Abroad in Ecuador: Trapped in Love

Upon hearing about a supposedly “happening” club in Quito – by the name of Love, no less – a friend and I decided to don our heels and see how we measured up to Latin genes on the dance floor.  And after an eternity and a half of Raggaeton and persistent dance proposals by ridiculously flexible, 4’11” men, we decided to call it a night.  We made our way to the lobby to check out, where we received the unpleasant surprise that our bill amounted to a cardiac-arrest-inducing $48.  You see, when a typical cab ride in the city costs a maximum of $2, $48 may as well be the equivalent of purchasing a moon-faring safari.  Needless to say, neither Cristina nor I had the required amount.

So for the next hour and a half, we pleaded with the woman at the counter to please let us leave to fetch the needed funds and return to pay her in full.

But it was no use.  We were trapped in Love forever.

Was this karmic retribution for any and all misdeeds I had ever committed in the romantic field?  Love was striking back with a vengeance, in the form of an embittered 40-something year old woman caked in makeup and chained to her desk by a pair of dangling earrings the size of two baby marsupials.

Finally, we obtained an audience with The Administrator, a bureaucratic God-send, who allowed us to slip out a side door after having paid the amount we did possess.

That night, I thought about the possible cosmic significance behind this strange unfolding of events.

Lately, I’d been thinking quite a bit about that great and heart-wrenching emotion – love.

Living in a country in which couples express their affection for each other in an incredibly outward fashion – much more so than Americans – I’ve found myself comparing how these two cultures treat and regard displays of love.

Due to the country’s financial reality and a significantly family-oriented lifestyle, the vast majority of Ecuadorians don’t move out of their homes until they get married.  In this manner, romantic associations carry a greater amount of weight than those in the U.S., in which 20-year-olds can easily date each other without even remotely contemplating an eventual, permanent union.

Last week for instance, after being herded onto a chiva – a giant wooden box on wheels equipped with a few polls and handles for passengers to hang on to as it lurches through the streets of Quito, blasting music into all hours of the night – an acquaintance argued that Ecuadorian women would never even consider kissing a gentleman caller on the first date.  And forget about any sort of more intimate behavior until the 15th.

So when I observe couples here trailing each others’ hands along the contours of their bodies and locking lips in full, public display, it would seem that they’re practically engaged (if not matrimonially, emotionally at least).

Paradoxically, while American couples act in a much more demure fashion in public, the vast majority of Ecuadorian men I have met seem to be under the impression that American girls are loose cannons who come to the Southern hemisphere to explode their sexual appetite.

And effectively, in the four or five months that American girls spend in Ecuador, many do engage in carefree behavior due to the temporary and exotic nature of their abroad experience.  Yet while such a hook-up culture may be the norm on American college campuses, it is not here.

I find myself waging an uphill battle convincing people I meet that American girls are not, in fact, women of easy virtue, and that the stereotype arises out of a vast cultural gap.  Moreover, some of us are here to submerge ourselves in Latin culture, and not merely find our own private Enrique Iglesias to engage in sultry Latin love affairs.

Displays of affection are both personally and culturally driven; thus when comparing various forms of romantic expression, we ought to do so with an enlightened and open mind, without condemning whatever differences may exist.  At the same time, out of respect for social convention, we ought to conform somewhat to whatever norm prevails in a certain culture.  Believe me, there’s nothing worst than getting trapped by Love.

- Meaghan Beatley, DFP Staff

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