Where did my personal space go?

Another culture shock in Ecuador: they are always late – they make fun of themselves for that – and they will ask personal questions (and don’t try to avoid them).

It doesn’t matter if you are in the professional setting or personal, 15 minutes late is the bare minimum for everything. In meetings, you will start later than the plan, and then personal questions will be asked. It is almost like an ice breaker. In my first day at work, just after I told my name and nationality, I was asked if I was married, and how many kids I had. I was asked how I am not married (???), and if I am not afraid I will be single forever. I was asked about stereotypes of my country, and had to deal with some [in my opinion] not so nice comments about them. I was annoyed and sort of surprised. They noticed how uncomfortable those questions made me feel, and quick they apologized saying “sorry, this is normal here.” They were right, after a while in Ecuador I got used to answer personal questions, and repeat again and again “I am single, and have no kids.” It is their culture, the lines between professional and personal life are blurred. You will hear about their personal problems every single day, a coworker quick becomes your friend, and you become part of their family. And of course, when you go out for dinner they will be there 30 minutes late…

The lack of personal space (or interest in other’s life) is not only in the working space… Since it is easy to notice I am not from here (unfortunately since I’m Latina!), in the moment I enter in a taxi I get questioned about where I am from, where is my husband, and where are my kids, what I am doing here, how long I am going to be here…. I am 26 years old (I am not old!!!) but in this region of the country I am old… They expect that you will have kids and be married by 26. It is also shocking for them when I get a little sassy and say “I have no plans in getting married, I will just keep moving around.” Everyone gets confused about it…

I am struggling with it, but also trying my best to get used to it. For the delays, I just add 15 minutes to everything: if they say 9am, I will be there 9:15 (and I will add 9:15 to my agenda). It is just less stressful and kind of fun this way…

On the other hand, dealing with personal questions is harder. After living in the United States for a very long time, I got used to the way you separate professional and personal life, and the “closeness” of their culture. My country shares the Ecuadorian costume, but I always struggled with it back there too. So every time I am hit with direct and personal questions I still getting a little lost and defensive. I do have a few direct answers to avoid follow-up questions, like “I don’t have kids and don’t intend to have any.” Or, “yes I live alone, and I’ve been living alone for the past 6 years.” They are not used to direct answers, so this kind of stop the conversation… but it is also not very polite. So it is not in every setting that I can use it. I am trying my best to ignore it, but somedays it is hard…

Anyway, Ecuador is definitely a very easy country to fall in love with and this is just another thing I need to get used to…



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