¨Holy Toledo!¨

Peter Saudek - Ecuador


November 19, 2010

I´m working in the communications office with one of my advisors on the upstairs of the cultural center I volunteer at, when three women who are friends of my advisor enter and sit down. After my advisor introduces us, one of the women faces me and says something that sounds like ¨Howee toreeo.¨ My first thought is that it sounds like the indigenous language here, Kichwa, that I hear from time to time. I respond, ¨Hola, como está?¨

Once again, ¨Howee toreeo.¨ It seems she is waiting for it to register in my head what exactly she’s trying to say.

I reply in Spanish that I’m sorry but I just do not understand what she is trying to say. She tells me it is a common greeting in English that her professor at the unviersity in Quito had taught her class three years ago.

With a very perplexed face I try to make out what she is trying to say for about two minutes while she starts talking to my advisor again. Then one comes to mind. I turn to her and ask ¨Holy Toledo?¨

She replies ¨Si! Holy Toledo!¨ in a more enunciated manner as she is excited to know that I know it.

She went on to say that her professor had taught her English class that ¨Holy toledo¨ and ¨Holy macaroni¨ were common greetings in the United States, and that he would greet the class with these each morning.

After initially laughing, my first thought was, “When was the last time I heard anyone use those expressions?” She didn’t quite know what to make of my laughing. I realized it would be as if I learned what I thought was a common way to say “hello how are you,” in another lanugage, and then three years later have a native speaker laugh at me for saying something completely wrong and ridiculous from what I thought. The expressions themselves were very funny, at first. Yet, the idea that a professor had been teaching English classes with these expressions for greetings, and this woman thinking for the last three years that that’s how you greet someone in the United states, was not so funny .

In the past few weeks as I’ve been able to converse more in depth with some of my newly made friends in Ibarra and in the indigenous village of Paragachi, it has become more and more clear to me how much the desire to learn English and the influence of the United States culture plays a role in the lives of many here in Ecuador. If we see the “American dream” as getting rich and famous through self-determination and going from “rags to riches,” it has dawned on me that there is an idealistic dream here in Ecuador, too, that draws parallels but goes through the English language to get there. A number of people have told me “Si puede hablar Ingles, puede hacer todo en el mundo,” (If you can speak English, you can do anything in the world.) People have also expressed to me that they see being able to speak English as their ticket out of a low-income life, or their route to success in general.

Beyond the desire to learn the language, the influence of the U.S. is astounding here. A few blocks from my house there’s a sports bar, and above it is one of the only billboards in the entire city that has a huge picture of Michael Jordan in his old-school Chicago Bulls uniform, with a Nike symbol and the classic phrase “Just Do It.” One of my friends here who has lived in Ibarra his whole life asked me the other day what “Just Do It” means in Spanish. As much as I admire MJ and basketball, that billboard just feels incredibly out of place. Other apparent influences are my host brother’s favorite two bands, Guns N´ Roses and Led Zepplin, the most popular boy band here (for which many of the school girls have backpacks) are the Jonas Brothers, and you can´t help but notice stores full of knock-off prices of Abercrombie and Fitch and American Eagle clothing.

Yet at the same time you see indigenous people on every block in their native, brightly colored clothing, and women walking donkeys through the streets by the markets. My advisor’s wife has talked about her strong feelings of preserving the native culture, dress, and traditions here.

Being here in Ecuador, I have come to appreciate the complexity of Globalization – full of surprises and contradictions, it certainly has its positive and negative effects.

Peter Saudek