Once one has sold and dispensed with everything one once owned, once one has arrived in a new country to live, once one has found new living accommodations and signed a lease; then begins the process of refurnishing everything all over again. The furniture, appliances, and décor items can be fun to seek out and choose. Buying new is a good deal more enjoyable than trying to sell everything at the beginning of one's moving adventure as one departs from home. Replacing all the kitchen utensils, etc is just for me something to get through and get settled. While on my return to Cuenca, I increasingly paid attention to furniture stores and what had become the latest fashion styles, I found shopping like so many things in Cuenca to be an uniquely Cuencano experience. Here are some suggestions:
First, get to know the expat community and their bilingual liaisons:
Let me begin by informing anyone who seriously intends a move to Ecuador to really get to know the expat community both before you arrive through reading the blogs and through interaction of emails for enhancement and/or clarification of information. Once you arrive, be observant of who the expat community recommends to you as possible Ecuadorian bi-lingual liaisons between the expat community and the Ecuadorian financiers and merchants with whom you will need to deal. Most expats when they arrive in Cuenca, no matter what smattering of Spanish they may think they mastered, are in no position to do serious negotiation and logistical forays on their own. It’s one thing to bargain for a dozen mangos, but it’s something all together different to open a bank account, setup utilities, make oneself understood, and in return understand the Spanish-only speaking clerks whether for the shopping of linens, or the negotiation and financing of furniture and appliance prices.
It is not sufficient just for you to have a bilingual liaison, most importantly, does your liaison have contacts who can procure for you the best deals, so you are not just paying the “Gringo prices” or even in many cases the prices Cuencanos may be paying themselves in upper-scale stores? Keep in mind also that if the liaison is recommended by a number of expats, you will be dealing with someone who has developed a level of trust from past use and experiences within the expat community.
Second, I want to share with you what a “wonderful” ten days I am having with the financial world.
I went to the bank with my bilingual speaker, who has had a great deal of experience helping expats open bank accounts. I have yet to receive my sedula, but “no problem” my interpreter says: “I have never had a problem in the past, even as late as a week ago, I get an expat without a sedula an account.” Ah, but all good things must come to an end, and I get to be the first casualty.
This same bank would not allow me to open a savings account primarily because I of all things didn’t have a sedula. The next bank allowed me to deposit a hundred dollars, and when that cleared my bank in the states, then I could deposit more and withdraw from my new savings account as well once any later checks cleared. The check cleared, but then when I wanted to deposit more checks, suddenly we were informed that the headquarters in Guayaquil would not approve further deposits. I mean who ever heard of a bank refusing a deposit? It’s not like it was laundered money. It seems banks are only in the business of wanting to deposit money given to them by the government, since they won’t have to pay that back.
A day or two later my liaison spoke with different higher ups in the first bank, and magically I was able to open a savings account. I wrote the check to place the amount in my new savings account, and now the Ecuadorian bank has been informed that the check was being returned. At this point, the Ecuadorian bank had no idea why the check had been rejected, and had to wait until they receive the check back for an answer.
I notified my bank in the states. My American bank informed me that they never received the check. Th bank's customer service representative said that either the odds were for some reason unbeknown to them a delay or rejection of my check by the FEDS(everybody’s friend, especially if your name is Goldman-Sachs or Jamie Diamond); or the check may have inadvertently been sent to the wrong bank, and it was being returned. We shall see, but this has been going on for over a week now, and will drag into next week as well. While it has been time consuming, I am so glad I am retired. The time available to me makes it easier just to go with the flow. Eventually everything will work out, and I have been blessed with some wonderful Ecuadorian friends who have been of great financial help to me while all of my financial travails are worked out.
The important point from this episode is that if I had entered this bank alone, I would have had no idea what was taking place, and surprisingly in a city the size of Cuenca, not one bilingual worker was on staff, although I discovered later that bilingual speakers are available at most main bank headquarters. More importantly, it was not enough for me simply to negotiate business through a bilingual speaker, but to have a bilingual speaker with contacts and some influence. Ecuadorian society probably more so than even in today’s United States still is and has had a long historical culture of networking and negotiating favors, better prices, etc. based upon who you know.
