to say “sho” instead of “yo” even if the rest of your accent is undefined to be put into that compartment. People in Ecuador have an idea about what makes an Argentinian.

      As to the dress code, there are some obvious combinations that would give you away (from the perspective of a guy). The love of shorts outside of beach or sports is not shared in many parts of Latin America (I dropped those from my wardrobe as I started feeling weird in those when traveling). White running/training shoes (especially with white socks) scream USA. Grey sandals with dark socks would probably be Central or Northern Europe. Flip flops in the city, American again (it’s ok on the beach). Jeans in Latin America often tend to have more ornaments on the back pockets and Ecuadorians love t-shirts with patterns or images in a variety of colours, just not plain grey or similar, but mature Ecuadorians would probably prefer a dress shirt, for leisure or business. Another sure shot to be identified as American: sweat pants and hoodies, especially the ones with letters on your butt.

      In general, I find people from North America are more focused on comfort in the way they dress while people in South America (and elsewhere) focus more on keeping certain style.

      I find the most local trait is almost always how people let off steam or insult each other… immediately shows your background down to the province or city, so if you want to fit in learn to curse like the locals do… goes a long way towards avoiding the “gringo tax” 😉 Lesson 1… maybe I’ll stop here…

      • Dave S Jun 7, 2013, 4:59 pm

        You are right on the money. Another thing about Argentinos is that they wear their jeans (other then teenagers who now want to show their underwear) relatively tight, or they seem to have gone back to the 80s. LOL. I learned how to complain and cuss up a storm, but I guess they are different in ECU. Here when I speak to Cubans or Puerto Ricans they immediately think I am from Buenos Aires until I tell them I spent a lot of time in ARG. But yup, those white tennis shoes, white gym socks, plain t-shirts and Levis do tend to give one away. I paid enough “gringo tax” in South America over the years so I hear you. The problem in ECU is that for sure I’ll stick out like a sore thumb. Very true about Latin America in general. They might not have a ton of clothes, but they have their club outfit, or restaurant outfit. You have to look good going out and you have to use enough aftershave (perfume/colonia) to choke the neighborhood. Now do the Ecuatorianos treat gringos differently than one they would think is a sudamericano blanco? Great comments Jakob, most appreciated. I won’t make the same mistakes I have made in the past. Guess I have to get out those flashy t-shirts LOL.

  • Dave S Jun 5, 2013, 8:39 am

    It’s very true. When I lived in Chile, I was probably the only blue eyed blond in the neighborhood and at 5’10” was taller than most people. People would whisper “gringo” quite often, but as I got the language (and accent down) they would stare but then they figured I might be from the south where Germans lived. I am also very fair skinned and have two colors, “ghost white” and “lobster red”, it takes forever for me to tan. Then a few years ago I went to Argentina, a country which is the most European of all of the South American countries. A ton of fair skinned people, blonds, blue eyes, I figured I’d fit in more. I speak Spanish (again had to pick up the accent) but people kept asking me where I was from. Moreso than in Chile years before. Taxi drivers, in stores, restaurants, “De donde sos?” It got tiring at first, but after awhile it died down. People asked me if I was Polish or Yankee. “Cara de polaco, cara de yankee.” It was funny because I lived in a building where everyone was as white as I was. I asked some friends months later what the deal was. They said, you may be white and blond and blue eyed, but you don’t dress or act or think like an argentino. There’s the difference. We are not just physically different in some countries, we act and dress differently and have a different mindset. As many of my friends were of Italian and Spanish backgrounds, they had dark hair and eyes and slightly darker skintone than I did. After awhile I didn’t notice, and they didn’t notice either. After years of going down there, and finally getting the accent down, and not dressing so “gringo”, I was asked in one of the stores in my “barrio,” Dave how long have you lived outside of the country? When did you leave? We might look differently, we might speak with an accent, but a lot of it also has to do with the way we think. Going to a new country, whether to visit or live, people appreciate it if you try to get exposed to their culture, try to speak the language and if you are living there, when they realize that you aren’t a tourist, again their attitude changes.

    • Allyson McQuinn Jun 5, 2013, 11:55 am

      Thanks Dave S. I loved your comment about adopting the state of mind and then your physicality is perceived differently. I wondered about this and now you’ve wholly confirmed what I’d suspected. Until November, Allyson Mc.

    • Stewart Jun 5, 2013, 1:28 pm

      Very thoughtful and interesting. Some days (even though I “fit in” more than not) I long for days back in the States. For the most part people are nice, smile and engaging, but sometimes i want my native (USA) culture especially when driving from Cumbaya to Quito. Old music cd’s help.

  • Mark May 3, 2013, 9:30 pm

    I’m 6’9″ and, apparently, I get stared at a lot, even in Texas. I don’t even notice it anymore. I didn’t notice it when we visited Cuenca, but my family told me it was even more pronounced.

