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TEFL Training In Costa Rica | Updated: 01/26/2023

Costa Rican Cultural Etiquette

Written by International TEFL Academy Costa Rica

We've already shared some of our observations on the Costa Rican culture differences, however, we have a new list we'd like to share with you!  

6 Faux Pas for Foreigners Living in Costa Rica

Say hello and goodbye with a kiss

Woman to woman and man to woman, most Costa Ricans greet each other and say goodbye with a cheek-to-cheek "kiss."  Usually lips aren't involved nor arms; they aren't big huggers.  Although you won't be expected to do this with someone you are meeting for the first time, take cues from them.  If I see them leaning in or raising their hand to go in for the shake, I know what is expected of me.

Limited Personal Space

Your "personal bubble" is nearly non-existent here.  Not just on a crowded bus or while waiting in line in a bank, people will stand much closer to you while talking than you are probably used to.  No wonder "ticos" have great dental hygiene! 

Time is a fluid concept and "Tico Time" is a real thing

Costa Rica is more people-oriented and less time-oriented than we are, so expect your "tico" friends and students to arrive late.  Spending a little more time drinking coffee with their grandma will normally take precedence to being on time for a dinner date or class with you.  It's hard to be too upset when you think about it like that.  They also seem less bothered to spend hours in line at the bank or waiting for an appointment with a doctor.  It's simply the way things are.

Family is more important than anything

Friends, careers, studies and independence normally take a backseat to family.  Not only will "ticos" cancel plans with you if something comes up with their family, they have a difficult time understanding how we can live so far away from our families.  Most of them live at home until they get married and typically move within minutes of their families even when they do move in with their spouse.

Elders and leaders are shown respect

Speaking of families, many generations of a family generally live together with the oldest generation being taken care of by their children and grandchildren.  Nursing homes are not common here and have a terrible reputation.  Of course you should always give your seat on the bus to a senior citizen and let them pass you in line.  Actually, the Spanish language even has the words "don" and "doña" to show elderly people or people in a leadership position additional respect. 

Polite Culture

Often causing some confusion for not being direct, "ticos" are known for being extremely polite.   Not only will many of them not be honest with you about coming to your party, they will also make up directions to a place even if they don't know where it is.  Here it is common to ask for things, not demand like we are used to.  For instance, "ticos" order in a restaurant by asking "Me regala....?" which technically means "Will you gift me...?" versus our "Give me..." or "I want..."   When in Rome, people.  You will also find building a strong relationship with your students will be important for your classroom.  They tend to say "yes" to everything, even if they don't really mean it, because they think that's what you want to hear.

Refer to people by the way they look

Like many other cultures in Latin America, "ticos" not only give nicknames to people based on what they look like, they also refer to people on the streets in this way.  "Estoy al lado de la macha."  (I'm next to the blondie.)  So prepare yourself to get called "chino," "flaca," or "gordo." 

Everything is little and cute!

One of my favorite things about Costa Rica is the abundant use of diminutive suffixes generally used to show intimacy or endearment.  They can add "-ito, -a" or "-illo, -a" or even "-tico, -a" to nearly everything!  "Mi esposita me hizo una comidita esta mañanita y mis compañerillos me vacilan porque el taro es muy chiquitico."  Rumor has it that this is why Costa Ricans are known as "ticos." 

We love the Costa Rican culture and choose to live here, and we know you will love it too!  Now being a bit more prepared, contact us today to sign up for your TEFL course! 

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