Third, now what you ladies especially have been in waiting, the selection and buying of furniture:
What I find interesting in Ecuador is that I can see a furniture set for sale on the display floor, but if I prefer it in a different fabric, color, wood-trim tone or style, or even size dimension changes, it can generally be ordered as desired. I may have to wait a month before the custom-designed furniture will be ready, but I generally don’t have to take it or leave it based upon what is available in the store showroom. Usually prices are not tagged on the furniture. The customer has to ask a clerk the price of the interested item, and the clerk pulls out a hand-held calculator, tabulates some numbers, and magically conjures a price. Because the city is full of furniture and appliance stores, in some cases literally blocks of them adjoining one another, the competition allows the customer in most cases the opportunity to negotiate a reduced price.
I bring to your attention one furniture store in particular, because I don’t know if this is unique to this store or would happen in a number of furniture stores in Cuenca. I could not make up my mind about the fabrics that would go with my accent wall and floor tile in the living room. I also wanted two of the living room chairs reduced in width from 44 to 38 inches, which the owners said they could do without distorting the design of the chairs.
The lady and her husband who owned the store informed me that their daughter would soon be arriving. They would have their daughter take me to her home to see the two chairs in a home setting, as well as see another set that I had already rejected as a choice in the showroom. The daughter who spoke English and her older sister took me out to the younger daughter’s home, which was very large and exceptionally beautiful. After showing me the chairs, the two ladies drove me to my condo at the Palermo. They brought the fabric pieces I was considering, and they began to measure and lay tape on the floor exactly where I wanted the furniture pieces to go. What a difference to see the fabrics along the accent wall and in alignment with the floor colors, than trying to choose what might match back at the store just from memory. The taping also helped me to realize that even when the two living room chairs were reduced in width, they were still too big for the space. I decided to go with the other two chair designs I had originally rejected. They were smaller chairs, and I decided the two chairs may add more class by not being the exact same design as the love seat.
Can you imagine such service in the United States, especially without paying a fortune just to have someone come out to the client’s house? Can you imagine the dealers inviting the customer to their home to see the furniture of interest in a different context? Can you imagine a family in the states sending their daughters out with a male stranger?
My furniture will be made to specifications. I know because of the assistance and time of these two women, I made the right choices, and I will be happy with those choices. I knew from the moment I entered the store and met the owners that they were a couple with grace and class as where their daughters, but I never could have imagined the high level of quality service I would receive. The business is named “Luriq”, and is located at Luis Codero 10-38 y Gran Columbia.
Norte Americanos also have a liking for recliners, which are very rare in Cuenca. Cardeca is the name of a furniture store located south of Parke Madre at Alfonso Cordero s/n y Florencia Astudillo, which is also a designer high-end store, which carries a selection of recliners. The owners only had three or four recliners on hand, which may be the largest selection of recliners you will find in any one furniture store in Cuenca. I bought a very nice one, which was the least expensive recliner available. The other recliners included vibration speeds, heating, and other gizmos that doubled the price from the one I bought. However, in the one I chose I had to take as is. I assume it was to be a discontinued model. I was concern that the beige coloring may be too light for the T.V. room, but after it arrived, it wasn’t as light as I thought, and it blended just fine with the room colors.
I could mention some other businesses that provided great prices, but once again in these stores negotiating the best prices requires the use of a liaison with whom the businesses have developed a relationship. Special deals are provided when certain liaison persons bring expats to these businesses. The liaison person may simply get whatever hourly rate you agree to, or they may get additional favors from the business when they make a purchase, or possibly some financial kickback from the sale as well. Don’t begrudge them these kickbacks. You are still getting a good deal. A good liaison can take you to places of business for fabrics, linens, and mattresses that generally only deal directly with retailers or large businesses like hotels.
Finally, as you walk the streets of Cuenca you will see small shops/industries everywhere, where for example, furniture is being made by hand. In fact, these are usually the places the furniture you see in many of the stores is being made. If you see something you like, or have a picture or photo of a designer’s model that appeals to you; you can take these photos to one of these craftsmen and negotiate a price much lower than what you may pay in the retail furniture stores. You may have to do some searching to find an artisan’s work that impresses you, or one that is willing to make the kind of design you have in mind, but it can and is done all the time. Once again, the right liaison can know the most quality craftsmen with which to refer you and negotiate for you the best price.
I have all my appliances and mattresses, as well as a couple of pieces of furniture from two different stores. Everything was delivered within twenty-four hours of purchase. The bulk of my furniture will not be delivered for approximately a month, since the pieces are being made by hand to my specifications.
In my next post, I will share with you the people who have been the most helpful in assisting me through the maze of real-estate, bank accounts, and procurement of furniture, appliances, etc.