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An Intro to the Strange Costa Rican Culture

We wanted to have some of our writers to talk about things that they have encountered when they have come to live in Costa Rica.  These are things that happen to almost everyone that come to call the land of Pura Vida home.  

costa rica cultureWhen I lived in NY I used to travel frequently to other states. I noticed cultural changes from one state to another and even one county to another in NY. So you can imagine that I noticed a lot of cultural things when I moved all the way to Costa Rica!

What I noticed as “strange” really is not so strange, just different I suppose. I guess everyone just assumes the whole world is like their hometown until they get out and explore.

The first different or strange thing I noticed in Costa Rica is that there is a lack of personal space. And no one seems to mind! It’s totally normal here to sit next to someone on the bus even though there are empty rows of seats. Someone might come and sit touching you with their bags or their kids hanging off of their lap onto you and no one will look at this as if it’s some funny scene. If you are standing on a bus you will feel people leaning all of their weight on you. If you are not leaning all of your weight on the next person you will feel very uncomfortable holding someone up.

This might also be due to the fact that most Costa Ricans are only concerned about themselves and their own lives. Those around them are just figures that have no emotional connection to them.  So if you have a child run into you or they hit you with their purse while sitting on the bus, do not expect an apology.

Costa Rican’s are really polite in front of people. They will tell someone to feel free to stay late and act as if they don’t mind that you were invited for afternoon coffee and in fact stayed for dinner. But when you leave they will feel overwhelmed and talk about being so happy that you came but also so happy that you finally left. They value their schedules and their time at home with just their family. They love visitors but expect them to leave after the event they were invited for.

This is most cases is because if their tendency to avoid confrontation. You will notice there is a lot of talk behind people’s backs and gossip is a national pastime in Costa Rica.  The only time that a Costa Rican will usually stand up to you or say something to your face is when they have 6 friends with them or they have been drinking. (Also a national pastime)

The third and last major difference that I, with my fast paced U.S. city background, have found strange is what is known as “tico time.” People normally arrive at least 15 minutes later than they said they would. There is even a law that peoplecosta rica culture 1 can’t be considered late to work unless they are more than 15 minutes late!

I was always 15 minutes early to meetings or appointments in the USA.  I took into effect the possibility that something might happen (traffic, car accident, etc…) to make my trip longer.  In Costa Rica if someone is late like the above personal space paragraph, you will rarely get a sorry. There will be many times when a person will not even show up. When you call and ask where they are or what happened it will in most cases be a lie and they will say when they are available to meet you the next day after you had spent 45 minutes getting to the meeting, 30 minutes waiting there, and now have to spend an hour in traffic getting home.

Some advice to get through these things:

  • Before you start your journey to a meeting or appointment confirm it via a phone call or text message.  Even if you confirmed it the night before do it before you travel as a lot of the time they will need to reschedule
  • Assume you are going to run into rude people during your daily activities in Costa Rica and just laugh, think of how ridiculous their actions are and outwardly laugh….that is how I get through the frustrations in CR
  • If you get invited to a get together leave right at the end even though others might be staying.  Unless you are family staying longer will get you talked about when you leave if you over stay your welcome

By Kerry La and Dan Stevens

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