Experiencing cultural shock as a Japanese man in Ecuador

by Daniel Alexander

I have been in Quito, Ecuador more than one month now. This month has been full of new experiences including two Amizade-BCA excursions, one of which was to the Amazon. However, just living a “normal life” in a new country has given me some culture shock; I have found many things different, weird, awesome, and new!

The first difference from my idea of “normal,” is the temperature of the shower. In Ecuador, the shower is usually not hot. It isn’t cold, but it is not as hot as I prefer. So, it has become my habit to do some pushups before taking a shower to warm up, so I don’t feel as cold in the shower. Yeah, it sounds dumb, but believe me, it works!

I also had an interesting experience with cold showers when I went to have my hair cut in a Quito barbershop. After the barber cut my hair, we moved to a sink to wash my head. I sat on the chair and he adjusted the temperature of the water. He told me, “it is too hot, so please wait a bit.” I was thinking in my mind that it was going to be a good, hot shower if the water was too hot right now. I was so excited for warm water! He said, “ready” and started to wash my head. Guess what? It was a very cold shower.

From these experiences, I learned that hot and cold are relative terms. Someone’s definition of hot can be considered cold for people from different cultures. Now, I appreciate why someone invented the water thermometer. Without it, we cannot know how “hot” the water really is.

Another thing I found different in Ecuador are the small portions served for dinner. My host father usually eats only a piece of bread with hot chocolate for dinner. My host mother does not eat dinner at all. In my culture, the biggest meal is dinner. So, I was surprised a lot by my host family eating nothing for dinner. However, people in Ecuador eat a big lunch. For lunch traditional restaurants first serve a big bowl of soup, and then a main plate with a lot of rice, some kind of meat and a salad.

Although I am used to eating a big dinner and it seems difficult to change to a small dinner, small dinners seem healthier. People use more calories during the day than at night. Therefore, big lunches and small dinners fit better to our lifestyle than big lunches and even bigger dinners, like I eat. Indeed, many Ecuadorians look healthy. At a family party, my 80-year-old host grandfather and my 91-year-old host grandmother were dancing a lot!

There are many other Ecuadorean customs that are different from my culture: People sell snacks and sing on the bus. Some kids sell goods in the streets. We need to put toilet paper in the trashcan instead of flushing it down the toilet because water treatment is handled differently. We need to pay for water in restaurants. Ecuadorians raise guinea pigs for food. Lastly, we have soup at every lunch and fruit juice at every meal.

These differences helped me realize that what I think is “normal” is not normal for all other people. It is important to consider normality not only from my perspective, but also from the perspectives of others as well. And, I believe that studying abroad and immersing yourself in a different culture is the best way to practice thinking from different perspectives.

About the Author – Masaki Otsuka, Fall 2018 Quito Ecuador Storyteller & Soka University of America Student

I am Masaki Otsuka from Japan. I go to Soka University of America in California. I chose Quito, Ecuador for my study abroad location because I wanted to go to Latin America and experience an economically different life than ones I am familiar with in the U.S. and Japan.