Well, of course the culture is different here, I mean, I’m in a foreign country, right? And as some people would remind me… I’m in a 3rd world country (thanks, Mom). But it’s true. Well, technically, “3rd world country” is a bit of an outdated term, I guess these days Costa Rica would be more classified as an “underdeveloped country”, but even that is hard to fathom when you think of the world class hospitals throughout the country and cities like Escazu (American-style shopping & restaurants).
I like to think of Costa Rica as more of a “developing country”. In any case, one of the reasons we picked Grecia as the town to start out in, is because it is a small, local town – I haven’t seen any tourism here, and it just seems to be more real and authentic to the local customs and way of living. I really have not even been here a full month yet, but here’s my observations of Grecia thus far…
The people here are amazing. When we see someone while walking by on the street in the morning, we say “Buenos Dias” (good morning) or “Buenos” (short for “buenos dias”), and they always respond in kind and with a smile. It is known, that if we do not do this, we may appear as “frightened/leery/anxious American tourists”. Also we learned to not say “Hola” (Hi) as a greeting,
unless we’re prepared to sit down and have a nice long chat. “Buenos” (or “Buenas” in afternoon/evening) is more of a greeting to say in passing, or we can also say “Adios” – which to us Americans means “good bye” – but here it is used in passing, like “hello & good bye” (I don’t want to sit and chat, but wanted to acknowledge you). It’s little nuances like this that we have learned already, and I’m sure there are TONS more…
After meeting someone for the first time, the next time we meet, they greet me with a kiss on the cheek (just one kiss, on the right cheek). This is the custom here, and seems so endearing to me. It’s just more personal than a hug, you know? Even teenagers and little kids do it – it’s so sweet. I truly love that I’ve been greeted like this already, and I have greeted (or said goodbye) to people with a kiss already. Here I am with a model I hired, demonstrating the kiss on the right cheek (said model – my hubby – would not keep his hands off my hips, I do NOT think that’s part of the local custom here…).
The babies and children here – are very well behaved. NEVER have I heard a screaming tantrum in a store, or in public. In the park, kids play together well and run around, like normal, and have fun, but it never gets out of control (amazingly enough). I’m not sure what the differences are exactly – but somehow the Costa Rican people raise their kids to be more respectful, from a very early age. One friend told me he thinks one reason is because they hold their babies facing out (to see the world), instead of facing inwards… Food for thought.
There are dogs everywhere here – roaming freely (some are owned, and some are not, but they all seem to roam freely). At first it is hard to get used to, and I felt so bad for all them… but now am coming to realize that it is a good life for them – simple and free and they are happy. And they all seem to get fed, trust me. They know to get off the road when a car is coming. As our pal Richard says “the only dead dogs you see on the side of the road are dumb ones” (NOTE: we haven’t seen ANY). And we have not seen any aggressive dogs either. On our hikes we encounter many dogs, but they just usually come up to within 10 feet of us, maybe do a little “soft barking”, and then let us walk by… I’ve never felt fearful of a dog at all here.
I haven’t seen any homeless people here in Grecia. I’m sure they are here?? But I, at least, haven’t seen any thus far (San Jose is a different story).
It’s rare to see trash anywhere. It’s so clean here! And I never really see people picking trash up, either (although I’m sure they must). I think people here are just more clean and respectful of their environment.
If someone comes up to you trying to sell you something (happens sometimes in the park) – it’s better to not give an affirmative “no” or “no, thanks” but instead say “otro dia” (maybe another day)… For some reason saying a point blank “NO” is almost rude or offensive AND it is hard for them to accept, so they don’t go away, they keep asking you again. It’s like they can’t take “no” for an answer. We have learned to say “otro dia” from our friend (thanks, Lair!), and it works well.
Pedestrians do NOT have the right of way here. You really need to watch out for yourself while walking around in town and crossing roads, etc. Sometimes, we do find a car driver will slow down and wave us through, but this is definitely the exception here. As long as you know this, it’s not a problem.
Costa Ricans appear to be very hard working. I have not met anyone who is lazy here. While walking around, we always see people working in their yards or gardens; sweeping or mopping their tiled patio’s; doing laundry and hanging it out to dry (dryers are rare here, most people hang their wash on lines or even bushes(!) to dry).
There is barbed wire and fences and gates everywhere here. That, along with the dogs, does seem to deter petty theft, but I also think it’s “just how it is” here. Like in Dallas, Texas – everyone seems to have a fenced in backyard. I thought that was weird when I moved there from Wisconsin – in Wisconsin no one has a fenced in backyard. So, again, once you get used to it, it’s no big deal.
The local people (called “ticos”) are really and truly genuinely NICE people. We run into people all the time – on the bus, in the stores, at soda’s (café’s) and at the pharmacy (when I tripped and fell and scraped my knee). Our first time coming home from town on the bus, we were nervous about knowing when to get off, and this sweet lady just seemed to sense our nervousness and started talking to us. She knew English (pretty darn well!) and she tried to help us, asking where we lived, etc. So nice! Most of the time if you ask the locals if they know any English – they will say “oh no… just a little English”, etc. – but it’s not true! They start talking and they carry on the whole conversation with us in English! They are very modest. When we go in soda’s (always good, by the way) – we always start by greeting in Spanish, and trying to say what we want in Spanish, and it seems like as soon as they know we are making an EFFORT to talk in Spanish, they are so helpful and sweet, and help us with the words and then they start saying stuff in English, which is even more helpful! It really amazes me – because here we are – foreign people (“gringos”) – living in their land – and they are totally kind and gracious to us! Not sure the same can be said about some people in the U.S….
When one of my aunt’s first found out I was moving to Costa Rica, she was worried about me standing out with my fair features and said “well I hope she’s getting contacts and dying her hair!”… which I found funny and sweet, but of course had not even considered. Well, we found her fear to be totally unfounded. The people here are really so courteous and nice, and it appears that they truly LIKE gringos (or at least they like us… or maybe they’re just scared of my hubby.). Here’s a picture from the bus we were on the other day… you can see Costa Ricans look mainly just like us (at least from the back). Although I guess Greg & I do kind of stand out (Greg being tall and me getting blonder by the day). Ah, well…
That’s all for now folks!
Peace! — JenJen
About the author
Jen Beck Seymour is the Costa Rica Chica. In June, 2013 she broke free of the rat race of North America where bigger was better, and moved here with her husband from Dallas, Texas. She quit her artificially lit cubicle job and left all sense of stable income behind. She believes in taking time now, while she is still young and healthy, to just ENJOY – life, her husband, day to day simplicity. When she’s not blogging, she is either hiking, baking, sipping coffee or enjoying a glass of wine. You can find her at: www.costaricachica.com/wordpress