Would you like to know what it’s like to live in Costa Rica?

Would you like to know what it’s like to live in Costa Rica?

Bob Normand wrote about understanding the laidback Tico mindset, from the perspective of being a transplanted North American.

I have been living in Costa Rica since September 2008, now almost 10 years. In that time, I like to think that I have come to understand the cultural difference between my native U.S. and my adopted hosts, the Costa Ricans, who often go by the nickname ticos.

When I think of the U.S., I think of freedom, entrepreneurialism, efficiency, and innovation. It’s ingrained in the gringo psyche by over two centuries of practice. Our mantra is: how can we make something different, faster, better, cheaper? But how does one similarly describe Costa Rica? How can the essence of being Costa Rican be captured in words? Not easily, I think, but let me try.

During my lifetime, I have lived in five U.S. states, three countries, and visited some 30-plus other countries on four continents. I have never found a more welcoming, warm, and friendly people than the ticos.

The ticos are a very sociable people, always ready to help, particularly if asked politely. They easily engage in conversation—despite language barriers—on any topic you’d like to bring up. And they love to throw out a quip to enliven the conversation or to make you feel comfortable.

The ticos are social animals, love celebrations, and have an almost continuous parade of fiestas all over the country for many different causes and reasons.

Ticos love to smile. I’ve made comments periodically to a few gringo friends who agreed with me that Costa Ricans have some of the best smiles in the world. When they smile, everyone around them feels comfortable.

Costa Ricans are a very friendly and happy people, which might be why Costa Rica often tops the world ranking in the Happy Planet Index, one measure of “experienced well-being.” Ask about something in a friendly way and they are likely to go out of their way for you. But get short or pushy with them and they are likely to disappear. They abhor confrontation.

Ticos are gentle by nature and by practice, particularly with their kids and especially with the little ones. They are much more likely to smother their children with affection than to spank them. Tico parents also spend a large fraction of their modest income on toys and clothes for their kids. I enjoy watching the young Costa Ricans go to school each morning, fresh and crisp in their school uniforms, laughing and giggling. Happiness is a practiced art and ticos are very good at the practice.

Latin culture, Costa Rica being no exception, is deeply rooted in the romantic side of human nature. This is well expressed in tico literature, art, and music. In music, their songs include whimsical, yet positive stuff like “¡Ojalá!” which is a bouncy country tune by someone wishing to see a bountiful harvest. He sings:

“¡Ojalá! que llueva café en el campo, que caigo un aguacero de juca y té” or “I hope that it rains coffee in the countryside and there’s a waterfall of yucca and tea.”

So today, after almost a decade, I’ve become so comfortable with the culture and my dear friends, the ticos, I find it almost inconceivable that I would move anywhere else.

Pura Vida!

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