My First Impressions Of Ecuador vs Chile: A Collection Of Contrasts

The Art Of Andy Goldsworthy
Art Of Andy Goldsworthy
Ecuador vs Chile is a collection of contrasts. After living here for three months, I feel now I have been in Chile long enough to be able to write just a bit about my first impressions.
  • The Faces Of Chile

Ecuadorian faces are different than the Chilean faces. The Ecuadorian faces have more of an indigenous look to them, a result of the Quichwa influence from their Inca heritage and also those people who have come from Peru and other neighboring South American countries.

Here in Chile there is more of a European influence in their faces, as they are more mixed cultures coming from many other countries.

  • The Contrast Of Immigration Policies

Chile also has a great history of immigration. Countries like Chile and Argentina have always highly encouraged immigration from other cultures. This cultural influx over many years has added to the great mix of physical characteristics, rich culinary options, world class fashion and different political ideologies seen here.

Ecuador by contrast over the many centuries has been rather closed unto itself, with little or any European influence upon it. Many educated Ecuadorian people told me that unlike , Ecuadorians prefer to retain their own culture. As a result, few people from other countries in Europe or other Latin American cultures have moved there or intermarried with the local Ecuadorian people.

  • The Culture Of Beauty and Fashion

From what I observed living in Ecuador two years, unless you are in a more professional community of Ecuadorians, Ecuadorian culture encourages their women to be the ruler of the home and take care of their kids and their husbands not to become a fashionista.

The elder Ecuadorian women, on the coast at least, tend to be a bit on the heavier side and appear to pay little attention to fashion. But this fashion sense tends to shift to a bit more upscale in more professional areas such as the female lawyers of Quito who we met.

Younger Ecuadorian women tend to emphasize their physical features and show off their figures. I would characterize their fashion sense as “sexual,” seemingly designed to get attention from men and at the same time also be comfortable in the heat of the Ecuador climate on the equator. I never quite got over the fact though that so many of the Ecuadorian women start having babies at age 12, regardless of how they dressed.

By contrast, Chileans have a greater sense of what I would call “elegant sexy.” This “woman of fashion” will often endure physical discomfort for high end fashion effect. I have seen  this all over Latin American countries and also in Europe.

Sure, Chilean women of all ages dress up for the beach.  Their beach outfits can be very revealing in the string bikini sense or sheer dresses. However, both the young and older Chilean women have the tanned and toned bodies to pull it off.

But even if they don’t have that “perfect skinny body” so promoted in the US, it doesn’t stop a Chilean woman from putting on a bikini and showing off whatever she does have. Some women also make a more conservative choice of a one piece bathing suit or T shirt and shorts.

Whatever the choice of beach outfits, they are out there walking and playing paddle board or catch or soccer or making sand castles with their children.

Overall, Chilean women seem to aspire to also dress for what looks good on them and be “pulled together” in the latest fashions you see being sold in Europe or the United States, whether it is out for a walk, going to the grocery store, working or shopping.

Sure, some Chilean women go a bit over the top with their huge bags, earrings, platform heels and high skirts up to the bottom of their butts. But as Diana Vreeland says, “A little bad taste is like a nice splash of paprika. We all need a splash of bad taste—it’s hearty, it’s healthy, it’s physical. I think we could use more of it. No taste is what I’m against.”

As I watch Chilean women, all I can say is that they seem proud of  their personal fashion stamp and also look like they are having a lot of fun wherever they go, whatever their taste. I respect that.

  • Hair

I love the long, drapy, sexy hair of the Chilean women and also how they dress always so pulled together in their skinny jeans and loose flowing tops that sway along with their hair.

I didn’t ever see Ecuadorian women putting a lot of effort into their hair or their clothes. Ecuadorian women by contrast tend to put their hair up in braids if they are in traditional indigenous Quechwa dress or in pony tails on the bus to keep it off their necks in the heat. Styles are short and stylish in the city of Quito but otherwise just long and straight cut for the most part.

  • The Fabulous Chilean Walk

The really stylish upscale  women of Chile are absolutely fabulous to watch, especially when they walk. They are the epitome of what Sophia Loren said,  “A woman’s dress should be a like a barbed-wire fence: serving its purpose without obstructing the view.” These upscale Chilean women really do walk like one famous European designer suggested a woman should do: “As if three men are watching them intently from behind.”

  • Chile Is A Culture of Travel

Chilean younger people are encouraged to get an education, make something of themselves and travel.

Both Chilean women and men aspire to and have both local and international careers. They love to travel all over the world and do travel on a regular basis as a part of their ever expanding interest in the world as a whole.

Even the men who are the concierges at the desk here at our building travel in their time off from work. One guy downstairs just came back from a two week trip to Paris and commented how much he “loved the food” but that the weather was just “too cold for him.”

Younger Chileans go off to study at Ivy League colleges in the United States and have commented to us that “the values are very different between the two cultures.” (More on that in a future blog!)

Most Chileans take 2 week length holidays thoughout the year, and more than once a year. Average Ecuadorians on the coast we met were lucky to travel beyond the next town in their entire lives.

  • The Malls

Chileans LOVE to shop and get the best of everything the world has to offer. And the malls reflect that. Every top name brand merchandise is here. Chileans shop for entertainment on the weekends.

A friend here told me that if a Chilean takes up a new sport, such as hiking or windsurfing, they tend to buy everything for that sport, top of the line brands of clothes and equipment, before they even take their first lesson!

The Ecuadorian malls for the most part are not nearly as elaborate as the malls in Chile. With the exception of the one mall we went to in Cumbaya, just south of the city of Quito, malls are quite small and have very few first world brands. Ecuadorians tend to choose their buying options for how they function rather than for being seen in a famous brand or fashion.

