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Friday, December 6, 2013

The Gringo Paradox

You would think that, in a place where you were the minority, when you came across one of your own, you might go out of your way to be friendly.  This is not necessarily the case. I present to you the gringo paradox. (Along with pictures of things that amused me.)
Note stop sign attached to tree...chances of seeing it? Your guess is as good as mine.

This consists of blatantly ignoring fellow "extranjeros" (aka foreigners) with what seems to be a vengeance. I think that we are operating under the delusions that if we ignore other gringos, we will prove that we are not a gringo ourself. Of course, this goes against all logic, truth and ignores the concept of self-acceptance, but many of us embrace it, none the less.

I've discussed this phenomenon with a few expats here in Cuenca and we all seemed fairly mystified by the practice. Many reasons have been suggested as to a root cause:

1. The gringo is afraid that any signs of acknowledgement might result in an unintelligible barrage of Spanish that will go completely misunderstood by the receiving party.  (Trust me, this happens when you innocently ask a rudimentary question and get an earnest and lengthy answer in Spanish. This usually comes from Ecuadorians, not gringos, so if the fear exists, it seems unfounded.)

2. The gringo is tired of having the same expat conversation even just one more time. "Where you from?" "How long have you been here?" "Do you have your cedula yet?" "Where can I find...(fill in the blank)?" This seems most likely, at least to must get exhausting after the first year.

3. If I ignore them, then I won't be one. This stems from the need to blend in when in a new environment. I think there are thousand of years of evolution behind this reaction.  (Sorry my world evolution and God can exist at the same time.)

4. They're afraid that over friendliness is a sign of insanity. (I've visited cities where this seems to be the case...sensitivity keeps me from mentioning any.)

I'd be interested to hear other opinions on this and to know whether it happens in other countries as well.  Please add a comment to this blog to let us know what your experience is!

I only have one comment to make regarding this little quirk of expat reaction. A reserved smile and quiet "hola", "buenas dias" or even the more advanced "como esta?" is enough to give the other gringo the idea that they are acknowledged but not invited to chat. Humans have spent millenia figuring out this sort of near silent communication and your face gives us way more clues than any words might.

For my husband and I we resolve to meet any eye, expat or local, with a smile and greeting.  I mean really, can't we all just get along? (If Halloween and Christmas can do it, why can't we?)



  1. I haven't noticed this while on vacation, but they are always such short stays. I think your number 2 explanation seems the most likely. Then again maybe you have come across a lot of "Edward Snowden's" who prefer to keep a low profile.

  2. Ha ha ha...that made me's a really good possibility!