Living in Costa Rica and NOT Lost in Translation
Life is different in Costa Rica, and if you plan to live here, you are bound to experience some culture shock. Here are some things to keep in mind about Costa Rican customs and etiquette that will make the transition easier.
Expect a warm welcome
Costa Ricans are a truly warm and friendly people, and you can expect help and hospitality everywhere you go. If you find yourself invited to someone’s home – which you almost certainly will – bring wine or flowers for the host, expect a fuss to be made over you, and try to at least sample whatever you are offered — whether or not you are hungry – to show appreciation for the invite.
Close friends may greet each other with a kiss
Whether it is an air kiss or a light smooch on each cheek, it’s common for people to greet those they know well with a kiss. This applies to women greeting women and men and women greeting each other — men who know each other well typically simply shake hands and touch each other lightly on the shoulder.
Costa Ricans are family oriented
Family is the most important thing to Costa Ricans. Inquiring about the health and well-being of people’s family members will put you in good standing.
The country runs on Costa Rican time.
As in many Latin countries, time in Costa Rica is a more fluid concept than it is in the United States. It is common to show up to social gatherings and other functions late – sometimes by half an hour or more.
It’s also common for people to be vague about when they will show up, or when they will accomplish a task. Things just move more slowly in Costa Rica — lateness typically isn’t considered rude, and people are used to “tomorrow” meaning “at some unspecified point in the future.” This can be hard for punctual Americans to get used to, but it would serve you well to have patience, accept their concept of time and plan around it.
People are very courteous
Costa Ricans are taught from a young age to be polite and courteous, and they rarely raise their voices in anger in public. It’s important to be friendly and remember your manners, as this is expected behavior, and never, ever put your feet on the furniture.
Costa Ricans can, at times, be so polite that they will not directly say what they mean. They may also say “maybe” or “thank you” to avoid telling you “no” directly.
Costa Rica has a “macho” culture
While the country has come a long way in terms of gender equality, women still have well-defined roles, and are expected to be traditionally feminine. Women can still sometimes expect whistles and cat calls as they walk down the street, however, serious harassment is rare. While it’s acceptable for women to dine in restaurants alone, it is better to visit bars and clubs with friends or an escort.
People are more formal
While they may have a more laid-back, open and friendly lifestyle than Americans, Costa Ricans tend to be less casual than Americans. In the city men typically wear dress pants and leather dress shoes and women dress nicely and wear full makeup – even to run simple errands. If you want to avoid standing out, it is a good idea to dress up a little when you are headed into town.
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