We came up with the idea for this new series while thinking of all the incidents we’ve experienced that show just how different these new cultures can be! If you like the idea, we’re going to try coming to you every Wednesday with an example of a recent cultural clash we’ve experienced. So without further ado, here we go!
One huge difference between the United States and Colombia/Ecuador is the attitude towards “pets.” In Ecuador, many people have cats and/or dogs that are technically “theirs” but they don’t treat them like spoiled human children like we do in the U.S.! Quite opposite, in fact! Most dogs are either strays or not well cared for at all. One common practice in the city of Baños is to stick your dog on your roof all day so you don’t have to worry about where it is! These “roofdogs”, as we call them, are clearly bored and hyper, and demonstrate this by leaning dangerously over the ledge and barking at you ferociously as you walk by. I wonder how many roofdogs have been injured in desperate leaps for freedom and exercise? The other half of the dogs in Baños must be strays, as they wander the streets all scraggly-lookin’, totally on their own!
Zach and I have actually been house-sitting and dog-sitting for the past week. The dog we’re taking care of is Oso (Spanish for “bear”), a crazy 2 1/2 year old German Shepherd with some issues but a big heart. Oso’s owner is a woman from the United States, so she takes good care of him, up to U.S. standards. Thus, we have to take Oso on a two hour hike every day to let him to burn off all his energy. Walking a dog with a leash and everything is virtually unheard of here; everyone watches us go by with “those crazy gringos” written all over their face. Oso is well-trained and behaves perfectly on the leash. The problem is all of the other dogs, running around free and totally undisciplined! They make walking Oso a two-person job, as one person has to rush him by while the other person carries a pocket full of rocks and tries to intimidate any other dogs who try to run up and start something. The roofdogs really freak out when Oso walks by, also; I keep waiting for one of them to get so excited they take the flying leap.
This lack of caring for dogs as pets creates another problem: many Ecuadorians, kids and adults alike, are actually terrified of all dogs! The sidewalks literally clear when we walk by. We experienced this fear in two separate, hilarious incidents with Oso.
In the first situation, I was walking Oso by myself and we were heading down the sidewalk through town. I had Oso on a super short leash and he was walking happily next to my leg, not giving so much as a second look to any of the people we passed. He’s a lover, not a fighter! All of a sudden, a toddler ran out onto the sidewalk next to us and got scared by seeing Oso walk by. She started crying and running towards her mom as I pulled Oso farther away (not that we were EVER very close to her in the first place). Her mom scooped her up and then proceeded to scold me in Spanish “Why don’t you walk him in the street?” “¡No es agresivo!” I responded, the first comeback that popped into my Spanish-challenged brain. Walking him in the street? A certain death wish in a land where cars don’t stop for people! We kept walking and I couldn’t help but laugh at how ridiculous it was that this woman was upset by the one dog in the entire town who was on a leash!!!!!! What do you do about all the strays running around crazily if you get so upset when a gringa walks by with her big but well-behaved pooch?
The second situation was even more frustrating. Zach and I were winding up a walk with Oso and as we headed into town we realized we were running late for the Fiesta de Baños parade. We had planned on dropping Oso off at home, but we just didn’t have time anymore. “Whatever,” we figured, “he’ll be fine.” Oso’s owner takes him everywhere with her and he’s perfectly used to just plopping down and behaving at bars, shops, anyplace. So we found a good spot, sat down on the curb, and Oso laid down right behind us and went to sleep, still on a leash of course. I knew we were getting more “crazy gringos” looks and whispers because of course no one else brought their dogs, otherwise who would guard the rooftops? But Oso is literally a teddy bear–he’s used to crowds of people and doesn’t do anything but chill. The problems began when a feisty middle-aged lady showed up late to the parade and couldn’t find a good spot. She decided standing behind us was her best bet but was obviously scared of dogs. “No es bravo?” she asked me and I assured her “No.” But soon enough she just seemed upset that Oso was preventing her from standing 12 inches closer to the parade. “Why did they bring a dog?” she kept asking the people around her, trying to be a raise a rabble, “Why didn’t they leave the dog at home?” This lady then proceeded to have about fifteen friends join her and they all had to step directly over Oso as they found spots. One dude was practically standing on his tail and Oso still didn’t make a peep. This woman kept complaining incessantly about his presence while more people kept deciding this was the only place they could cross the street and stepping over him into the crowd. Mind you, we were here first!!!! What happened to the standard “first come first served” rules of parade-watching territory! I also kept picturing 4th of July parades in the U.S. and how many families bring the dog along to sit on the picnic blanket and join in on the fun. Ecuador is sooo different. I was listening to everything this woman said while trying to look like I didn’t understand her. Eventually she grabbed Zach’s shirt and commanded us to take the dog home. I exploded at this point and used my limited Spanish in as quick and as tough of a voice as I could muster. “He’s not bothering you!” I yelled, “Por que es una problema? If you have a problem then go stand somewhere else!” Honestly, the nerve of this woman was driving me insane. That stopped her from addressing us directly, but she continued complaining about us to everyone around her, trying to get them to join her in her pointless fight. Thankfully, no one else seemed to really care about the dog being there or what this crazy woman was upset about. We tried to laugh about it and every time a stray dog ran by we wondered why she didn’t freak out. So we stayed even longer at the parade then we wanted to, not wanting to give her the satisfaction of thinking we left because of her. Eventually though, it got too boring and we left. I’m sure she was thrilled. But it wasn’t because of her! A certain señora in Baños really needs to put on her big-girl pants and stop being scared of sleeping dogs on leashes!
I know that as travelers we’re always supposed to be open and accepting of cultural differences. I try but the treatment of dogs is something I fundamentally disagree with so I’m not going to bend to local standards. Also, I firmly believe that you have to be able to make fun of some things that frustrate you. So Ecuadorians, please get the dogs off the roof and give them some love!