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Guide to Living and Teaching in Costa Rica

September 24, 2013

Costa Rican customs and etiquette

The Costa Rican people, locally called “Ticos” for their tendency to add the suffix “tico” to the end of words in Spanish, are some of the nicest people you will come across. Relaxed, laid-back and always looking to be of help in any way, Costa Ricans will make you feel extremely welcome.

As is with travel anywhere, if you embrace their culture they will embrace yours. What they don’t like is people coming here and judging or comparing certain aspects of the Tico culture to elsewhere. If you embrace the difference and show a genuine interest in learning about their culture, you will make lifelong friends who never lose touch.

As far as etiquette goes, there are a few things to note. Ticos are not direct people and can appear to be standoffish at first. This is only as a result of trying to be as polite as possible and not offend anyone. If a Tico seems shy or reserved, it’s for this reason. Once you become better acquainted, you can expect to be invited to their home on a regular basis and become an extended part of the family.

This also goes for those who are looking to date here. Introductions to families occur much faster here than in North American culture, but do not have the same implications. Family is extremely important in Latin America and invitations for family dinners are customary. It does not mean you are getting married.

Other customs to be aware of:

• No tipping. Tips in restaurants, stores and even taxis are included in all prices. If you want to tip, it’s at your discretion.
• “Tico time” is something you will need to get used to. While Ticos are some of the nicest people you’ll ever meet, they are also some of the tardiest.
• “Pura Vida”. Meaning “Pure Life” in English, it is the unofficial motto of Costa Rica. Extending from greetings to the amazing, sarcastic and frustrating, it represents all that has to do with living in Central America. You’ll need to make this part of your vocabulary.
• Getting change, especially in small restaurants and from taxis, is difficult! Try to use as close to exact change as possible at all times.
• While most people are nice, there are those that will try to rip off an innocent tourist. Learning some Spanish will usually stop this. Likewise, doing some research into prices or befriending a local will also help.

The ELT News guide to living and teaching English in Costa Rica was compiled by Andrew Woodbury.

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