Cool Kids1

Are Cuenca’s Expats the Cool Kids?

I have been a Cuencana my whole life and yet I still don’t feel that I belong. This feeling has been with me for most of my life, in part because people were always laughing at me because I was too tall or giving me a hard time for dreaming. Even though I’m not an adventurous person, I want to live abroad. So when I see expats, I admire them for doing what I don’t have the guts to do.

These people are what I call the “cool kids.” They walk around, having the time of their lives, eating and discovering new things. I see them, with their big backpacks and incredible expensive hiking shoes walking through the paved streets of my city. They look so relaxed, laughing while local people are looking at them as if they are from some other planet. They have their own language and make jokes. Even though they live here they have their own community and I feel like I’m in high school again. They sit around tables, laughing, talking, having a glass of wine and I wish I could talk to them and be their friends, be a part of their world, but most of the time I’d rather not say anything because I feel sure they’ll shut me down.

But there have been a couple of times when I have tried. Here’s how they went:

Experience #1: A new couple moved into the apartment in front of mine. As I saw them with an open door, their furniture being delivered, I went over with my family and said, “Hi, neighbors! Welcome! I’m Roxi and I live across the hall. If you need anything, just knock!” Answer: “Yeah, yeah, thank you, bye” and then they moved. What did I do wrong? Was I too friendly? All I wanted was to be a good person, to have a nice community.

Experience #2: This old guy was looking for his keys outside my building, with tons of bags in his hands. I said, “Hi, let me open it for you.” Then he said, in the best Spanglish I have ever heard, “Gracias, I’m bringing las colas for la fiesta” and I just laughed. We have become friends since then. He always makes me laugh and gives me advice.

Experience #3: This lady lived alone in the apartment downstairs. So when I saw her trying to tell the guard that she had just moved in, I did my usual: “Hi, I’m Roxi. Welcome to the building.” Then she said, “Thank you. Would you like to come in?” We talked about everything, like how to pay the bills and where to shop. It was a lovely afternoon. She seemed very nice but then one day she rang the doorbell in the middle of the night and asked me to use my dryer. I said, “Can we do it tomorrow? I’m kind of sleeping now.” She laughed and then she never came back. The next day, I heard a lot of loud noises coming from downstairs. I was worried, so I knocked on her door. Without opening the door, she yelled, “WHAT???” I’m like, “Are you okay? Can you please be a bit quiet?” She said, “I think maybe it’s a ghost or you are just crazy.” Three months later, she had to move out because she was having fights with everyone in the building and not paying her rent, etc.

So where am I going with this?

They, or rather, you (you who are reading this) are the cool kids, and most of us just want to be part of your world, to feel like we could belong in your life. When we offer help and we are shut down with sarcasm or, worse, with a bad attitude, it makes me feel like you are not necessarily “cool,” but popular and mean, kids who want to be Prom Queens by pushing everybody else to the side.

I get that there are bad local people too, but they are not bad only to you. They do it to everybody and we all have been cheated and lied to. Give us a chance. Maybe we would like to celebrate an American Thanksgiving just because we admire you or maybe we just want to practice English with you and help you with your Spanish. There are a bunch of us who want to learn about you, who want to be part of your life, to be a friend. Next time, think about this and give us a chance, just as we give chances to you.

14 Responses

  1. Roxi:
    I am so sorry you had some bad experiences with foreigners. I came here because I think Cuenca is a beautiful city and the people are so polite, friendly and helpful. I have been treated very well and I hope that I have reciprocated in kind. I am learning Spanish and for me, you locals are the “cool kids.” Don’t give up. There are many expats who would value your friendship.

    1. Roxi, don’t give up on any of us as most would love meeting you and others who like to share your amazing culture and language. There are rude people in every nationality, sadly so please don’t judge us all by a few “bad apples” as we refer to them. I too find some Expats not approachable or abrupt or angry in nature but love the ones who are truly good and kind as I appreciate ones of your Country who have embraced me into their family and my neighborhood. I just had a wonderful experience here in Misicata when we had a neighborhood meal served to 35 people who are all neighbors here so we can know who lives in our culdesac and thus bond more safely as well. So keep approaching and being your sweet, kind self and you will meet ones worthy of your friendship. God bless you.

    2. Roxi – there are people in every society who are not nice. It sounds to me like other expats also wouldn’t like that woman that you mentioned. I wish you were my neighbor as I would love to be your friend.

  2. Hola Roxi, I enjoy reading your posts. Those expats that you see in the “cool kids” groups might not be that cool after all. Many expats will form groups because they feel more comfortable with other people like themselves who share the same language, tastes in food, cultural background, etc. They are not necessarily interested in mixing with the locals. They might be the people in your example #1. Then there are the crazies as in your example #3. I hope that you find more cool expats like the man in your example #2. If he were really cool, he would have invited you to the fiesta.

