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How to Survive A Cuencano Social Invitation

[color-box color=”green”]One of the most important things to learn when living abroad is cultural nuances. Understanding the quirks and idiosyncrasies of another culture allows you to view activities from another perspective and gain a greater understanding in what makes another group tick. To help understand  things from this new angle, it is usually best  to get some insight from someone within that culture. Meet Tannia Lopez, a local Cuencana who is excited to share her voice and thoughts with you. Tannia will be writing for Gringo Tree about cultural Cuencano “how-to’s”- if you will.  The first topic she was excited to write about was Cuencano social invitations.  Social events like Birthdays Party’s, Graduations and Baby-Showers are usually large celebrations with both family, and family friends in attendance, so don’t be surprised that as you get to know your neighbours, that you will be invited to your fair share of social events.[/color-box]

Read on for Tannia’s tips on “How to Survive A Cuencano Social Invitation.”

If you have received a social invitation in the city of Cuenca, there are certain aspects you should keep in mind:

Punctuality: Although the host will indicate a specific time for the event, according to the Cuencano cultural understanding, the actual time of the event will be held approximately on hour later than the time originally presented. The host provides this one hour window for guests to arrive until the event will actually begin.

giftHostess Gifts: The invitation will typically specify whether the guest is expected to bring a monetary contribution in an envelope for a wedding, quinceanera, or graduation. A small gift is more traditional for a baptism, wedding anniversary, or birthday. The host will receive the envelope or gift upon arrival, or there will be an indicated place to deposit the envelope or place the gift.

Greetings: When you are at a gathering with people you have already met, the greeting with the hosts should be simple and friendly. One is expected to greet all attendees, unless there is a large number of guests present. Traditionally men and women will exchange a air kiss on the cheek, and men will shake hands with one another.

Dinner: Once it is time for the dinner, guests will be directed towards their seats at the table. During this time, it is customary to make conversation with everyone, not only the guests that you already know. It is important that everyone feels welcome and not isolated from the conversation.

[color-box color=”gray”]The rules that you should follow during dinner are pretty standard:

    • You should maintain a reasonable distance from the table to ensure that all guests are comfortable.
    • Do not rest your elbows on the table.
    • Sit up straight and do not lean against the back of the chair.
    • If you need to reach for something on the table, kindly as the person closest to that item to pass it towards you.
    • Do not blow on hot food.
    • Use the appropriate silverware that is paired with each course served.  You should attempt to eat at the pace of others at the table.


Generally, the food that is served in social events is accompanied by wine, water, or soda. If the event is a dinner party at a home, the food will be more substantive and simple, and will leave the guests more satisfied. If the party is in a public place, there will be table service or a buffet, in which case each guest should bring their plate to the serving location.

Saying Goodbye: It is customary for each guest to say goodbye to the hosts of the event, as well as the other attendees if it is a reasonable number. You should thank and congratulate the hosts if appropriate, and if you enjoyed the gathering you should compliment the host accordingly. If you did not like the gathering, it is best not to make any comments that may upset the host, especially in front of other guests.

3 Responses

  1. Having attended quite a few Ecuadorian social events over the years, there are a few things I would add to your article, Tannia. Many social events end up with the guests dancing. If you don’t know how to dance to Ecuadorian music, get out on the dance floor and try it anyway! Nobody likes a wallflower. Many social events involve drinking alcohol, which of course makes it easier to dance. Often the drinks are served individually, in shot glasses so that everyone sees whether you are drinking or not. Make sure you “salud” the server and people around you, and then down it goes. If you don’t want to drink, come prepared with some sort of illness excuse. It’s about the only way to get around it. My last point is common sense. But it’s especially important to remember here in Ecuador. At the dinner table, or anywhere else, don’t ever, ever burp. Burping out loud here in Ecuador is considered horrible manners and just about the worse thing one can do in public.

  2. I appreciate the input above – I was curious about purchasing wine/beer/alcohol in Cuenca. I read somewhere it was extremely expensive, yet the comment above seems to indicate otherwise. Social gatherings are something to look forward to!

  3. Hola Vicki,
    What you’ve read about wine/beer/alcohol being expensive in Ecuador is mostly true because most (especially what gringos are accustomed to drink) is imported from other countries. The alcohol drink that I refer to in my comment is called Zhumir. Zhumir is the national drink made here in Ecuador from sugar cane. It is very inexpensive. However, it tastes and smells awful. I’ve never seen even an Ecuadorian sip it like one would an American cocktail. You shoot it down, like a shot of tequila. Get it past your taste buds as quickly as possible. At a traditional Ecuadorian party, a server will fill a shot glass a little more than half full with Zhumir and then a second server follows to fill the rest of the glass with flavored water, usually heated. There’s nothing better than feeling the warm glow spread through your body on a cold night in Cuenca. The only time that I’ve sipped Zhumir as a cocktail was when we mixed it with maracuya (a fruit that grows here in Ecuador). We let the mixture sit for a couple of days before drinking it and when we did it was delicious. Ecuador also has a couple of national brands of beer that are inexpensive and I think taste just fine.

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