Costa Rica has come a long way, commercially speaking. I remember when Multiplaza was but a twinkle in an entrepreneur’s eye. Finally, a mall! What can I say? I am from New Jersey, not France.

I need all my shopping venues to be concentrated in one place so I don’t have to drive all over San Jose, finding the right store and, even more valuable, a legal parking spot.

I am not going to lazily saunter along, say, Faubourg St. Honore street, looking for just the right knickknack for Colette’s upcoming soiree. Of course, Colette’s friend probably doesn’t have to drive but can just nip into the Metro and in two heartbeats, voila! She’s there.

One of our current presidential candidates thinks Costa Rica, too, can have a subway, and I have to applaud his optimism. When even the trains—all three of them—crash monthly into a hapless Honda, because we can’t manage to put up those little train barriers, and not too long ago two trains actually crashed into each other (how? Was one of the conductors literally sleeping on the job? Checking his twitter account?) I am not holding my breath about getting a subway here, unless it comes between two slices of French bread.

But at least we have our malls and supermarkets.

At least we can get the things we need.

Well, sometimes.

Having become a vegan, I often think, why should I have all the fun? Why should I be the only one to chomp into inedible, cardboard foodstuffs? After all, I want my family to be healthy, too. Share the love, I say. So I look up vegan recipes on the internet, find things that sound scrumptious (Zucchini Noodles with Nutritional Yeast “Parmesan”, Tofu-Stuffed Eggplant) and start to copy down enthusiastically all the ingredients, until I am stumped by an ingredient that I have never heard of. Mirin? Broccoli Rabe? And if I actually have heard of it, my local Mas Por Menos, and even that Mecca of gastronomic delights, the Automercado, still haven’t. Shallots, you say? Parsnips? Old Bay Seasoning? Miso paste? (The white, not the brown one. Oh, in that case, OK.)

(Of course, we get our revenge when we mention in passing to our friends up north how the sapotes are now in season here, and how scrumptious the jocotes are. Trying to tease them with my tales of pickled pejivaye, I look it up in my trusty Google Translate, only to find it rendered as “peach pit.” Wha? Now that’s a moniker that sets the taste buds drooling.)

But it’s not all about food. My son asked for some Nintendo game thing this holiday season, and I looked it up and it costs $79. So I thought, why not? He’s been getting good grades. I couldn’t find it new online, and didn’t want to risk a used one, when he informed me that I could get it here in Costa Rica. (He’s so helpful.) Then he further enlightened me that here, it costs c109,000. That’s almost $200! Almost three times as much as in the States! In fact, many items cost double and even triple what you would pay in the US: books, magazines, cars. The list is long.

At first I balked at my son’s request, but then he offered to pay half out of his summer job earnings, so I thought, well, at least he’s making an effort. Thus I moseyed on over to the store, ready to plop down the equivalent of 200 smackeroos for this piece of plastic and wires and whatnot, when the manager regretfully informed me that it had sold out. In all the stores. In pretty much the entire country. Even when you are willing to pay highway robbery, you can’t! I guess everyone else’s kid got good grades too.

Yes, Costa Rica has come a long way, but not far enough, it seems. So my boy had to be content with coal in his stocking. Or actually worse: clothing.