It’s very difficult to go to a new place and not have some preconceived ideas about it. This might come from things that you have read, seen on TV or on the internet, or even from talking to people who know a thing or two about this place. But the thing is that there’s no way to fully understand a place without experiencing it yourself, and everyone’s experience is going to be different. Just because you know a guy who knows a guy who got robbed in San Jose does NOT mean that you’re going to have the same experience! Okay…there are some things that I’ve found in Costa Rica to be the same across the board:
- Rice and Beans: Whether or not this is a cultural stereotype, it’s pretty much true. If you are having your meals prepared by a Tico family you can fully expect rice and/or black beans to appear in at least one meal a day. Any typical restaurant will offer a variety of choices that all include rice and beans. That being said, this is not the only thing people eat and if you prepare your own food then obviously this is not relevant.
And that’s about the only thing! I’ll just list some of the numerous things that I found out are very different than people might think about Costa Rica, and some things that just simply cannot be simplified into one category.
- Daily expenses: Before coming to Costa Rica, I had only a limited knowledge of life here and I had the bad judgement to lump it in with other Central American stereotypes. Your U.S. dollar is not going to go 3 times farther here, as it might in a country like Nicaragua. Of course you can make less expensive choices, but the cost of living here is very comparable to the United States and when buying imported goods it can be even more expensive.
- Politics: Before coming here people had all sorts of “advice” for me about how to talk politics in Costa Rica. Most people were convinced that everyone here would have a bad attitude towards me just because I was from the United States. Sure, there are some people here who disagree with our policies but those arguments won’t come up unless you bring them up! There are also people here who have plenty of criticisms about Costa Rican policy, and people who could care less about politics.
- Culture: This one is huge. There is simply no way to lump Costa Rican culture under one umbrella because for such a small place it has tons of different microcultures. The most drastic example I can give is the city life in San Jose, a bustling urban community, and the relaxed Caribbean influence on the gulf coast which is only 4 hours away! When traveling from place to place in Costa Rica, it might not even feel like the same country. People are not going to act or think the same things across the country, just like in all other parts of the world.
The most important thing to keep in mind is to try your best to come here with an open mind, and then to make your own conclusions!