Saturday, July 28, 2007

Some Things to Know About Costa Rica

I have friends here on their honeymoon, and it got me to thinking of all of the things I should have told them before they took off in their rented car to drive around the country. So here is my list of some things everyone should know about Costa Rica.

1. This is a kissy culture. Women always kiss both men and women when saying hello or goodbye, or upon first meeting someone. Men kiss women but usually not other men (generally speaking). Usually just on the right cheek, but if you have European friends or friends from Montreal (like we do), you get it on both cheeks. Not to kiss is considered very rude. This was super weird to me when I first moved here, having come from a not-kissy culture in the U.S., where here you hug and kiss everyone. I felt awkward at first, and now it seems to me that the other way is weird. I like kissy culture!

2. When ordering something, Costa Ricans say "Regalame [whatever it is they want]." This literally translates to "Give me the gift of...," though they are not asking to be given something for free. It's just being polite. So don't say, "Yo quiero..." because that's considered rude. Always say "Por favor" and "Muchas gracias" and "Muy amable" (very kind) when appropriate. You'll also hear, "Que Dios le bendiga" (May God bless you) from everyone from the security guard watching your car to the girl at the supermarket checkout. While it may seem uber-religious, and it many cases it is coming from that place of uber-religiousness, in fact people are just being polite. People are extremely polite here, even when they're stabbing you in the back, they do it with a smile.

3. Related to #2, Costa Ricans do not really use the "tu" personal form when speaking. Parents use "usted" with their children, acquaintances use "usted" with each other. Sometimes you will get, between very close friends, a weird form of "vos" that isn't really "vos" at all but more like "tu" verbs with the word "vos" thrown in. Costa Ricans do not use "vos" in the Spanish (from Spain, I mean) sense of the word. It is confusing if you are not fluent in Spanish (sometimes even if you are), and Gringos who haven't a clue about how to use the Costa Rican vos sound truly ridiculous. So please don't, unless you get lessons from a Costa Rican speaker.

4. Speaking of sounding ridiculous, you will hear "mae" thrown about between Costa Rican speakers on a friendly basis with each other. It drives me right up a wall, but apparently the Costa Ricans don't mind. If you are a Gringo, however, please don't use the words "mae," "que chiva," or "que rajado." It just sounds ridiculous. Acceptable slang includes "pura vida" (it's sort of expected, actually) and "mejenga" when referring to a soccer game.

5. Don't expect anyone to be anywhere on time, ever. Don't expect anything to get done by a specific date, either. Get used to it. Time does not work the same way down here. We call it Tico Time, and that is for good reason. The only possible exception to this one might be dinner reservations, and even that can be pushed back a good 15-20 minutes, sometimes later. If you want people to show up for dinner at 6, tell all of your Gringo friends 6 and the Ticos 5 or 4:30, or even earlier. They'll still show up around 7 or 8. My son's birthday party is at 10:00 this Sunday, and I can guarantee you that our Gringo friends will make it around 10, with the Ticos showing up just before or during the afternoon downpour. You know, which is why we made it at 10, not 2 in the afternoon.

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