Recently another author, who also writes about Costa Rica, mentioned to me that foreigners find it difficult to make friends with Costa Ricans.
At best, he said, they are acquaintances who will accept invitations to a foreigner’s home but won’t reciprocate. I beg to differ. I also asked a number of other foreigners about the concept. They also debunked the theory. Of course, we form beliefs based on our experiences in life.
I feel ecstatic about all the wonderful experiences I’ve had with Costa Rican friends–from dancing at a local restaurant with live music on Saturday nights to attending a Belen municipality boyero (drover) sponsored fiestita (party) complete with food, drink, marimbas, and folkloric dancers not to mention the oxen the size of rhinoceros that were on display.
In addition, the Tica friend that I went dancing with invited me to go to Guanacaste and stay in one of her brothers’ houses from Friday to Tuesday. It was so hot that I took two cool showers a day. It was most interesting to visit with a Tico family and to learn about their lifestyle firsthand. It gave me a chance to visit places in and around Playas del Coco (a popular beach on the west coast) that I was writing about and for us to have lunch at an associate’s home. Not only did my American friend invite us both to stay in her studio apartment, my Tico friend’s sister-in-law invited me to return to her home three times. You know people may extend such an invitation once to be polite but with the third one, it felt real. Later, I would be invited to visit again, but the heat had become too much for me by then and I had to decline.
When you go to a Tico’s home, it is routine to bring supplies like food, liquor (which I do worldwide), bath towels, blankets, and sheets. I discovered I should have brought more shorts; fortunately, I had packed extra blouses so I could put a clean one when I sweated. Due to the tradition, the rice cooker was on the counter all day long, ready for people to eat at will. They made coffee in a chorreador which is a coffee-making device used in Costa Rica for over two hundred years in which hot water leaches through coffee grounds held in a cloth filter mounted on a wooden stand, then drips into a cup or pot.
Wanting to understand why every expat is not able to make friends; I discussed with my dancing companion what made me so accepted. She answered “La Forma,” translated as saying please and thank you and not dictating orders to others but asking and including the ability to communicate in Spanish, all polite considerations. It also means greeting people you know upon arrival and departure with a kiss on the cheek and a hug, and not turning your back on someone speaking to a group even if the person does not address you directly. Sometimes strangers will shake your hand but if you reach out like a native, the person usually reciprocates.
During the years I have lived here (since early 2005) I often experienced making friends with Ticos, a name they call themselves. First and foremost, is my “adopted” Tico son Felipe. When I arrived in the country I found a house outside of Puriscal in the town of Carit. It was a three-bedroom, two-bath house with an open-concept living area. One of the bathrooms was unique. The toilet and small sink were in a powder room and the large shower was in a separate room, both off a wide hall. The covered parking area was large enough to park two cars, one behind the other except I had no car and used it as a patio. A large concrete pila (sink), made by one of the sons for his mother, now deceased, and my washer and dryer were also outside undercover. A large garden surrounded three sides of the house that also featured a small covered porch out front.
Felipe still lives in the house next to my former abode. He would take care of the garden in his mother’s memory. Now, he calls me his American mother. My “adopted Tico son” told me he and his family felt very happy that I visited them and had lunch in their home when I made the trek to Puriscal (two buses and about three hours each way). Often I would go to one of his brother’s home nearby for a drink before heading home.
Another of his brothers and his wife had me to their home in Carit on several occasions and would give me rides into town. In return, I helped the family’s children with their English studies. This brother inherited the largest part of the family farm on which all our homes still stand. On occasion, we hosted together a joint dinner in their Rancho (an open-air house with no walls and a kitchen). He often sends fruit from his property when Felipe visits me several times a year. I used to cook lunch for Felipe; now he takes me to lunch at a nearby restaurant.
Other grown children, most with offspring, live in houses that are all part of the original family Finca (farm). While I lived in Carit for two years, a woman would come to my house to give me a manicure and pedicure. She would follow me to other towns as I moved from one place to another until it became too expensive to drive to my home unless I had friends come for a nail-fest. When the group dwindled, we reluctantly ended the relationship.
During my time living in Carit, I attended two Quinceañera (15-year-old) birthday parties. Both girls were considered becoming young women at that age and had more than 200 guests in attendance. At one event, I remember I was seated with a family group because I spoke a little Spanish and they appreciated that I was making the effort to communicate. The other two Americans were seated at a table by themselves. I told their young son I wanted to dance with him. When I finally cornered him, he acted surprised at my ability and exclaimed, “She can dance our dances.”
Another Tica invited me to her home for her birthday party after knowing me only a few weeks. She had encouraged me to attend the Mexican Mother’s Day celebration (on May 10th that year, the day after the U.S. holiday). Another Tica, a Nica (Nicaraguan), and a Columbiana went with us.
After I moved to Cariari I began enlarging my circle of acquaintances and friends among both expats and Hispanics from various countries. The diversification pleased me. Some people I encountered only at meetings. Quite quickly locals accepted me into their friendship circles where I often stood out as the only obvious foreigner hailing from the United States, Canada, or Europe.
For almost eight years now I have lived on a property in San Rafael de Santa Ana that currently has four apartments and the main house. When I moved here, the second building was a Hostel that was later turned into two apartments. When some 20-year olds lived upstairs, they invited me to a gathering and were surprised that I arrived with my own cocktail.
A family from Venezuela (one daughter was born in Costa Rica) who moved into one of the apartments invited me to have a midnight meal on New Year’s Eve. In return, I helped the father learn some English.
My house was only recently turned into a two-unit apartment house. Some improvements were made but my unit still exudes character. The owners are an American woman and a Tico, who has lived in the U.S. We are friends and do things with and for each other.
Of course, the family is very important to Costa Ricans and it will come first. It always takes an effort to establish friendships no matter where one lives but granted it may be more difficult in Costa Rica due to its ingrained culture. Just remember, it’s not impossible. It’s still a great place to retire.
During Helen’s business career, she wore many hats including professional writer, editor, marketing/public relations specialist, Real Estate Director for franchisees, sales, and commercial real estate broker (licensed in Texas and specializing in restaurants and retail).
In Costa Rica, where she has spent most of her time since 2005, she wrote a nonfiction anecdotal book based on extensive research and her adventure with input from other expats. It’s goal is to help readers jump-start their due diligence in order to find their paradise for retirement or possibly for a vacation home or investment in Costa Rica.
Her books, the third edition (2017) of “Retiring in Costa Rica or Doctors, Dogs and Pura Vida,” “Secrets Behind the Big Pencil, Inspired by an Actual Scandal,” (2014) Greek Ghosts, (2003, listed on Amazon 2011 and given a new cover 2016) and Wetumpka Widow (2016) are available in paperback and on Kindle at Amazon. A booklet called Retirement 101 (2017) is available on Kindle only. Soon to be published is Expat Tales, Actual Experiences from Retirees in Costa Rica.