My “View from the Roof” column about the negative impact of expat over-generosity generated more comments than any column we have written.
The article below is a response to that post by part-time Cotacachi resident Dan Prescher, whois a special projects editor for International Living.
Because of Dan’s long experience with living internationally, I decided to let him have the driver’s seat in this week’s “A View From the Roof.” Please read what Dan has to say, because it is an incredibly important topic for anyone living or contemplating living in Latin America, and he says it beautifully.
For Dan to contribute to “A View from the Roof,” is very legitimate because Dan and his wife Susan also live in a beautiful penthouse apartment here in Cotacachi’s Primavera II condominiums. In fact, he has one of the best views in the city. So take it away, Dan……
By Dan Prescher
Special Projects Editor, International Living
I’ve worked for International Living for 10 years. We’ve been responsible, directly or indirectly, for lots of folks moving full- or part-time to various places in Latin America. And we’ve written about the effects that these folks and their money and attitudes have on local populations.
After watching this process for a decade, one theme keeps recurring: North Americans with money simply cannot believe that South Americans without money can possibly be happy.
I’ve seen it hundreds of times — North Americans move abroad and send back glowing reports about the locals being so simple, so happy, so unspoiled.
At exactly the same time, they report how heavy their hearts are that the locals are so poor, so lacking in the goods and services that “we take for granted”.
In true North American style, they simply cannot believe that poor people can be happy people… despite the evidence of their own eyes.
Even stranger, in many cases these same North Americans moved abroad in the first place specifically to simply their lives and escape North American consumerism and materialism.
So what do they do? They proceed to try to buy happiness for their adopted community… a community they adopted precisely because is was so happy, simple, and unspoiled in the first place.
They overpay their help. They over tip in restaurants. They refuse to haggle at the market. They give money to strangers on the street. They choose a family at random and start buying them food, clothes, school tuition. They raise large sums of money for the especially needy, ambitious, smart, pitiful, cute, etc. etc.
Their hearts seem to be in the right place… after all, “we have so much and they have so little”. But having much isn’t the same as being happy, and having little isn’t the same as being miserable — despite our North American consumer training.
And the result of all this good-hearted “helping” is predictable… initial local gratitude quickly turns into rising expectations, rising prices, rising jealousy, rising dissatisfaction, rising resentment, rising greed, rising crime.
There are dozens of excellent reasons for North Americans to move abroad. However, I’d love to come up with some way to keep those folks from catching the urge to “help” the local community once they move.
In most cases, what they really mean by helping their adopted community is dispensing money to make it more like the place they came from. And once you’ve unsimplified, dissatisfied, and spoiled a local population with your money, you’ve not only ruined a once-happy community… you’ve lost the very thing you moved for.
And that’s today’s “View from the Roof.“