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Ecuador Diaries: A Touchy Conversation

An American, an Ecuadorian, and a Canadian walk into a bar.

They enter in the company of others, a celebration of the Ecuadorian’s departure for new adventures in a foreign land, but it is these three who engage in conversation. The bar is more like a restaurant — an imitation of an American wing-tossing, nacho-stacking, starch-frying hangout. None of the three drinks. The conversation begins with the topic of writing. Writing is typically the catalyst for conversation for the American. The Ecuadorian notes differences in the writing styles of North American and South American authors. Latino writers — those from South and Central America — tend to write from the heart instead of the mind. The heart is more sensual, the mind conceptual (these words provided by the American). South Americans use passion as a medium for writing, conveying the senses as they arrive and depart — a world that can be touched, smelled, tasted, rather than analyzed. “We tend to be really passionate people.” The American has heard this statement before from a Guatemalan girlfriend. Reinforcement provides the statement with validity and perhaps some philosophical weight. After all, the Guatemalan girlfriend did cook richly, drink fearlessly, touch freely, write poetry much differently from the American. But so the Ecuadorian posits that South American writing is more direct, less hyperbolic (word provided by the American), not afraid to touch its reader, in opposition to how North American writers remain insulated in their words; North American writers speak of making connections or outline the attempt — South American writers make connections. The Ecuadorian is likely hugging the arm of a friend while these words are exchanged, as it is so much a part of her nature. The American is beginning to fall in love with this behavior. The Canadian chimes in, in English, since the American is the only one of the three who cannot speak Spanish. The Canadian employees a collective “we” pronoun for herself and the American, as the two cultures are fairly similar in their ideology and infancy (age equated with tradition). The Canadian mentions how North American cultures tend to fall apart when presented with the most minor crisis. This is from lack of experience. South American and European cultures have experienced the cycle of calamity; their blood (inherited, spilled) prepares them to adjust accordingly. North Americans, however, feel the need to fix things immediately or prevent total loss of control. The American concurs, stating this is likely why North Americans (and so many of their books) are diagnostic. This could also be why the Ecuadorian finds North American writing so cerebral (word provided by the American): North American writers are trying to make sense of and explain trends that other cultures know simply occur, so the tendency is toward philosophy rather than acceptance, toward the analysis paralysis of those who apply the world to themselves rather than the hands-on labor of those who apply themselves to the world and are fecund because of this. North America (basically discussing the U.S.) might be a country of teenagers who are collectively undergoing identity crises. But the American and the Canadian like to think that the root of this isolation lies somewhere outside of North America’s nascency. The Canadian and the American have both lived in South Korea, a country whose identity is paired with the instructions “Strip. Replace. Repeat.” Reconstruction after a 1950’s war makes them a much younger sibling to North America, yet the civilians are not afraid of sitting close to one another, holding hands while walking down the street, sharing food out of the same bowl. Nor are their Asian contemporaries, as highlighted by the Canadian, who lived in Hong Kong for more than a year. The necessity for space and insulation from others seems to be uniquely North American, and the American (diagnostically) thinks he knows why. North Americans (again, the U.S.A., essentially) are provided with too much land: their cities, their farms, their roads are dispersed throughout a continent’s worth of land, yet — relative to the rest of the world — this land is occupied by less than a country’s population. Public transportation is not only unnecessary for most of the country, but also impractical. Very few people possess the same schedules and destinations for their daily routines. Even if schedules are similar, they are not exact, and alteration would engender a slight sacrifice on the individual that the individual is not ready to make — especially on a daily basis. This commuting, this sense of relinquishing control and placing it in a Powerball lottery with the fate of others, conflicts with the North American’s desire for consistency, as well as his inexperience with conflict. Note, says the American, how the majority of citizens travel by car, being a part of yet separate from their counterparts on the communal road, where actual contact would spell a lawsuit and a possible end to the individual North American’s (way of) life. Note how this proximity yet separation of North American individuals is applied to other public places that require no travel, to a movie theater where friends who attend the movie together leave an empty seat as a buffer between them while sitting on the same row, or how even while watching TV at someone’s home, the tendency is to leave the middle cushion on the couch vacant and for the third friend to sprawl out on the floor instead. Maybe this is why the Ecuadorian sees such a distinction between North American and South American writers — the North American authors are writing about a people who have no history of allowing themselves to be touched. But why this terror of intimacy, this awkwardness of contact? The Ecuadorian says that she has spent three years around one of her North American friends, and he has still not learned how to hug properly. Possibly because he treats an embrace as something to be learned, criticized, improved upon.

An Ecuadorian, a Canadian, and an American leave the bar. The American has known the Ecuadorian for a few days, the Canadian for a few hours. He hugs and kisses both.

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