The recent trend in expat living is the Gringo Bubble, creating an insulating layer of US culture. So many expats and foreign tourists never have a true Costa Rican experience. Living here for years, they might never eat at a Costa Rican restaurant or learn much Spanish beyond “pura vida” and other simple phrases.

Not that they should be judged too harshly. The parts of the country advertised and pushed on foreigners are pockets of US culture – a counterfeit Florida bringing the comforts of home.

The Costa Rican experience has become a dinner at Applebee’s after watching the latest US blockbuster, surrounded by other foreigners and served by friendly Costa Ricans hoping to practice their English. Economic imperialism has supplanted so much of what is Costa Rica with so much of what is the US.

The Gringo Bubble can be difficult to pop. Costa Ricans form tight-knit communities of friends and family early in life, lacking the need to form new friendships the way transient foreigners do. And foreigners themselves might fear speaking in Spanish, focusing on the mistakes they might commit, forgetting the friendships and experiences they might make. Others flee upon facing culture shock, taking refuge in the sanctuary of the malls and Tony Romas of Escazu.

But the shell can be cast off, broken through with a little effort and with a daily choice to try something out of that warm comfort zone. It means replacing a trip to the movies with a trip to a local theatre or even the festivals of independent Costa Rican films. It means looking for a small, locally owned restaurant or cafeteria instead of the foreign chain. It might mean occasionally leaving foreign friends at home, creating an expectation of meeting new people.

And anyone who embarks on this often frightening and always exhausting journey will be rewarded with a more fulfilling Costa Rican experience.


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