If you are planning to move to Costa Rica, get ready to… S L O W D O W N.
People spend hours on the internet learning about real estate, health care, transportation, and restaurants, but they often fail to invest in learning about the culture. This is a grave error because the majority of people who decide to go back home, don’t do it because they couldn’t find their favorite beverage or a suitable appliance. They leave because they couldn’t adjust to the culture. Those planning to live permanently in Costa Rica need to learn how to adopt a new attitude and adapt to the culture.
The term “Culture Shock” has been used to describe the anxiety and feelings of disorientation experienced when people have to operate in a different cultural environment. That’s when a person finds that the ways that things always have been done no longer work in a new culture. For example, the currency exchange, language, traffic and even the sense of humor change when a person enters another country.
Visitors to Costa Rica are often struck with how familiar things appear on the surface, and upon this assumption many make plans to stay permanently. However, the unexpected trials and wide differences in cultural understanding often make the transition much more difficult than expected. As North Americans, we have become accustomed to things such as promptness, efficiency and courteous drivers. Thatâ€™s our baggage from up north. The expectation that these things exist in Costa Rica is our problem not the Tico’s. I you’re expecting things to be the same as in your home country in another then you’re bound to get disappointed. A move to another country allows you to start over with a new life and experience a new culture in a new environment. That’s why people move to Costa Rica.
A good percentage of North Americans planning to stay in Costa Rica go back. They cannot deal with the inefficiency. Obtaining residency usually takes much longer than expected. You need to hire a consultant to get a drivers license. The list of frustrations goes on and on. The bottom line is they are not able to slow down and adapt to the culture.
Culture shock affects people differently according to the coping strategies each individual employs in order to successfully adapt. After 15 years, I still have to remind myself; “If you don’t expect much, you won’t get disappointed” Then I step back, take a second look at the situation that is beginning to frustrate me and remind myself where I’m at, whom I’m dealing with and why I’m here. Then the situation at hand doesn’t seem so irritating. Expats who do manage to stay for a long time in Costa Rica do so because they possess patience and flexibility.
Years ago I noticed several cultural differences that used to make my life in Costa Rica frustrating. Concept of time, expectations of efficiency and understanding the local language.
North Americans are continually bothered by what we view as a lack of punctuality on the part of Costa Ricans. Costa Rican’s will say, “I’ll come over tomorrow”, but they usually don’t. Often they are not hours late, but days late, with no excuse, no phone calls, no apology. This used to bother me, and sometimes it still does. But I get over it much more quickly after living here 15 years. For North Americans, a person is considered late if he/she arrives 10 to 15 minutes after the scheduled time. For Latin Americans, a person is considered late if he/she arrives 30 minutes after the scheduled time. North Americans often begin to feel tension if a person arrives 15 minutes late, while Latin Americans begin to feel tension if a person arrives 30 minutes after the deadline. These differences in concepts of time often cause misunderstandings between Costa Ricans and North Americans.
The cultural differences in comprehending time can be attributed to the fact that Costa Ricans and North Americans place different value on time. In the U.S., people live to work and time is money. Here in Costa Rica, time is gold. Tico’s live for the moment and occasionally during the week take the time to accomplish some work. In Costa Rica, if you run into a friend, you stop and talk and ask “how’s the family”. Time is for you and not for you to be bound by it. Expats who can slow down and adjust to Tico time, have a much better chance of successfully acculturating.
For new expats arriving to Costa Rica, one of the most frustrating obstacles is dealing with what they view to be a lack of efficiency. In North America there is more efficiency, primarily in the services sector. This makes it particularly hard for North Americans to adapt to life in Costa Rica because they have grown accustomed to the speed and efficiency of services in their home country. If you have the financial ability to hire a consultant to complete these frustrating tasks for you, then you won’t have to go through it and will probably be happier for it.
Culture is embedded in the language, and misunderstandings often arise due to the ways in which people of distinct cultures express and understand language content. North Americans are more direct. In Costa Rica, the Tico’s don’t say things up front. It’s part of their culture and is considered bad manners. Therefore if you don’t understand the culture you get frustrated and some folks become angry and this offends the Tico’s. Misinterpretations therefore arise because Costa Ricans view their North American counterparts as rude while North Americans find Costa Ricans to be indirect or even dishonest. Many expats feel that they have had to learn to decode what their Costa Rican associates and friends are really trying to say. It is not that Costa Rican’s lie more, it is that they are trying to save face. Costa Ricans don’t want to disappoint you. If they don’t know the answer, they say to themselves ‘I don’t know but I want to give my best guess.’ You have to learn to listen carefully and read between the lines. A simple word like “Ya” can mean “it’s already done”, “I’m doing it right now”, or “I’ll get to it soon
Despite the numerous challenges and obstacles which expats face in Costa Rica, those who have stuck it out here are convinced that the benefits outweigh the hassles. The country’s strong democratic tradition, innovative environmental programs, museums and cultural activities, and cheaper living costs continue to make Costa Rica a popular destination spot, particularly for tourists and retirees. And the option to live a lifestyle similar to that in a large North American city is here if you want it. Check out the selection and pricing in any of the major malls or at Super Serretto or Auto Mercado supermarkets. Most products that are imported here from another country incur duties. These duties are built into the price you pay at the cashier. If you want to live and consume the same products available in North America, they are available here. But in many cases those same products are less expensive in Florida. Perhaps if the new free trade agreement becomes a reality, this will change. I prefer the old days before there were malls and hooters. I don’t miss any of what these new franchises have to offer. I patronize typical Costa Rican businesses and my budget is much more affordable. It’s nice to have options and that’s my new philosophy. Plans tie a guy down. Options offer freedom. You don’t irritate someone because you exercised an option. But there are many times when plans did not materialize as expected and someone gets irritated. Keep your options open and your plans to a minimum. Live like the Tico’s, adopt their attitude and adapt to their culture. You’ll probably live longer and happier! Pura Vida!
This was originally posted by crhomebuilder on the yourville member blogs.