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Costa Rica’s Different Cultural Traits

Retiring in Costa Rica –  When you come to retire or live in Costa Rica you might experience “Culture Shock”.You have to realize if you are thinking about living Costa Rica that the culture here is very different. Although there are U.S.-style shopping malls, satellite TV from the U.S, many imported foods from America and other similarities to U.S. culture, there are many customs and things that will strike you as being strange.

Let’s look at some of the differences and oddities that are found here.

  • Machismo is definitely here to stay as it is in the rest of Latin America. Woman have made great strides and we costa rica culturecurrently have a female president but unfortunately machismo still prevails as it does in the rest of Latin America.
  • Piropos or spicy comments or cat calls towards women are uttered quite frequently by men here. In the United States they would be sued for sexual harassment.
  • Costa Rica is less litigious than the U.S. , so there are fewer frivolous law suits.
  • Children use their father’s name as their last name as in the States but add their mother’s maiden name to the end. When you see a name like José Luis Blanco García, Blanco is the father’s last name or apellido and García is the mother’s last name. Get it?
  • Also, Costa Rican women do not usually take their husband’s last name. The woman uses her full maiden name for life.
  • When a foreigner becomes a resident or citizen their cédula has to have their mother’s last name after their last name just like the ticos.
  • Most Costa Rican-style homes have no central water supply. Instead there is a special device on the head of a shower that heats the water called a”suicide shower.” To date I haven’t heard of anyone being electrocuted by one of these devices. However, many newer U.S.-style homes have electric hot water heaters or on-demand systems that service the whole home.
  • Dates are displayed with the month first which is followed by the day and the year or 21/4/2013 instead of 4/21/2013.
  • Most people cook with bottled gas or electricity since there are no underground gas lines or gasoductos here.
  • Lemons are green on the outside and what we consider to be limes. Yellow lemons as we know them can are occasionally found at the Automercado supermarket chain.
  • Gasoline is sold by the liter and not the gallon.
  • Milk and eggs are not refrigerated in markets.
  • In general driver’s are reckless. One expat friend describes driving here like playing a video game.
  • When entering a person’s home it is customary to ask for permission, by saying con permiso.
  • Costa Rica’s money the colón is sometimes referred to by the following nicknames: platica, cañas, harina (flour), pesos or la mosca,
  • Some fast food chains like Burger King and McDonald’s have home delivery in certain areas.
  • In general Costa Ricans are event oriented and not time oriented as we are.
  • Written numbers use a decimal point instead of commas as we do. For example, 1.000 instead of 1,000.
  • Your high school Spanish will probably not work here since there is a lot of slang and another colloquial streetcosta rica taxi meter dialect called pachuco which I attempt to decipher in my best selling guidebook, Christopher Howard’s Official Guide to Costa Rican Spanish.
  • A taxi cab’s meter (taxímetro) is called a María ( the woman’s name Mary).
  • Don’t be shocked if you here someone in a store say regálame which means to give something to someone as a gift with no intention of paying for it.
  • It is not unusual to here many Costa Rican males, especially younger ones, addressing each others as mae (stupid) or playo (gay). This is usually friendly banter among friends and not intended to be offensive.
  • Costa Rican love to butt into a line and think nothing of it.
  • Drivers are obsessed with tooting their horns (pitos) even though traffic is at a standstill. Makes one think that most Costa Ricans are born with a horn in their hand.
  • Restaurants are stingily with their napkins. They usually only provide one or two and never have a napkin dispenser at a table. Perhaps they are afraid people will steal napkins. Who knows.
  • There are countless other examples of cultural differences which you will be bound to notice if you move here.The best advice is to go with the flow (unirse a la corriente) and don’t make waves (hacer olas).

If you are interested in a Retirement Tour Click Here to See His Tours.

Christopher Howard conducts monthly relocation/retirement tours fill in the form below to receive Chrisopher’s free book when you register for a tour and have him contact you personally. For details please see: He also has authored and published 17 editions of “The New Golden Door to Retirement and Living in Costa Rica” and other guides about living in Costa Rica. See

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