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Etiquette in Costa Rica

The Costa Rican culture is a gentle, friendly one with its own curious courtesies. It is a non-confrontational, slower-paced society that is easy to adapt to if you understand a few basics.

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Avoiding confrontation: Costa Ricans are very courteous. In general, confrontation and accusations are considered impolite, and Costa Ricans don't like to stir the pot. You probably won't see irate patrons at the customer service window and if you do, they certainly won't be screaming obscenities or loudly threatening to call the Better Business Bureau.

'Could be' culture: Along the lines of avoiding confrontation, Costa Ricans are loath to say "no." For example, if you ask a friend to dinner and he doesn't want to go, he will probably say "puede ser' (maybe) instead of giving you a flat-out no. This is not an attempt to lie or mislead you; it's simply the Costa Rican way of not hurting your feelings.

Kissing friends: It's traditional to greet friends, family and personal acquaintances with one kiss on the right cheek. Many times, this is a light kiss or even an air kiss accompanied by a kissing sound. Costa Ricans also say goodbye with a cheek kiss.

Tico time: Costa Ricans are famous for their lack of punctuality to appointments, dates, and anything but the movies (to which they always line up hours in advance!). Everything is "ahora" -- in standard Spanish, "now,' but in Costa Rican culture meaning "later' or "manana' (tomorrow). Your best strategy is to adjust to Tico time and always tell your friends to arrive an hour or two before you'd really like to see them. The exception to this rule is in business, where Costa Ricans take appointment times seriously.

Pura vida: Pura vida means "pure life," but more than anything, it's a way of living. This phrase symbolizes the Costa Rican idea of letting things go, taking things slow, and enjoying all of life's pleasures. You'll hear it used as an answer to "How are you?', as well as to say "Thank you," "You're welcome,' or simply to greet your friends.

Dress code: Costa Ricans take pride in their appearance and dress well. In business situations, both men and women dress conservatively, and for women this usually means a pantsuit. Outside the office, locals dress informally, though men rarely wear shorts except at the beach. Women of all sizes wear very tight and revealing clothes -- bras are often color-coordinated to match an outfit's accessories (shoes, belt, and jewelry).

Questionable wording: Seasoned expats know that getting accurate answers has everything to do with how you phrase the question. Instead of phrasing your query with a yes or no answer -- "Is the Guadalupe church this way?" -- ask an open-ended questions: "Which way is the Guadalupe church?'

Etiquette in Costa Rica in Pictures

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