  • The Culture of Food and Music

Chileans LOVE good food of all kinds and cultural traditions.

The Ecuadorians love a certain type of food that is traditional Ecuadorian tradition of fish, rice, and beans or fresh chicken soup from a chicken you killed and plucked that morning.

Chileans adore live music and the musical cultural contributions people from around the world make to Chile with their musical traditions.

Ecuadorians don’t have live music anywhere unless it is at a rare concert in Quito. However in Ecuador you do hear a lot of music from boom boxes from the back of the cars and from DJ’s at their many discos until well past 5 AM.

  • The Chilean vs Ecuadorian Culture of Hello

 Chileans are very friendly and kiss you hello on the right cheek the moment you meet them. No Hollywood “air kisses” from Chileans.

The Ecuadorians are a bit more reserved, but from an early age, even the children are expected to give you a kiss on your cheek upon greeting.

  • Chilean vs Ecuador Curiosity

Chileans are also extremely interested in anyone who visits Chile and you are asked all kinds of questions about who you are, where you have travelled, what you love, what kind of area you have worked in, how you like Chile so far and what you like about Chile compared to where you came from. They want to know YOU and ask LOTS of questions.

Ecuador by contrast, are very curious why you would ever leave the United States. Many of them have a cherished dream of visiting the United States one day, kind of like the United States is their version of Mecca for the people of Muslim faith.

More often than not in Ecuador, you get the question, “Why are you here?” and “Why would you EVER leave the United States? It’s perfect there.”

As you enter more of a conversation with an Ecuadorian, invariably you learn that the person who you are talking to has either gone to the United States to work and bring back money they saved or has great aspirations to go to the United States one day.

Ecuadorians never speak of ever visiting Europe or Asia, let alone Chile or other South American countries

  • Ecuadorians Think Chile Is Too Expensive

The common comment from Ecuadorians about Chile is, “Oh, it’s so expensive in Chile. Too expensive for me. ”

However, our personal experience so far on the cost of living at least right now in Chile with the currently strong U.S. dollar exchange rate, is about the same cost currently as living in Ecuador.

  • Chileans Think Ecuador Is Too Third World

When Chileans learn that we just spent the last two years of our lives in Ecuador, Chileans invariably get this look of concern on their faces as if to say, “poor you,” but they always first ask, “So what did you think of living in Ecuador? How was it?”

When  we tell them a bit more about our experience and how much we are enjoying our time in Chile now, they say things like, “Well, you know. We are a First World Country here in Chile. Ecuador has a ways to go now doesn’t it?

  • The Cultures Of Personal Space Are Very Different

Chileans have a very different sense of respect for space than Ecuadorians do. Chileans give you lots of space, whereas the Ecuadorians really do not.

Ecuadorians will practically be on top of you from behind you in a line and move even closer to you when you move away from them. At the bank counter, Ecuadorians will just come on up, stand beside you and lay their arms on the counter or look over your shoulder, even when it is not their turn. The tellers at the bank do not tell them to step aside or back.

At the ATM machine, Ecuadorians think nothing of coming up and standing up very close behind you where they can see everything you are doing and even how much money you are getting out of the machine.  However if there is a guard standing by at the bank door near the row of machines, Ecuadorians will stand back behind the yellow line usually painted on the floor a couple of feet back.

Ecuadorians will also use the armrests well over on to your side of the seat on a plane or sitting in a public chair at an office. They just have a habit of spreading out wherever they are.

Ecuador tends to be a culture of patience with all the long lines everywhere you go to do anything. However if you are doing anything while you are waiting, like a needlepoint in a public space like I tend to do while I am waiting, a crowd will usually gather around to get a closer look at what I am doing.

Strangers will even stick their faces in very close to mine while I am looking down and working on my needlepoint as if to see exactly what my eyes are seeing as I work. Ecuadorians think nothing of asking many questions about who the needlepoint is for or what I will do with it.

I ever quite got used to an Ecuadorian’s sense of space.

However, you never feel like a Chilean person is on top of you or crowding you, like I always felt in Ecuador. Here in Chile, I feel a bit more like I can breathe as people are generally more respectful of space, at least in the way I think of giving another person a sense of spacial privacy.

There is at least 3 feet between you and the next person in line here in Chile. At an ATM machine Chileans tend to wait five feet back or even outside the door of the bank until you are finished with your transaction.

  • The Culture of  Speaking English vs Spanish

Another thing I notice is that Ecuadorians will encourage you to speak Spanish and gently and quietly repeat what you just said correctly if you didn’t get it right. They love seeing you try to speak their language, and then try very sweetly to help you improve.

The Chileans seem to have a sense of keeping their opinions about your Spanish, good or bad, to themselves and will not correct you unless you ask them specifically to do so. Then they will be happy to help.

But we have known people a full month before learning that THEY spoke PERFECT ENGLISH! But Chileans have always respected our attempts to blend in with them and make an effort to speak Spanish, however clumsy.

Rarely does a Chilean speak English to you or in a conversation in Spanish switch to English, which would have been more comfortable and easier for us.

  • More Impressions To Come

Anyway I hope this description gives you at least a little sense of the two countries, Ecuador and Chile, by contrast. I know I will have more impressions the longer I am in Chile. I will share those “boots on the ground personal experiences” as I can speak to them more fully.

If you came here to this blog really only wanting to know more about Ecuador, feel free to download or purchase my new bookWords To Thrive By for World Travelers: Footprints in Ecuador. My book is available both on Kindle and Paperback formats, though I prefer the kindle as all my photos are in color in that version.


Words To Thrive By for World Travelers: Footprints in Ecuador

Words To Thrive By for World Travelers: Footprints in Ecuador


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