Thanksgiving in Cuenca; or why I am glad I am not him.

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A word of warning: Most the photos in this post are stock photos.

When I was young, I read a lot of books about American and British expats. It gave me an image of what an expat should be like. Though, as I traveled I found that many of the expats,I ran into, I didn’t care for very much.

There was that man in Guilin, China: I was with a small tour group, when we went into a restaurant for dinner. As we passed through the dining room, to a large table in the back, we passed a family having dinner. The man, who was obviously an American, was sitting with his Chinese wife and children. He glared at us, as we came in and as we passed his table he spat, “OH, MY GOD!” In those three words, he made it very clear that our little group of Americans, Brits, Aussies, and Kiwis, was not welcome in his little corner of the world. I have often wondered if he were a defector from Viet Nam. his age would have been about right.

Not that all expats I have crossed paths with have been A-holes. I have very fond memories of Roberto the Americano, who lived in Parma, Italy. In WWII he met and married an Italian woman. After a very long marriage, she passed away, and he continued to live in Italy. He was the go-to guy for the American students. He helped me find an interpreter, so I was able to finish the magazine article I was writing.

19990619-1991 Italy me Roberto Americano 216 copy
Roberto the Americano and me, Parma, Italy, 1991.

Between the books, Roberto, and his ilk, I really wanted to believe in my childhood image of what an expat should be like. Though the expats in books and the nice ones I have met in real life, have all been very different people, they had one thing in common that made me like them. They were all interesting people.

man sitting on stool while playing saxophone beside fence
What I think an expat should be like: Photo by May Day on

Since I have been in Cuenca, my path hasn’t led me to encounter very many expats. I have had some nice conversations with various tourist, mainly Americans, but some from Europe. The expats I have encountered, seem to be nice people, with the exception of the guy who lives upstairs, who stomps around his apartment constantly, and seems to be offended that there are other Americans living in the building.

I see, what are probably expats, all over the town, but I rarely stop to talk to them. I am always smiling, so if a person doesn’t smile back I keep going. I did get into a long conversation with a couple of Jehovah’s Witness ministers the other day. Though I have never cared for energetic religions, I found that those two measured up to what I expect to see in my idealized expat.

When I read in one of the expat newspapers that a group of Expats were getting together for Thanksgiving dinner at a restaurant an easy walk from my condo. I signed up. I chose to attend the luncheon seating. I went over a few days before, to check out the restaurant and prepay for my meal.

On Thanksgiving, the dining room was packed, I was seated at a table with a couple, we were soon joined by a Texas woman and her local best friend. I wasn’t able to talk to the two women, as they were too far down the table. I was very pleased to find out that the couple, who were close enough to talk to were quite interesting. He was a retired contractor and she had retired from government service. They had found out about Cuenca, being the American retiree hotspot, from one of his clients. They hadn’t been planning on getting married. They have several adult children between them, from previous marriages. It turned out that it was advantageous that they be married becoming residents of Ecuador.

In spite of the impromptu marriage, I could tell that they were very much in love with each other. I was very pleased,to be seated with such interesting people. The wife who was closer to me was just getting into telling me how her government insurance was going to cover her in Ecuador, something I had heard the opposite of, when we were joined by the sixth member of our table. As much as the charming couple were the very image of the sort of expat I wanted to meet, Jerry, was the image of the type I had been hoping to avoid.

The problem with being a single, going to dinners like this, is that the other singles will be put at the same table. Most singles are single for a reason. I am sure that other diners have wished that they not have been seated with me, after they have had to listen to me talking story for too long.

