Monday, June 3, 2013

Too Much Time on Their Hands

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People often wonder what expats do all day long. Well, one thing we like to do is chat. Over long, leisurely lunches—at the home of friends—bumping into each other on the street—chatting is one of our favorite pastimes.

And especially on forums. The Facebook Ecuador Expats forum is the most vigorous gabfest I’ve ever seen. As an experiment I recently posted an innocuous comment about dogs barking on both my personal newsfeed and the EE forum. The personal one got 3 “likes” and 3 comments; EE rang in with 27 “likes” and 50 comments! Holy moley!

One of the hottest topics buzzing around Cuenca lately has been about Obnoxious Gringos/Ugly Americans. The ball got rolling with the publication of an anonymous article (although anonymity is somewhat moot when everyone knows the author’s identity).

The article lambasted Obnoxious Gringos (or “OG’s”), and proposed the formation of a secret society called the Behavior Modification Group to publicly correct all instances of improper behavior.

I have no idea whether this was serious or an attempt at a joke. If the latter, I personally find the notion of a fascist vigilante organization roaming the streets of Cuenca to be utterly humorless.

Then a blogger created an Ugly American self-test and followed this up with a recent appearance on a local radio show. Then a survey about culturally-challenged foreigners came out on GringoTree, an online community bulletin board.


I responded to the survey stating that in three years living here I’ve never witnessed a single instance of expats displaying offensive behavior. Based on other responders therein lies the challenge with this entire topic.

It seems that in spite of all the chatter no one has actually seen any of this going on. Not that it has never happened, but one can surmise that the subject has been blown WAY out of proportion.

If so, why? Some gringos around here seem to have as their theme song an old Styx tune---“Too Much Time on My Hands.” They apparently have so little to do that they find enjoyment in talking about other people or groups and what they should or should not be doing.

Translated, this of course infers, “according to my values.” And who really is in a position to pass such judgment?

OG’s apparently are going around saying things like, “Why don’t these people speak English?” and “I hate that these people are always late!” While such statements, if uttered, are ludicrous beyond comment, I have a question:

What’s the difference between gringos telling locals what to do and gringos telling other gringos what to do? Are these not two sides of the same coin called “self-righteousness?”

It’s sad that the focus on such a non-topic minimizes the outstanding volunteer work being done by so many expats in local orphanages, schools, and hospitals. Untold time, energy, and money are being freely given to our community by retirees out of the goodness of their hearts.

Is it possible that we can quit looking for and talking about what’s wrong and concentrate on all the wonderful aspects of our life here?

For as Dr. Wayne Dyer so correctly states, “It’s never polite to ‘should’ on other people.”


Bob Houk said...

Edd: We have the same problem among some expats where I am currently living -- the Philippines. Some expats are very judgmental about the behavior of others.

In addition to the 'too much time' issue that you mention, I think part of the cause is a basic human need to feel superior to others -- "I'm much more tolerant/adaptable/socially conscious than that gringo."

We all have the need to feel superior (to a greater or lesser extent), and we are all at least occasionally judgmental, of course. But those who go overboard probably have some issues with their sense of self-worth. They're best pitied and/or ignored (though that can become difficult at times).


Edd Staton said...

Well said, amigo.

Divinely Designed said...

I figure telling them to stop doing the obnoxious behavior is probably not going to stop it, so why bother? Definitely too much time on their hands. We all get overly cranky with age, as well, not that I've noticed that in myself. :-)

Edd Staton said...

Right. Such people weren't nice before and suddenly became cranky in Ecuador. They bring their misery with them wherever they go.

TerryDarc said...

With only 5,000 expats (maybe) in Cuenca and 500k Cuencanos, it shouldn't be too hard to avoid the annoying ones. In 40 years of travel to more than 40 countries and three expat stints including Cuenca, I'm hornswoggled if I can remember OG's misbehaving.

That said, I can remember being put out when a fellow tourist/expat did something stupid - like walk in front of my camera just as I push the shutter. Or, shoving in their way in front of me. Doesn't happen often.

I vote for to-much-time and feeling the need to worry about something.

geoffrey nolan said...


I wish I had heard you make comments like these when I met you at your apartment building in Cuenca a couple of years ago. I spent an uncomfortable two weeks in town listening to Americans at the gringo bookstore in the old section of town just up the hill from where you were living. The had absolutely nothing good to say about their own country. They spoke in loud voice. Their self-righteous political obsession turned me away from the town. I am a gringo but have lived half of my 67 years in a Spanish speaking environment and away from the gringo culture. My idea of a great retirement spot was a place with a lot of gringos to have breakfast with and indulge in those leisurely chats that you mention. Thanks for your thoughts.

Edd Staton said...

It's interesting that you kept going back for two weeks. I would have (and did) leave after my initial visit there. Cuenca has many wonderful expats with great attitudes. You were just fishing in the wrong pond.

Edd Staton said...

Oh, gosh,I forgot to mention in my response that the "anonymous" author of the OG article was in fact the proprietor of that same bookstore. See how the pieces of the puzzle fall into place?