    With dark blond hair, blue eyes, and my height, there’s no way I’ll blend in in Cuenca, but at least I’m already used to it.

  • B. DAVID TURCOTTE May 2, 2013, 3:52 pm

    HI,BRYAN and DENA. I just got in to town this morning and i’m staying at the HOSTEL CALLE ANGOSTA,at least 3 days, too expensive. In walking around a little,I did see a lot different people,short,tall,dark and light.It shows us that we are all in this togather. B.DAVID

    • Stewart May 3, 2013, 9:33 pm

      Hello B. David,
      Welcome to Ecaudor! I checked out your Hostel Calle Angosta website. At $33 / night I don’t know how that could be expensive, especially when the owners spent a bunch of $$$ to upgrade an old rundown adobe house. Anyways, seems like a nice place.

      Cuenca seems like a lot cheaper than Quito area where we live.


      • Jakob May 4, 2013, 9:29 am

        There is a selection of nice hotels in Cuenca at $15 a night and not so nice hotels at $10 a night and below, so $33 seems expensive without having seen the place.

      • Kathe Kline Jun 3, 2013, 10:53 pm

        I’m wondering if this is a true hostel where you share a bathroom or is it more like a hotel? I’m planning on coming in September and am wondering where to stay. Since my sister is joining me I need to stay in as close to an American Style hotel as possible, but also watch the budget. Any ideas?

        • Jakob Jun 4, 2013, 7:31 am

          Not a hostel. In Ecuador you can stay in one of the US brands such as Hilton, Hampton Inn, Sheraton etc and you will pay US prices. In earlier days those were the only places with reliable internet, so I used them as my office. Hampton Inn in Guayaquil would charge me $120 a night back in 2009. Hilton was well north of $200 a night. I recommend to stay away from American brands. Besides the money factor, you probably want to experience Ecuador how it really is. You can get a nice hotel in Cuenca with a nice room and private bathroom and free (Ecuadorian style) breakfast for $15 a night, by all means not a hostel and not a place where mostly backpackers go. We stayed in Hotel Europa last time and paid just that. There are a lot of shabby hotels for $8 – $10 a night, but we decided we didn’t need the $5 extra that bad. We took a 60 minute walk around the old city and looked at 6 or 7 different hotels before deciding. One said they did not do business with people from the coast (my group was from Guayaquil… welcome to Cuenca!), 5 were friendly, but had flaws (no windows, moisture, no internet, no breakfast) and one was just perfect, that’s where we stayed.

          • Kathe Jun 8, 2013, 1:39 am

            Thanks Jakob,
            That is very helpful!
            Funny that they discriminated against you because you were from Guayaquil, although the US travel alerts due talk about that city quite a bit… Perhaps the hotel had a previous bad experience?
            Thanks again, your response was much appreciated!

          • Jakob Jun 9, 2013, 7:27 am

            Kathe… While I cannot tell for sure why it was a problem that we were from Guayaquil, Ecuador is in reality a multicultural country. Cuencanos and Guayaquileños are different with each their proper culture and history and the way they speak. Historically, there has been a divide and even periods of civil war between the liberal and secular coast and the conservative and church backed sierra and once you have spent some time in Ecuador you will notice that well under the surface old rivalries linger.
            On the other hand, when I was traveling alone one time (and could pose as the gringo I am) a hotel administrator told me once that she had the most problems with guests from Guayaquil as they tended to party more and leave their empty bottles everywhere. Who knows.
            Guayaquil is not pretty like Cuenca, but it grows on you. The Greater Guayaquil Area by now has maybe 5 million people making it the largest urban area in the country, so you know it is going to be chaotic and not safe everywhere, hence the travel warnings. There are some areas where it is easy to get robbed and others that are perfectly safe. For the bad guys to know you are friend of a friend or neighbour helps as well I have found, greatly enhances your ability to move around safely in certain places. On some bus lines you will need to buy 3 cell phones a month if you commute every day judging by the frequency they are taken there, but on others nothing ever happens. Some safety rules definitely need to be observed.

  • Stewart Apr 30, 2013, 12:38 am

    I think one’s perspective has a lot to do with acceptance. Dena, as you can see from my profile pic I am bald inherited from both sides of the family. I pray my son doesn’t have the same problem, and he has a 50% better chance than me because of my wife’s side of the family.

    Many Ecuadorians are shorter than me so they look up and see my beard and mustache more than my baldness and maybe it’s more acceptable. I tend to smile a lot and Ecuadorians tend to smile back a lot more than Americans.

    Looking at your pictures Bryan has a more anglo face than yours. By that I mean you could be mistaken for someone of european descent like Italian or French where Bryan looks more English.

