Cultural Differences between Costa Rica & the United States

Culture is different from country to country, but also state to state, city to city, even house to house no matter where you’re from. Prior to studying abroad, there are also expectations and sometimes, you do some research to hopefully learn about some of the cultural norms of the country you’re about to visit, but there are just some things that you notice that you would have never thought about.

-Children’s Day (Sept 9th)

Children are very important in my family, but in the beautiful country of the USA, children do not have a specific day for celebration. It was very refreshing to come to Costa Rica & go with my tico family to the Children’s day celebration at the children’s school (I have a 5 year old boy and 11 year old girl whom live with me). To be apart of something to celebratory was refreshing to me and inspiring. Also, for Independence Day (September 15th), there are several parades and celebrations throughout the city of San Jose, but we went to one at the kids’ school, which is only a few minutes walk from my house. The entire parade was students – some playing instruments, some dancing, some just marching, and all with smiles from ear to ear.

-Body acceptance (this is my FAVORITE)

I am a big advocate for body acceptance and encouraging women to wear what they want instead of worrying about what other people may think because it is important that we are comfortable in our own skin & in our clothes because it is a big way of expression. There are things that you may see in Costa Rica (or in most Latin countries, or even just around the world) that Americans/media would find unflattering. Here are some things, to name a few.

  • Shorts are only recently (within last 5 years) acceptable to wear, however most still continue to only wear jeans as the daily attire.
  • Women often dress up or put killer heels with a nice pair of jeans (I see this at the stores a lot).
  • Love handles are the most common accessory
  • Females of ALL ages wear see-through tops, but this is normal & accepted
    • My tica sister is 11 and wears shirts with open/lace backs
    • My Spanish professor wears completely see-through tops

It kills me when I hear the female American students comment about the poor taste in style or in class based on what the ticas wear (because you can see her love handles, her bra, or even her stomach). In America, the media & a large portion of society reserves those styles that are often revealing to the “skinny/attractice/sexy” girls and seem to paint the image that women shouldn’t wear certain things if they exceed a weight limit.

This has been my absolutely favorite part of the cultural differences – but it isn’t because I can wear less or not worry about how I look in the mornings, but it seems that people do not have those negative or derogatory comments to those who choose to dress differently from themselves. When I asked my mama tica about the lace back top that my tica sister was wearing, I explained to her the culture difference & she said “It is what is in style, but it is also what she likes and wants to wear. If a woman wanted to be pursued by a man, she will encourage that behavior – not her clothes.”

-Street culture (a changing of culture within itself)

I am an independent woman and one that does not tolerate people shouting at me as I walk down the street or drive by. When someone does, I give them the “death stare” or I let them know how it makes me feel (this is usually said less-tastefully than I’d like to admit), but researching Latin America, everything I found mentioned the cat-calling of women and that I would be entering a culture that finds it not only acceptable, but flattering. Since I have been here in Costa Rica (2 months), I have just ignored them as if nothing is being said and I have had no issues.

However, I was discussing culture with my program director (AIFS) about the culture shock I have had since being here that are things that have completely caught me off guard and she informed me that this culture has been changing within the last 5-10 years. “Some Latina women still find this very flattering, but majority of us find it vulgar and do not want men and their words all over us. It is embarrassing and we just don’t like it. But this is something recent that Latina women are trying to change here.”

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