After living in Indonesia for 10 months and then Turkey for 4, I apparently became somewhat accustomed to Asian/Muslim culture. Accustomed enough that I now find myself surprised by western things that I used to think were normal. Por ejemplo:
Public displays of affection. Holding hands, hugging, kissing – these things aren’t taboo in Latin America, or I guess America, period. But in Turkey hand holding and hugging was kept to a minimum. And in Indonesia it was downright disgraceful. So after not really seeing PDAs for a year and a half, I feel a little bit scandalized when I see couples in public now. What’s more, the standard greeting here is a quick peck on the cheek. In Turkey I did this a bit, but in my experience it was mainly women greeting other women this way. In Ecuador, however, kissing is an equal opportunity greeting, both among women AND between women and men. Friends, co-workers, bosses, people I’ve just been introduced to – there’s a whole lot of smooching happening here. A bit shocking to always be kissing people hello and goodbye after living under Islamic rules of conduct.
Pork, it’s what’s for dinner. And lunch. And breakfast. After living in Muslim countries, it’s strange to see so many pig products readily available (and cheap!) here. And Ecuador seems to be pretty big on pork – sausages, hot dogs, sliced ham, bacon, pork chops, roasted pork, pulled pork, fried pork, fried pork skin, fried pork fat – they eat it all.
Alcohol on menus. I could get alcohol in Indonesia, but it was pretty expensive and often not that good. In Turkey the domestic wine was actually decent and reasonably priced, but not every restaurant served alcohol. Here, however, pretty much every place I have gone at least has beer on the menu. Not that I drink beer, but it’s still surprising to me to see it so widespread.
America vs. The U.S. I have known for a long time that South Americans don’t like it when people from the U.S. say they are American (because South Americans are also American). It’s a cultural issue that I try to be sensitive to, especially when talking to Latinos. But in Indonesian, the word for the U.S. is Amerika, and I always told people Saya dari Amerika (I’m from America). And in Turkey it was the same: Amerikaliyum (I’m American). Plus I’ve found while traveling that people generally understand the word “America” more easily than the phrase “the United States,” so I altered my vocabulary accordingly. But now that I’m living in South America I have to re-train myself to stop saying “America” when I specifically mean the U.S. so as not to offend the South Americans I’m interacting with.
It’s potty time. Whenever I stop at a public bathroom in Ecuador, I open the stall door with a slightly resigned sigh, wondering to myself “is this going to be a squat toilet…” But you know what? IT NEVER IS! Because they don’t HAVE squat toilets here! So I am always pleasantly surprised. Even when the plumbing isn’t that great. And there’s no toilet paper. Or soap. They still have western toilets and thereby automatically score at least one point on my international bathroom rating system.