    Strangers close to my work see me walking by and many say, “Buenos Dias” or “Buenas Tardes” and I reciprocate because it feels normal. People become accustomed to each other like that here and many have good manners. Still you have to look out for the ones looking to rob you, but that’s any city I think.

    Best regards,

  • Lori Bosworth Apr 29, 2013, 5:53 pm

    It’s all relative, isn’t it? I’ve never experienced feeling out of place, but then I’ve only travelled to places where dark hair and fair skin is the norm, which is what I have. I’m sure I would stand out like a sore thumb in Sweden! But that’s an excellent point you made about taking precautions to prevent theft.

  • Antonio Fiorentino Apr 29, 2013, 3:16 pm

    Waiting my turn at the Ecuadorian consulate in California , an official peeked around a corner and asked me if I were Ecuadorian. I knew then I would disappear in a sea of brown. People have thought me Egyptian or Indian in various places in Europe. My own people, Italian, call me “Il moro” – the moor: a old name for Arab and Turk. Wonderful I say! I met a Canadian/Italian in Vilcabamba scoping for a farm in Malacato. He feared the people were not friendly towards him. I picked him out half way across the plaza; 2 feet taller than most, “bianco come il pane” like the say in Italy; and fastidiously dressed in summer wear as only an Italian can. But aside from those striking differences – there is another factor you giant, pale gringos need to keep in mind. In the historical imprint of this people are giant, white Spaniards in armor who came 500 years ago, and dispossessed them of land and culture, until recent times. There is still some classism here that places pure white people at the top of the social structure. It is difficult to lose ancient habits of deference to a “higher class”. I suspect that there is still a lingering sense of inferiority among the less educated classes; that makes them seem more distant, reluctant and unfriendly. This will pass in time. And besides, I learned during my time in Hawaii, that even modern Japanese carried a complex of physical inferiority vis-a-vis the Caucasian; that made them seem more reticent and private. Personally I imagine that Nature will eventually phased out tall in favor of small – unless we happen upon a new ice age.

    • Jakob Apr 29, 2013, 8:31 pm

      Very true. Colonial heritage is exactly the reason for whatever classicist thinking there is left in Latin America in general. When it comes to doing business in Ecuador my Ecuadorian wife just today said in a discussion that unfortunately, she was not tall and blonde, so she had to really know her stuff to leave a lasting impression. In colonial times, there was a clear hierarchy where people born in Europe controlled all political and most important business functions. In Ecuador there is in addition to that, also stemming from colonial times, a regionalism between coast and mountains. Yesterday we visited a friend in Cuenca who had moved there from Guayaquil. She complained that it was easier for a foreigner to find a job in Cuenca than it was for someone from the Ecuadorian coast. Ask people in Cuenca what “mono” means in respect to heritage. People from the coast hear it a lot when in the sierra. My nephew-in-law is an army recruit in Quito and he says he is frequently taunted and insulted by superiors who are from the sierra based on his Guayaquil heritage. How do they know which region you are from? By your looks and your accent. It is like a hidden internal rivalry that suddenly disappears when the national soccer team is playing. All these are things that are invisible at first to foreigners coming to retire in Cuenca.

  • Nor Apr 29, 2013, 1:33 pm

    My wife of 25 years and I are very aware of being seen as different. I am white and she is a beautiful black woman. We live in and are both native to Arkansas.
    One of the many factors drawing us to consider retiring to Ecuador is everyone we have asked says that the people are color blind.

    • Steve May 10, 2013, 5:56 pm


      Please let me know if you two finally moved to Ecuador. My wife is the same as yours. If you have relocated,please send me an email. Thanks!

      • Nor May 13, 2013, 7:29 am

        Steve, We are planning on a trip this fall to see if Cuenca is right for us. My email is

  • Jakob Apr 29, 2013, 12:42 pm

    These are some good observations. Looks are one of those things where the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence. My German friends think that dark hair and slightly tanned skin are the pinnacle of atractiveness. My latin friends think the exact opposite. Especially my female Peruvian friends are quick to reiterate that they would like their children to be light skinned with blond hair and green or blue eyes. My lebanese acquaintances always stress that only a woman with black eyes is a beautiful woman. I have stopped thinking about it or even caring. I have even seen people buy skin bleach products to make their dark skin lighter, something nobody would do in Europe or North America. In some parts of the world random women would walk up to me on the street and touch my hair to see if it really came out of my head like that (I am very blond) while in other parts of the world I was invisible. In our perceptions we are all slave to our upbringing and cultural background. There is a general trend that desireable looks are what is hard to come by in many cultures, so when your daughter grows older Ecuadorian guys will be all over her. Canada is a bit different, especially in the Toronto area, because of such an incredible ethnic mix. Have you noticed how TV stars in Ecuador, Colombia etc look like? Do you think it is a fair representation of the general population? Realizing that it’s all in our head and learning to think independently is a long process.

