Tico Prejudices and Foreigners

The Mesita Central and Pacific coast population are clearly of strong Spanish descent. In the northwest province of Guanacaste however, closest to heavily indigenous populated Nicaragua, people tend to be shorter, darker skinned and have more Indian features. There are rising complaints about organized crime brought in by Columbian residents, and there is a constant supply of Dominican women working the male tourists. But there are some 400,000 Nicaraguans living in Costa Rica who receive the brunt of Costa Rican prejudices. Many were raised in a war zone and have had trouble assimilating to the peaceful Tico way of life. Destitute, often they turn to crime, and dominate the evening news with bad publicity. Nicaraguans seem more prepared to toil away at the less popular types of jobs, working on the banana, pineapple and sugar cane plantations, laboring in construction, or repetitious factory work. These are jobs Ticos shy away from then complain that “Nicas” are taking their jobs. Nicaraguans deserve credit for building much of modern Costa Rica.

Officially, Costa Rica’s unemployment rate is only six percent however without unemployment insurance or welfare benefits, this figure is difficult to verify and probably low. Many Ticos gravitate towards San Jose for both work and educational opportunities. Students whose families can afford five to ten thousand US dollars per year for a private education are taught in any of a dozen excellent English schools around San Jose. They have a high probability of entering and completing university either in Costa Rica or abroad, and going on to be tomorrow’s Tico leaders. English is now a compulsory subject in the public school system however graduates are generally far from fluent. The most successful students in English have an advantage over others to become tour guides, front desk receptionists, food and beverage management and car rental agency employees. If they are adaptable and answer to the tourist’s and management’s needs, they can move up the ladder but seldom to great heights. It is very difficult to save capital for any business venture, especially when having to support a multi-generational family all living under the same roof.

Most new employees in the hospitality industry lack the experience in knowing the expectations and needs of customers. The job market in Costa Rica tourism is so tight that in the bigger multinational hotels, many staff members, particularly those who speak limited English, are afraid to make what would seem to be a logical decision. “Help Wanted” ads in La Nacion are heavily answered. They need to relax and meet decisions head on, and to anticipate problems before they occur. If they err, they need praise for trying, and, “Perhaps next time consider doing it another way”. A positive attitude is the best asset a hotel employee can have, more important than education, and often experience. The hospitality industry is anything but an exact science and open-minded staff can be more easily molded to management and tourist expectations. Guests are also more forgiving when the staff member tries to do his or her best, regardless of accomplishing the task.

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