Some People Just Can't See They Are Being Insulted
by Ray Irizarry
(The Woodlands, TX)
After months of research, my wife and I decided to visit Ecuador and target Cuenca specifically as a potential retirement spot. We are both widely traveled; she was raised in France, I, in New York City, San Juan, Miami, Jim Crow Dixie, France, and finally South Texas, where we both have lived for pretty much the last 40 years. As such, we are quite familiar with the Latino culture, be it Spanish, Puerto Rican, Cuban, Mexican, or Tex-Mex. And we've come to love it - the various foods, music, arts, and most of all, the people.
We looked at other places too, mainly Mexico, Costa Rica, and Panama, but wrote them off as "pockets" of North American colonies where most interaction with locals was between maids or gardeners and others in the service industries with their U.S./Canadian employers. That was not for us.
We explored Honduras (the interior) and Guatemala but they were a bit too "third world." Little or no infrastructure. We loved Argentina, but the 11 hour flight to Houston was a turn-off, especially in bad weather nearly all the way.
So, after investing in Rosetta Stone's five-level Latin American Spanish course and completing the first two levels, I felt sufficiently confident to give Ecuador a shot using a higher level of interaction with the locals. Fantastic! It was all I hoped for and more.
I was never cheated, never felt threatened, and was warmly received by just about every local I met. This included being led along a circuitous route for about ten miles until I was properly established southbound on the Ruta del Sol, by three Guayaquil cops whose lunch I interrupted for directions, but were alas, too complicated to follow. I was promptly then bid adiós, with no expectation or solicitation of a tip.
During the course of two visits last February and August we managed to take in Quito, Cotacachi, Salinas, Montañita, El Cajas, and Cuenca.
In Cuenca we met some great expats and some very welcoming locals, but remember my opening line: Some people just can't be insulted. I guess they are too busy wallowing in their own sense of self-importance that they can't appreciate how others see them.
Allow me to introduce to you, Boss Hogg, and his wife Ima Hogg, two fifty somethings who arrived in Cuenca after attending an International Living seminar in Quito. I was approaching the lobby of this boutique hotel after using a computer on the second level to check-in with LAN for our return flight to Quito when I heard this god-awful commotion.
Ima Hogg was ranting and raving about their "intolerable predicament" and that no one spoke English. A moment later, she bellowed, "Oh! Do you speak English? Thank God, finally someone here speaks English!" As I wound my way around two huge steamer trunks and other checked or carry-on bags strewn about the small lobby, my wife asked me if I might be able to help these people.
I asked Boss Hogg what seemed to be the problem and he said the bedroom was too small, and, referring to the desk clerk, that "that stupid woman doesn't speak English." I said snidely, "Well you are in HER country, why don't you try Spanish, or at least quit yelling. That doesn't make you easier to understand." The comment sailed right over his head.
"Can you get me a reservation in a Hyatt or Marriott?" he asked. "Would you like that in Quito or Guayaquil," I replied. "Ugh, er, you mean they don't have any NICE hotels in Cuenca?" "I didn't say that. There are several 'nice' hotels in Cuenca, just don't expect to find Hiltons, Crowne Plazas or any other North American chains. Here are three." And I wrote them on a piece of note paper the front desk clerk gave me and pointed to a laptop sitting in the bar that was available for guests.
"You can look them up, take your pick, and make a reservation on-line." But Boss Hogg was helpless without his underpaid, overworked secretary to manage things for him. "I don't know how to use the Spanish keyboard. I can't figure out how to type that doo-hicky, you know, the 'at' symbol."
"It's called an 'arooba,' like that island in the Caribbean (Aruba) off Venezuela. You've heard of it, I hope. Press ALT 64. In other places in Latin America it could be different. You need to learn these things and what's available where before going off half cocked making a fool of yourself in another country. And a little courtesy such as 'gracias,' or 'por favor' wouldn't hurt either."
As luck would have it, Boss Hogg was becoming a 350lb. albatross. Reservations on-line were locked out within 24 hours of arrival. Now he expected me to call the hotel directly to book a room. I reached the Mansión Alcázar and asked for the most expensive room in the hotel. In my mangled Spanish I explained I had two stupid, rich Norte Americanos who thought they were a king and queen and expected to be treated as such. I even suggested they may need a second room for their luggage.
The desk clerk laughed and I asked him if he spoke English, which he did. At that point I handed the phone to Boss Hogg and told him to give the clerk the credit card information. All that was left now was to get them on their way.
It was a riot when the cab driver showed up with a little Skoda and we watched Boss and Ima Hogg, and their two steamer trunks, two suitcases, and carry-on baggage try to squeeze into a Soviet era mini car. Somehow they did. And I never received a thank you, much less a gracias, from either of them.
I apologized to the desk clerk and told her not all North Americans behave like that. She agreed, and invited us for a couple of Cuba Libres before we needed to leave for the airport.
House here in Texas has at last sold. Hope to be in Cuenca by September.
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