THE BLOG
09/23/2014 11:44 am ET Updated Nov 23, 2014

9 Points of Etiquette for the Traveler in Ecuador

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First off, always start with "Buenos días" (Good morning).

People in this part of the world don't jump right into the issue when addressing each other. When you get into a taxi, for example, don't start with, "Take me to _____." Start with "Good morning." When entering a store, smile at everyone you pass and say good morning or how are you. Then say, "Do you have any ____?"

In more personal settings, handshakes and kisses when coming and going are essential. Your days of leaving a party by walking out the door saying "See you all later" are over. When leaving a party, go around to shake everyone's hand and kiss all the women on the cheek. It's the same thing when arriving somewhere.

That greeting is something you don't want to bypass, because if you arrive or leave a place without saying hello and goodbye to someone, the assumption is that you're mad at that person.

Here are eight more points of etiquette to remember when traveling in Ecuador...

Ecuador Etiquette Point #2: Don't come to parties on time.

The first time I was invited to a party in this country, my hostess told me to "Come at 7 o'clock." I came at 7 o'clock. The husband was running down the steps, buckling his pants, and his wife was still in the shower. So 7 o'clock meant 9 o'clock. The second time this couple invited me over, they said, "Come at 9." "Does that mean I come at 11?" I asked. "No, we tell you the "real time," they told me. "Everyone else knows better.'

Ecuador Etiquette Point #3: Be courteous.

You get what you give. People who smile and approach others with courtesy get the same thing in return. In my experience, people were nicer to me than to a lot of their fellow Ecuadorians because I was nice to them.

Ecuador Etiquette Point #4: Acknowledge your bad Spanish.

I've found that this gets you a lot of points. Unless your Spanish is legitimately fluent, begin any conversation with, "Excuse me, my Spanish is not very good, but..." First, this makes the Spanish-speaker more attentive to what you're saying, but it does something else, too. It lets the person on the other end of the conversation know that you're not a cocky American who's going to barge in and belligerently demand what he wants. It signals that, instead, you're asking for help. That really puts someone in a different state of mind.

Ecuador Etiquette Point #5: Pedestrians do not have the right of way, ever.

Lots of people get run over. One trick when crossing a street with a stop sign is to cross behind the lead car. Locals don't ever cross in front because that car is watching the traffic. When there is an opening to go, they will go whether there is someone in front of the car or not. The pedestrians are just expected to scatter. It takes some getting used to, but you can't expect crosswalks to be honored or for pedestrians ever to have the right of way.

Ecuador Etiquette Point #6: You've got to drive aggressively.

If you're a yield-to-the-right-of-way person, you're going to be sitting at the first intersection you come up to until doomsday. Ecuadoreans are very aggressive behind the wheel. They don't let people in and they don't show courtesy, neither to pedestrians nor to other drivers. If you can't drive like them, you're better off not driving.

Ecuador Etiquette Point #7: Forget your ideas about personal space.

We tend to treasure a little space around us and don't touch or rub up against each other in public. A friend told me a story about taking the bus in Cuenca once. He was sitting next to a 12-year-old girl on her way home from school. As they were riding along, the girl fell asleep on my friend's shoulder. When they got to her stop, the girl woke up and got off. That's a kind of closeness we're not prepared for.

Ecuador Etiquette Point #8: Don't get in a taxi without agreeing the fare in advance.

I just read that Cuenca now has metered taxis. Guess what? Cuenca has had metered taxis for a dozen years. They became law long ago, but the taxistas refuse to use them. They get away with it because customers don't complain. The taxista just puts a rag over the meter so you can't see it. So you want to get an idea of what the fare should be before getting in.

About a year ago, at the Cuenca airport, I asked a driver, "How much to downtown?" He said, "Six dollars." I said, "I don't think so. I have friends who live here!" He said, "Two dollars."

Ecuador Etiquette Point #9: Don't wait to be seated and other restaurant tips.

In the United States we wait to be seated, but in Ecuador you seat yourself. Also, in our culture, a waiter is designated to certain tables, and you only ask your waiter for more water, etc. That doesn't happen here. All the waiters are happy to help. If you need something, don't worry about who took your order, just grab the next guy you see.

Also, you need to ask for the check. I can't tell you how many times I've seen folks angrily waiting for their checks while, meantime, the restaurant wanted to close 20 minutes ago. All the waiters are shoulder-to-shoulder by the kitchen wishing the people would just ask for the check so they can go home. It's a standoff that happens all the time. It would be rude for a waiter to bring the check before you ask for it. By asking for it, they know you're done. You can say, "La cuenta, por favor."

Restaurant bills in Ecuador typically include a 10 percent tip. If you want to leave something extra, that is fine but not expected. If I know the restaurant owner doesn't distribute tips to the wait staff, I leave cash on the table.