Pura Vida, the cultural differences between the U.S. and Costa Rica

Suppose your spouse had taken a day trip with some friends and you were to await a phone call for a time to make the pick up.

Now suppose you didn’t get the call because your cell phone service didn’t work.

Now suppose, 30 minutes later your spouse got a call through and you left for a ten minute ride by car into town only to find your road blocked by tree stumps and logs and boulders put there by your neighbors.

Retire in Costa Rica

How would you react? Your answer indicates one of the many cultural differences between the United States and Costa Rica and an indication of how well you will adapt to the cultural differences.

This actually recently happened to me.

Contrast that with a protest blockade in the United States and you will have one of the most important cultural differences between Costa Rica and the U.S. This was an impromptu, non-violent protest to draw attention to a need as determined by the local population.

In Costa Rica, today is the day that counts. Ticos lack punctuality.

What’s important to you today may or may not have a priority with the Tico you are dealing with. (Tico is a term natural born Costa Ricans use to describe themselves.) This is true in the public sector – government offices – as well as the private sector.  There is no “hurry up and wait” in Costa Rica, rather the norm is “take your time and wait, then wait some more.”  This is why they have rows of chairs in bank lobbies and it may take 30 minutes to make a withdrawal or deposit of funds.

90% of Ticos are Catholic. 

As an expert on religion on Central America put it, the people of Costa Rica are “lukewarm” Catholics. 

Most Ticos look upon their religion as a “tradition” rather than a faith or practice that should govern everyday living.  The major religious holidays will find families gathering to enjoy the opportunity to eat, drink and enjoy some music and the family unity.  

Ticos aren’t Type A. 

It’s not uncommon for the street to be blocked by two cars stopped facing in opposite directions because the drivers wanted to share a greeting – or even have a conversation. Same with shopping carts in the grocery store. Same with bodies in a narrow aisle. 

98% of the country is considered “white.”

In the U.S. Costa Ricans would be considered brown skinned. Ticos are not overtly racist, but they do take pride in their light skin compared to darker-skinned people. Blacks weren’t even allowed to go beyond the Atlantic province of Limón, until a 1949 reform. However, racial confrontations are extremely rare and prejudice, even though it exists, is displayed in indirect and careful ways.

It’s a man’s world.

Costa Rica traditions follow the “machismo” system. Men and women are expected to act differently from each other, and to respect their roles. A large proportion of Costa Rican women are professionals and hold important positions in both businesses and the government, but they still retain some traits that are traditional and conservative.

Food is ordinary and selection is limited.

Ticos love chicken and pork with rice and beans. If they eat sweets, it’s a special occasion marked by a cake purchased at a local bakery.  Many Tico homes are not equipped with ovens for baking.  Consequently, grocery stores don’t carry a wide variety of goods.  A large convenience store in the U.S. may have more selection than a chain grocery store in Costa Rica. 

Strong middle class is growing.

Costa Ricans would argue that this is a “class-less” society, but they would be wrong. Compared to other Latin American countries Ticos lack the volatility, ultra-nationalism, and deep-seated political divisions. Everyone shares a so-called middle-class mentality, there is a belief that individual effort and sacrifice and a faith in schooling will enable a better life. However, there are the ultra rich and the very poor.

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  1. Thanks but sounds like you hate this country.
    Every country is different you can’t expect to be there and have the same things you had in U.S

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