Tico Culture

Tico Culture

Here are some fun little quirks and cultural differences that you might experience down here in Costa Rica. 


Ticos (Costa Ricans) don’t like it when we slam car doors. Back home we make sure it's shut good and hard. Here you have to treat car doors like they were Fabergè eggs. 


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The buses have an electronic sensor to count the passengers. Bus drivers will get angry if you stop exactly between the sensors or worse if you go back and forth through them. This costs the driver money from his personal salary. If you need to ask them something, do it BEFORE you pass through the sensors. 


Pedestrians DO NOT have the right of way. That is the law.  Drivers that almost hit you are not being rude or trying to hurt you. They are just not used to pedestrians assuming that the drivers should slow down or swerve. 


Ticos have a different sense of space than us. Meaning that cars travelling 80km/hour will pass within millimeters of pedestrians, and neither the driver nor the walker will even bat an eye. This can be very unnerving to us "gringos" who are not used to it. Again, they are not trying to kill you or drive like maniacs. That are simply how it’s done here.
Tico drivers talk with their horns. Here is a typical conversation:


"Can I pass?"
"Sure, no problem."
"Great, thanks a lot."
"You’re welcome. Have a nice day."
"Thanks, you too."


All is spoken with a series of taps on the horn or by turning on your hazard lights for 2 blinks and flashing your high beams.


Speaking of hazard lights.  These things are also magical parking space creators in Costa Rica. That means simply by turning on your hazard lights you can park anywhere you want. Need to cut down a main street from 2 lanes to one lane in rush hour traffic because you have to pick up some milk? No problem. And if anyone complains, you can say “Hey! Are you blind? Look at my flashing hazard lights... Moron!”


Costa Rica does not have a shortage of ants. If you try to fight them, you will lose. Just accept them and they will accept you. 


Almost all the churches in Costa Rica face west. I just found this out a couple of years ago, and it helped me get lost a lot less. (now just 20 times per week)


Beer is drunk with ice in the glass. I used to think this was bizarre and disgusting. Now it makes perfect sense, and I rarely drink my beer with no ice. (Warm beer sucks!)


Do not assume that you have head clearance. Doorways, branches, roofs, and especially street signs will jump out of nowhere and try to decapitate you. Keep your eyes peeled and be ready to duck fast at all times.


On the bus, the aisle seat is a prized possession. So if the window seat is open the aisle sitter will not simply move over to the window seat like back home. Here they will kind of make room for you so you scrunch past them sticking your butt in their face in order to get to your lesser valued window seat. I guess a little butt in the face is a small price to pay for the glorious aisle seat.


Tico men are not shy at all about expressing the fact that they believe a woman to be attractive. Personally, I would love it if girls were constantly shouting out how hot I looked, but I guess for women it’s annoying. 


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The sun rises at 6a.m. So that is what time most ticos get up and start making noise. Sleeper inners might get annoyed by all the commotion so early.


Many showers here are heated by electric heaters that the water passes through. ( I know water plus electricity sounds like a bizarre combination, but I’ve never heard of anyone dying. YET!) However, this means that the more water pressure you have the colder the water will be. Remember this point, many students have spent three weeks suffering through freezing cold showers because they kept turning up the pressure hoping for hotter water. 


Paying for things here can be a challenge. Strange as it may seem to us, if you walk into a store and want to pay for something with a large bill, the clerk often looks at you and shakes his head. You will tell him that you want to buy this item and he will say it is impossible. It is your fault for giving him a large bill, not at all his fault for not having enough change to run his business. This goes for taxis, buses……whatever. Always have small bills/change. 


Blackouts are common especially during the rainy season. Be prepared for how you are going to entertain yourself with no electricity. They usually happen in overtime of a great game. 


Kids (2 and up) drink coffee down here and are even given it to them by their parents. (My wife included). I was as shocked as any "gringo" when I first witnessed this. However, considering the fact that we drive our kids to the 7-11 to get them a caffeine filled 2 liter Super Colossal Big Gulp, I don’t think gringos should be casting any stones.


Don’t take off your shoes when you enter a house. (I know this is more common in Canada than the States.) Ticos are quite repulsed by this.


Ticos think it’s a little rude to say NO to you. This means they will say YES even though they have no intention of doing what they said YES to. This can be a little frustrating until you get used to it. 


In Costa Rica we are referred to as "gringo."  In some countries this is meant as an insult. Here the word is NOT an insult, that is simply the word they use for any North American (and even Europeans) and they mean no offence by using it.

Ticos (and all latin Americans) refer to anyone in North or South America as an AMERICAN. Expect to explain to Ticos a hundred times why people from the States think that they are the only “Americans.” 


Now that you are a bit more educated on Costa Rican culture, register for one of our 4-week, onsite TESOL courses!  

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