At first Jerry seemed to be a nice guy, but as he continued to talk, and drink, he became more and more querulous. The first indication that I would be getting away from that table as soon, as I could without insulting the other four at the table was, when he looked around and asked, “Do you know what I hate about these expat clubs?”
“No,” I responded, expecting that he was going to make a joke.
“Look around, everyone is ancient!” he said, bitterly, causing the wrinkles of his wizened face to deepen.
“Yep,” I said, realizing that he wasn’t trying to be funny. “If you want to be around a younger crowd, you should go to the Language Exchange meetup.”
He seemed quite taken with the idea, but when I got to the part about most of the people there being locals, a sour look crossed his already sour face. I realized that he didn’t want to actually have anything to do with locals.
“I am going to Guanajuato, Mexico next month, and that I had already found a Language Exchange there to join,” I said, to the woman next to me, trying to shift the conversation away from the bitter little man.

We tried to carry on a conversation about our various travels only to be interrupted by the old man interjecting very negative comments about every place we had traveled or wanted to go to. When one of use would mention that we loved a place, he would say he hated it and that he hated the people there. Then he would name some obscure place, which he could be pretty sure we had never gone to, and avow that he wanted to retire there. I think he listed about a dozen places where he was going to retire.

The lady and I managed to have a bit of conversation about how much we liked the food in Cuenca, before Jerry jumped back into the conversation with renewed vitriol.

He went on a rant about how bad his apartment here was, and how horrified he was at how much it cost to live here. He basically told me that I was lying when I said I was living on less than $1,300 a month including all the expenses I have back in the States.
“There is no way, you’re doing that! My God, a jar of peanut butter cost nine dollars!” he said.
“Of course, if you are eating imported food it is going to cost you a lot. You have to eat local,” I said. I went on to explain how I kept my food bill down in Hawaii, by not eating food shipped in from the mainland.
He snorted and frowned, indicating that he had caught me in another “lie”.

His next tirade was about having to pay $47 dollars to see an optometrist. This rant got the lady looking worried. Before the codger had shown up, she had confided in me that she was diabetic. I just quietly told her, “Don’t worry, just get references.” She assured me that she would.

I refrained from asking him why, if he loved those other places so much, he was in Cuenca, which he seemed to hate. When he started up insulting the French, I had had enough and shut him down. I told him point-blank that Americans, who get treated badly by the French, have most likely been rude without realizing it. He launched into telling me how he had been treated, proudly telling me how rude he had been. Apparently he thought that since he had been an American with a pocket full of cash, he should have been kowtowed to, despite his rudeness.

After so many years of going to sea, I have learned not to let having to dine with an A-hole spoil my enjoyment of food. The dinner was very well done. The only complaint that I had, was that the pie was apple, but I guess I really couldn’t expect pecan this far from Georgia. After dinner I acted as if I were with the couple and left with them, leaving Jerry alone with his bitterness.

man old depressed headache
A stock photo that is the doppelgänger of my dining companion. Photo by Gerd Altmann on 

After saying goodbye to the couple, I headed out to the other side of the restaurant, which was located between two roads. I ran into the Texas lady and her friend, waiting for a taxi. We made up for not being able to talk during lunch, before their cab showed up. We had some fun, with her being a University of Texas fan and me being a graduate of Texas A&M, before she had to go.

Further down the road I caught up with group of four who had been at the luncheon. They were a little more savvy, having walked over to the main drag to flag down a taxes, where as the ladies had called for a cab to pick them up on the side street. It was getting near to 4 p.m. so we had a nice long talk before a free cab pulled over to get them. I was glad I ran into them. They were the sort of expats I want to grow up to be. I managed to get home before the afternoon rains started.

When I had headed out that afternoon, I was well on my way before I realized I wasn’t carrying my phone. I didn’t have enough time to double back and get it and make it to the luncheon on time. So when I sat down to write today, I had no photographs to illustrate the post. Luckily WordPress provides a certain number of stock photos for free. I do use them from time to time. When I found the photo to illustrate Jerry, had to laugh. It looked just like him.

Categories: Americas, Ecuador, food, Nomad's Food, Pontificating, Random Thought, TravelTags: , , , , , , , ,


  1. Hi Sam,
    Here is my personal experience of American Sause; all restaurants in Utah serve it and call it “fry sause” as it is mostly used for French fries. I had a ahrd time finding ketchup for my fries.


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