There was a back-to-school commercial for an office supply store a few years back that I always enjoyed. Perhaps you’ve seen it – it shows a father dancing behind a shopping cart as he pushes it around the store, tossing in new school supplies. The background music is the Christmas favorite, “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year”. The best part is you then see two school-age children, a boy and a girl, dispiritedly following their dad as he dances. They are walking slowly with their heads down, and frowns on their faces.
I loved it then as a parent, and I think of it now as an expat as we reach low season (May-December) here in Salinas. This is the time of the year that the “snow birds” all start flocking back north – and we residents are always secretly relieved to see them get the flock out, so to speak.
Don’t get me wrong, there are some perfectly lovely people who come down from Canada and the US to escape the cold weather. But sometimes they can be so exhausting! They burst into town with all of the energy of a Tasmanian Devil, and want to go here, go there, see this restaurant, jump in this healing mudhole, have a party for this, a party for that – hey, we’re just trying to get to the grocery store, people!
Life as an expat in a foreign country as a year-round resident is very different from the experiences of the three-to-six-month visitors. I refer to them sometimes (lovingly, of course) as fauxpats. I once heard a snowbird call herself a “part-time expat”, which makes as much sense to me as “just a little pregnant” – you either is or you ain’t!
Expats have made a commitment that they are going to try and live in a foreign culture. They have not just decided they don’t like snow. We are here to live, while it seems many of the part-timers are here to party. I’ve got nothing against a party or having fun at the beach, but to live in Ecuador means you have to learn to cope with things like opening a bank account, figuring out how to pay your utility bills, or God help you, how to make changes in your utilities (shudder)! We need to learn more Spanish than una cerveza mas, and donde esta la casa de pee-pee.
Part of the issue of course is that there is a process to settling in as an expat. There is the honeymoon phase, which can then be followed by varying degrees of culture shock, doubt, frustration, rage, tears, etc. – and hopefully, if you’ve made the right choice, you reach an acceptance of your new life, and embrace all of the changes, for good or for not as good, and find that you are actually happy and content with where you live.
The fauxpat is stuck in that honeymoon cycle. And if you and your spouse have ever been on a trip celebrating (or mourning, as the case may be) your 10th wedding anniversary, and found yourself stuck at a dinner table with a pair of giggling newlyweds …. well, you are probably reading this while out on bail waiting for a court date.
Again, I kid the snow birds; their obvious excitement at being here does remind you of when it all looked new to you. And it is not just their departure we celebrate here either – it’s great when all of the locals stop coming to the beach too! Easter is the last really big beach holiday in Ecuador for several months. Sure, there’s still Worker’s Day at the beginning of June, and The Battle of Pichincha – Ecuadorians always find a reason celebrate. But the really big crowds are over until the end of the year.
I suppose we experience the same thing residents of Orlando, Florida feel when September finally comes around. Yes, the tourist dollars were great, yes it’s wonderful seeing people have so much fun, but oh how wonderful it is to see the beaches with just a few people, and hardly any trash! How nice when there are not vendors offering boat rides, lamps, tattoos, hammocks, lobsters, doll furniture, wicker baskets, coconut water, hats and sunglasses every ten steps! How quiet and peaceful at night, without the sound of dance music or bad karaoke (is there any other kind?) blasting out!
Best of all, we are entering fall here under the equator. The temperatures will soon start falling – a relative term in Salinas, I’ll admit. We will start having days in the low 80s or upper 70’s, nights in the low 70’s, sometimes even into the 60’s! Usually from sometime in May until about late November, we can start leaving all of the A/C units off, and open up the windows to the sea breezes during the day. Wonderful months of peace and quiet, great walking weather, really the best time of the year for us in Salinas.
So farewell to friends old and new, we will be struggling along through the cooler, quieter, more relaxed part of the year, and be rested and refreshed and ready for the madness to start up again next year!