    Greetings from Guayaquil.

  • Lou Lutz Apr 29, 2013, 12:12 pm

    Thank you Dena for bringing that to my attention. Believe it or not I had the same experience here in On the east coast in Canada, that is right. I was born in a small community with about 11 or 12 families. when i was 8 years old there were only two cars in the community. One at the lower end , one at the upper end so to speak.
    However the older folks that lived there really thought that people in the valley were strange . If we got visitors on a Sunday, or in the fall if some men came to do deer hunting , after they left I would here my father speak of there strange ways and also even some of their string comments.
    I actually thought he was right. When I reached the age of 12 to 16 and started to visit relatives in the valley I thought they were all rather a little strange, why did they act that way or talk that way? In reality it was me that was different. They were thinking the same thing about this young man that came out of the hills , he is a little strange. As I got older I began to realize that not all people are the same as the folks that lived in my community.
    In God’s eyes we are all equal. Will have more comments later. A good friend Lou

  • Peter Allen Apr 29, 2013, 12:05 pm

    Early in my professional career, 19 years old start wnd then for the next ten years, I worked all over the world in what North Americans consider “third world countries”. I am 6’4″ tall, blond hair, blue eyes. My key to working in any country is very simple, treat people and surroundings like you would like to be treated. Try the food, learn some of the language and above all enjoy the experience. Engage the culture and do not try to make it something that it is not. Just sayin…..

  • Kevin Connolly Apr 29, 2013, 11:52 am

    Reading your article about “standing out” in Ecuador reminded my so much of a time earlier in my life when I was a teenager. In the 1970’s we moved to Tokyo, Japan. My brothers and sisters were all tall, blond haired and blue-eyed. In the early 1970’s there were not that many foreigners living full time in Japan. We stood out dramatically from the natives, who all were by and large, short, dark-haired, and dark eyed. We must have looked like aliens to them. Japanese people are generally quite polite, reserved and quiet. While the city and the trains are often packed with people, you can sense a strong protective wall each person puts out as a way to maintain privacy even in the midst of crowded conditions. On more than one occasion a Japanese local was so curious about how we looked and what blond hair must feel like that they actually touched my sisters’ hair even though that sort of thing would not occur in public normally. I always thought it was funny, although it did freak out my sisters once or twice. Its just that in a city of 12 million people, blonde hair and blue eyes (especially tall children) were just so unusual that people couldnt help but stare. Today it Tokyo it would be different as foreigners are far more common place. It certainly made me think what I would do or say if the situation were reversed.

  • Carole Apr 29, 2013, 11:40 am

    Hello, great article. I remember years ago when we lived on a small island and we were the light colored light haired light eyed folks until tourist season kicked in. Those first few months I longed to see blue eyes and blonde hair!! It was only after integrating and starting to “fit in a little” with the locals, after a year that I started to accept and even forget how different they looked to me at first. Eventually I saw beauty in what had been so foreign when we first arrived. And I felt less like the outsider by then too, which helped a lot. Later moving back to the US had it’s own reverse culture shocks, like huge traffic jams! I started to miss the simple life once we no longer had it. I have come to realize that where ever we move, since we move often, I am the one who must change and adapt, and once I do things are easier to adjust to. Life in a new location offers much growth and opportunity for us individually and as a couple or family.
    I believe we would have more tolerance and acceptance in general if more people stepped out of their comfort zones and tried living somewhere “foreign” for a year or two; no matter what happens you will have many unique memories and new friends to broaden your perspective.

  • Donna McNicol Apr 29, 2013, 11:18 am

    Hubby has one of those faces that little children seem to love – in the US. They laugh and smile at him. Here? Stares, lots of stares. LOL! He will keep smiling and making faces and about half the time they will smile back. He is bald with a grey beard/mustache but tans easily due to his heritage. When he’s wearing his fedora style hat, he can be mistaken for a local.

    We have been in Cuenca for two weeks thus far, two more to go. We are so loving the area and the people!

  • Allyson McQuinn Apr 29, 2013, 11:05 am

    I look forward to the locals reactions as I’m as casper-like as they come and while of average height for a North American, I have a shock of silver-white hair that has folks up in the Maritimes also commenting regularly. I’m also curious about if stores in Ecuador actually stock clothes for our height and a more robust girth?! I don’t want to over-pack as a result … or perhaps I’ll have to go to Miami?

  • Paul Fine Apr 29, 2013, 10:25 am

    I really don’t see my self differently. I have been fortunate to be healthy & fit my entire life so far, athletics played a major role. Raised in a Military family I believe gives you a deeper appreciation for people from different cultures, religions, etc. After all we are guests in this wonderful country and have a responsibility to show our appreciation.


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