¡Saludos de Quito!

Jessica Piper
August 21, 2017

I have now been in Quito, Ecuador for a week. It has been a whirlwind, with orientation, adapting to life in a new country, and introducing myself to new people—fellow American students, my host family and many Ecuadorians in a variety of capacities. 

Meeting so many people has given me the opportunity to learn the typical Ecuadorian greeting—or, in Spanish, saludos. 

Anyone who knows me well can attest that I am not a touchy-feely person. In my perfect world, hugs would be reserved for family members and close friends on rare, important occasions, and the rest of people would keep their hands to themselves, save for the infrequent handshake. When I run into someone I know, I am very happy to acknowledge them with nod or a brief wave and then keep going with my life.

So I was not thrilled to learn that it is the norm in Ecuador to greet someone with a hug and a kiss on the cheek, and then do the same to say goodbye, even if it is only a minute later.

Greetings, as it turns out, are an essential part of Ecuadorian culture. On several occasions last week, I was surprised to be greeted with a hug and a kiss by people whom I was meeting for the first time. A professor who gave us a cultural lecture during orientation said that she considers “I ran into someone,” a legitimate excuse for arriving late to class—after all, Ecuadorian greetings are time consuming.

At first, having to perform typical Ecuadorian saludos was a mild source of anxiety for me. It certainly goes against my instinct to occupy the same physical space as people who I do not know well. At the same time, I do not want to seem rude or ungrateful by failing to greet someone properly.

After all, Ecuadorian greetings aren’t some meaningless ritual. They convey caring—certainly more than the awkward waves that I give my friends back home. As once lecturer told us during orientation, Ecuadorians are people-centered. Who you spend time with matters more than what you are doing. An affectionate saludo shows that someone matters to you, regardless of what else is going on. Sharing a greeting with a friend is more important than making it to class on time. And treating a stranger like a friend helps any relationship begin on the right foot.

On Sunday, our first day without orientation activities, several of my friends and I visited Pichincha, a volcano on the edge of Quito where visitors can take a cable car up to an elevation of nearly 13,000 feet. The views from the top are fantastic, but the line for the cable car was less wonderful. Yet, as we waited for nearly an hour in the rain for our chance to head up the mountain, I realized there was some truth behind the Ecuadorian philosophy: people are pretty awesome, and it’s good to take the time to talk with them, get to know them, and even start caring about them.

So while I may not be kissing my non-Ecuadorian friends anytime soon, I think I can get used to the saludos. And as I meet many more people over the next four months, I imagine that I will continue picking up life lessons too.

¡Hasta luego!

Jessica Piper

<p>I grew up in Colorado, but moved across the country to attend college in Maine. I'm an economics and Hispanic Studies double major with a minor in math, but writing is my real passion. I work for my college newspaper and have done other work for several blogs, magazine, and websites.</p>

Home University:
Bowdoin College
Louisville, CO
Hispanic Studies
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