Tico Customs

Many Ticos lack some of the etiquette with strangers that we take for granted, like not holding a door open for you. Telephone manners are almost comical. When the phone rings, you pick it up and hear a voice asking you, “Quien habla?” (Who is talking?). It throws you off! But face to face, Ticos invariably take time to say hello, shake your hand, and make small talk before entering into any serious discussions. Projecting a good image is very important to Ticos. Other than beggars, Ticos are always well groomed and wearing cleanly pressed new looking clothes and polished shoes. Their fashion sense is derived from North America and Europe. Displaying the newest, smallest, coolest cellular phone is more important than how well it works. Many Ticos can be seen zipping around in an expensive SUV (often on lease), yet their home inside is sparsely decorated.

Women together and men and women who have met before, even only once, always greet and say goodbye with the mutual smacking sound of a kiss brushing the cheek, even each day at work. For a Tico, being half an hour late is not considered late, and they can’t understand why punctual gringos get impatient waiting for them. Leaving with a good impression is very important to them, shaking your hand once again. Many give directions even when they don’t have a clue. Saving face is a priority, especially when it is a question of their intelligence. Managers must be careful disciplining a male employee, and to treat him as an equal who has strayed. The winner of an all-male argument usually stops short out of courtesy allowing the loser to save some face. If you verbally put a Tico down, don’t be surprised to discover scratches on your car, or your dog has been poisoned. It is unwise to absolutely trust what many Ticos say and promise. Many gringos discover the date they had with that lovely Tica (female Tico) is a “no show”.

The macho attitude is possibly more subdued in Costa Rica than other Latin American countries, but still prevalent. Pretty young women are constantly honked at, even by bus drivers and sometimes the police. Men feel they can stay out to play and drink as long as they want while their women at home watch the children and have little say. The male role is clearly defined by their sense of natural superiority, expecting to be served by their woman, abstaining from household chores, and with the freedom to cheat around. The national pastime, soccer (fotbol), takes a back seat to the male bonding and the prowess of successful flirting. Simple arithmetic necessitates newly liberated women throughout Costa Rica must be accepting short term relationships as well. Eight percent of all children have a father listed as ‘unknown’. Many families are all female with the grandmother as the head matriarch, her daughters working and their children at home under her care. Sexual discrimination is against the law, and many women have attained very high positions in the government and universities, however low level labor discrimination is ingrained with virtually no upward mobility for women in the private sector. A woman employer must more than earn her respect from male employees.

Ninety percent of Ticos are Roman Catholic. But they do not demonstrate the faith that those of other Central American countries do who have toiled the land for generations, working under horrendous conditions to support their families. Religion gives them something to hold on to, a belief in the afterlife. However, in Costa Rica church attendance is relatively low. From early on, the church had little success commandeering the morals and ethics of the egalitarian and upwardly mobile Ticos. They have traditionally wanted it all now, and believed they could get it. Even though the church has insisted abortion be illegal, it is well known that for a few hundred dollars, doctors can be found to perform the operation. Most Ticos have crosses and religious artifacts proudly displayed in their homes, say they believe in God, and pray to certain saints with specific powers depending upon the occasion. But religious holidays (as well as weddings, birthdays, anniversaries and civil holidays) are great excuses for families and friends to reunite and party. The family, in the North American tradition, is slowly breaking up though.

Some Ticos are indifferent to animals. Many even have a mean streak towards them. Pets are seldom part of a loving family. Illegal exotic birds are kept in small cages. Few cats survive past kittens, and dogs are often confined in the back yard and are never walked or played with. Ticos are mostly afraid of dogs because many become vicious from neglect. Ticos allow their dogs to endlessly bark at nothing, much to the annoyance of most neighbours. Thus the practice of poisoning dogs is common. In my estimation nearly half of all dogs die of poisoning, the other half by cars, few make it to old age. My sweet old black lab was kicked needlessly in the head, and had rocks fired at him. When he got lost in San Jose, I ran a classified ad in “La Nacion” (Costa Rica’s largest daily newspaper) and received several calls from pranksters cruelly saying they had my dog. I never did find old “Murphy”.

Surprisingly though, bulls are never killed during Costa Rica bullfighting. It is entertaining to see bulls run around in a bull ring chasing and ramming crowds of brave volunteers who try to avoid the horns, scattering in every direction, and hopping over the wall just in the nick of time.

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