7 Ways You Know You’re a Real Quiteño
When I arrived in South America last year, I didn’t really know what I’d signed up for. Like restless 20-somethings before me, I sought a new culture, a different language, and exotic experiences with worldly people before that ominous world of early commutes, mortgages, and bills closed in. I dove headfirst rather frantically into a quiteño adventure I actually knew very little about. Living in Ecuador has been a thrilling and daunting experience. My teachers are locals who exude a generosity and happiness that is almost infectious.
Still, it hasn’t been easy to assimilate: on my first journey to work during my second week in the bustling Ecuadorian capital, I waited patiently at the bus stop for the bright blue vehicle, my arm tentatively raised in anticipation of the approaching bus. Time ticked on and buses zoomed past. Conductors cheerfully waved to me as they sped by and passengers stared through the passing windows like I had grown a second head.
Perplexed, I regaled the scene to my quiteño friend afterwards to the sound of her hearty laughs. “Catching a bus here is an aggressive business,” she giggled. “You’ll never get to work with your English queuing systems and polite hand raising!”
From then on I was enthusiastically schooled in neighbourhood tips and traditions in a bid to really enrich my experience here (and to help me catch the bus to work). I wouldn’t say I’m quite a local just yet, but I have definitely become more accustomed to Quito community practices.
Here are seven ways to know you’re becoming a true quiteño in Quito:
1. You go to the local market over the supermarket
Vibrant markets piled high with mountains of fresh produce are abundant in Quito, beating the supermarket chains with the authentic experience and large variety of traditional foods they offer. This makes them the food stop of choice for many Ecuadorian locals. Always animated with people, steeped in colour, and alive with appetizing aromas, the markets present an array of unusual dining options for the American and European traveler. Traverse a market with a local and instead of apples and pears you might leave with anything from a borojo to a rambutan to a guanabana.
2. You will bargain over everything
Forget everything you know about an item’s price tag being its final cost: this number is merely the starting point for a local in Quito. In the mercado, everything can be bargained for, with a simple, “¿Por favor mi senor, me puede un descuento?” Electronics and appliances can generally be purchased with big discounts, and haggling is also popular with dry goods, flowers, meat, and even fish.
3. You greet everyone with kisses
An unusual display of affection perhaps, particularly for the emotionally cautious British. Warm greetings complete with hugs and kisses are customary for locals in Quito. Whether you haven’t seen a friend for three months or three hours, a peck on the cheek and a cheerful embrace is the norm. It’s a lovely display of the caring and friendly nature that characterizes Ecuadorian people.
4. Canelazo is your beverage of choice
Canelazo is a hot alcoholic drink, typically made from sugar, cinnamon, and aguardiente (sugar cane alcohol). Its taste is similar to that of mulled wine, and is enthusiastically sold by street vendors, particularly during the Fiestas de Quito and Christmas, so you’ll get a chance to enjoy it often living in Ecuador. Consume yours with a local to the hearty cries of ¡salud! and ¡fondo!
7 Ways You Know You’re a Real Quiteño
5. You aren’t afraid to dance
Bailando is everywhere in Quito; classes teach it, Enrique Iglesias sings about it, clubs promote it, and the locals love it. Being a proficient salsa dancer here may even cement your status as a renowned romancer; my friend recently told me that if a boy doesn’t know how to dance then he sure doesn’t have a chance of getting a girlfriend. Stick with a local and you won’t be afraid of moving to the groove whenever the feeling takes you, whether that be in a club, in the street, or on a chiva (a brilliant moving bus dedicated to dancing).
6. The buses don’t faze you
The (generally) orderly and comfortable buses of back home are a thing of the past when you arrive in Quito. Riding a bus here is similar to having a surfing lesson in a rough sea, trying your best to stay up right, bending your knees and holding on for dear life (to any pole, window, or body part you can find). And prepare to be nose to nose with about 200 other people. To a local, this is just part of the daily Quito routine!
7. Lunch is your biggest meal of the day
A three-course evening meal is a thing of the past when you dine with a local in Quito. Here, traditional almuerzo is the main event, coming complete with a soup starter, a main meat dish, rice and salad, and a small dessert, which is usually a piece of fruit or a small cake. Set lunches can be found almost everywhere from Monday to Friday, and are often a great value at as little as $1.50 for a tasty and filling meal. But be warned: you may strongly feel like taking an extended nap around 2 p.m.