  3. Roxi, I can completely identify with your article. I would welcome the opportunity to meet, get to know you and be friends. My greatest frustration with living in Cuenca (I’ve been here more than five years, speak and teach Spanish) is that, although most Ecuadorians are cordial and friendly on a surface level, the culture is so family-centric that most locals I know do everything within their family circles and don’t seem to seek outside friends. I respect the culture’s honoring and cherishing of the family, but it definitely makes me feel shut out. If I just wanted English-speaking friends, I could have stayed in the United States!

    1. Exactly Juanita Ruth,
      My sentiments. I find the family-centrism is to some degree what makes it hard to form friendships. I’m guessing this from my limited experience. I try hard to meet Cuencanos and find it near impossible to get beyond brief salutations. I have myself, the norteamericana, invited local neighbors to talk, chat, with little luck. Family plans, no interest, not sure. Also to the writer: please know that not all “gringos” accept and welcome other “gringos” There are many friendly people open to meeting new people, but I have also tried to insert myself into groups of expats who would not so much as tell me their name. There is even cliquishness on this side of the fence. It is hard at times, I try hard, but quite honestly have never lived where people so reserved. I’m chatty with anyone, latina, gringo, or thailandese, or Iranian. If I meet you, if you are my neighbor, I want to talk to you.
      So Roxanna, you are someone I would love to have been or be neighbors with. I will speak to you in Spanish, not at the advanced level of a teacher, but I will. And I most definitely do not own high end shoes or anything of the like. I live modestly. And I am not “in” with the “cool kids” Thanks.

  4. Hi Roxi
    It looks like you have been trying hard to integrate and have had bad luck upto now.I am trying to learn Spanish and would love to have someone to share conversation with.I would love to meet with you.Can we meet somewhere for coffee?? What do you think??
    Kind Regards

  5. an interesting view on the expats. and maybe that is why many are leaving to return to the USA: they cant assimilate .. I feel assimilation is a myth. How can a person ,who was raised in a country with “all the freedoms and conveniences” ever assimilate with a culture that had a lifetime to adjust and knows no other way of life. I have been here for over three years and the obvious difference between me and the average Ecuadorian is about 2 feet and “rubio” hair color. I will “always” been different and then there is my Canadian accent. But I love this country and the people and ,yes, people lie to me, here and in Canada too, but in Canada they are my relatives..

  6. Very interesting and informative, considering I am an expat in Cuenca for the past nine months. From Long Island NY and Sothern Ca.
    Please keep me posted,

  7. Nice article Roxi and maybe you can help me with something of a dilemma when it comes to meeting new people in a new country. We’ve lived here three years and have heard and read reports from expats who have been robbed, drugged and robbed, had their home burglarized, been victims of home invasions, and even some kidnappings by Ecuadorians who befriended them. We live in a rural area and it was our Ecuadorian neighbors who warned us to not allow “friendly” strangers in our homes or even on to our property (and, for them, we keep an eye out for possible thieves eying their cows that graze next to us). Obviously these criminals were not really interested in being friends with the expats they victimized, but how do we, as strangers in a strange land, know who is being welcoming and who is assessing how easy we would be to take advantage of? My husband and I don’t live in constant fear of being robbed, but we do exercise some reasonable caution and I suspect some expats who might seem aloof are also just being cautious. So, just as some expats’ behaviors can reflect badly on all expats, some Ecuadorians’ behaviors can reflect badly on other Ecuadorians. How do we best overcome those barriers and suspicion?

  8. OMG, I cannot believe you ran into the angry gringos. There are so many of us that are not, and I feel embarrassed on our behalf. You sound like a great young lady, don’t let a few bad eggs spoil your view of us, PLEASE. I personally treat everyone equally, wherever I am in the world, wish more people felt that way. In the first case the guy was just mean, in the third case the lady was nuts. I think if you engage more expats you will find most of us are not that way. And if they are most expats do not like them either. I will say though, that the comment above raises a good point, that of caution. I personally am very cautious but also good judge of character, and have never had a problem, I even have an expat daughter in Cuenca married to a local 🙂 I know the ropes well now, good luck to you.

  9. Roxi,
    We are certain that there is nothing wrong with you. My wife and I met a wonderful woman last year on our flight from Quito to Cuenca. We talked the entire flight. The funny thing is that we don’t speak Spanish and she doesn’t speak English but somehow we communicated. We ended up spending time with her everyday that we were in Cuenca. We are still in contact with her and her family.
    We aren’t expats yet, but will be someday and we would love to be friends with you. The true cool kid.
    Dave and Kathy Morris

  10. Roxi, It was nice to read an article here written by a Cuencana. You shared a point of view I have not heard before. I wonder how many other Cuencanos share you opinion and/or experiences. It really is a shame that a few bad apples can give the rest of us expats a bad name. Most of my friends are Cuenca born and raised and speak little or no English. In the less than 1 year I’ve been here I’ve gone from knowing 10 Spanish words to being conversational in Spanish (as long as you speak slowly and clearly) and I go out of my way to be extra polite to locals. I ask myself how I would like to see expats in my home home country act and I try to act that way here. I apologize on behalf of the unnamed gringos that treated you with disrespect and I promise that its getting better. Especially with the new wave of younger open minded expats that are making Cuenca their home more and more these days.

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