A.M.  Costa Rica
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San José, Costa Rica 
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Even paradise has its problems
This column was published Nov. 29

I was talking with my new friend, Willa. We were sitting in her car which was gridlocked with other cars somewhere near the toll booth on the autopista. Willa was talking through a white doctor’s mask. I was talking from behind my hand. 

Both of us were trying not to breathe in too much of the fumes from the cars. Her Tico driver, Olman, seemed immune. Willa is terrified of driving in the city, so she hires Olman to drive her places. He is one of those rare drivers who doesn’t think his passengers must lurch at every turn and stop to appreciate his driving.

The subject of our conversation was life in Costa Rica, which also included how to understand Ticos. We were in agreement that it was the duty of expats in whatever country they had chosen to learn to adapt to the customs of that country. We also agreed that wasn’t always easy to do. It is my contention that because Costa Ricans look a lot like Americans (many of both of our ancestors come from Europe), we make the erroneous assumption that they think and act like us. That is where the trouble begins. 

Some people will argue that in the final analysis, we are all alike, world over, because people want the same thing: love, security, understanding, peace, etc., the really important things in life. My response is: Perhaps, but the routes we take to get what we want are often very different, and this can be what causes misunderstandings and hostility. It is the journey we must pay attention to.

Willa’s comment that living in Costa Rica was very stressful surprised me. It is the last adjective I would use describing life here in peaceful Costa Rica. Then she pointed out that peaceful is not necessarily synonymous with quiet. The noise level here is far greater than that in the States. That, I admitted, is true.

If it is not the barking dogs, its the car alarm that goes on all night, And if not the alarm, it is the booming music. And in San Jose, the street venders are calling out their wares over the honking horns and other traffic noises.

I won’t even go into the noises in the country. I am getting used to it. But we both have earplugs.

Living in Costa Rica

. . .Where the living is good

By Jo Stuart

Willa was lamenting the fact that she no longer can tell whether the person she is dealing with is being helpful and sincere or setting her up. Willa builds houses. My solution to many possible pitfalls is to own nothing and to not carry on a complicated business. She has also been through the classical experience of having someone not call to confirm a tentative meeting as agreed upon. Then have the person simply show up. When she gently reprimanded him, he didn’t respond by apologizing (as expected in the States); he just seemed hurt, or maybe insulted. She couldn’t be sure. 

I told her about the couple (the story was told to me first hand) who invited a Costa Rican couple to dinner at 7 on Friday night. They, of course, were ready by 7 but their guests did not arrive. By 9 p.m. they still had not arrived nor had they called, so the would-be hosts decided to eat. The next evening, they were eating the leftovers when their doorbell rang. It was the Tico couple with a mother-in-law in tow. 

“Oh, dear,” said the hostess. “Our invitation was for last night.” 

“We know,” replied the Tico guest, “But my mother arrived unexpectedly last night and we couldn’t make it. So we decided to come tonight, and bring her!” (like wasn’t that a good idea!) 

The American hosts, needless to say, were nonplussed.

We both finally agreed that an important thing to remember (especially as you are saying to yourself for the 10th time “That doesn’t make sense.”) is that there is logic and there is logic. Not everybody comes to the same conclusion by the same steps. And the cultures that have a different logic from your culture, have managed to exist just as long.

We also agreed that in spite of everything, this Thanksgiving we were thankful to be here.

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