Last month, Manrique wrote a comment on a post and I loved getting it. Write more, Manrique! So valuable to hear perceptions from his side of the fence:
First please excuse my english if I don’t write it perfectly (I read it more than I write it). I am a Tico (34 years old, live in Heredia, work in Santa Ana, (1 hr drive each day for 20 km) and has recently been fascinated by all the expats blogs and travelogues. There is really an "underground" expat culture going on of which most ticos are unaware and it is quite interesting! Not only I like to know what "extranjeros" think of Costa Rica (good things and bad) but also I like to wonder about the changes my country has gone through in the last couple of decades, many of which I am still not sure if they are good or bad. I want to share with you my point of view on many of the things you have mentioned. Also, I work for a US company and travel a lot to the US (which I like) so I want to provide my perspective (some benchmarking) on both countries:
Driving in CR: oh god, this is really like being inside a video game (and walking across a street is just like playing Frogger). I remember my first time going around a roundabout. I was scared to death! However after a couple of weeks things seemed so natural. Ticos just don’t notice there are no signs for places and its just natural for us just to stop and ask someone. I have noticed many of the signs are actually misleading. On the contrary I find driving in the US a pleasure (except Boston). Signs everywhere, just drive and go (I love exit numbers). However, I am always scared to death of "doing wrong". I don’t know why but I feel I will end up in jail if I don’t yield correctly. At least if you violate a street sign in CR (and are lucky not to crash) the most you will get is some honking and cursing and it just seems normal. I once merged too slow in the US and got "the finger" and I felt really bad the rest of the day!
Customer Service: this is awful in CR (maybe its because we don’t have a real tipping culture). Slow service, long lines, lots of redundancy, "I don’t care" or "that is not my job" attitude. Yes, its the way it has always been ( I found the same on a trip to Spain so ummm maybe its in the genes!). Sure we are used to it but younger generations are not as tolerant and I start to feel some positive changes. We actually need your help on this. Although you may come to expect it, always let the person know when service was bad! Little by little we will change things. On my trips to the US I have always seen big smiles and "how can I help you" most of the time and its so refreshing (seem a little fake sometimes but hey I will take it). This does not apply at US airports (oh my god what is going on there, do they smack all employees each morning?).
Family: CR is a family oriented country. As it is so small, no need to leave home for college (my brother lived with my parents up to when he was 35 years old, my mom at this point was ready to kick him out, thank goodness he got married!). I find that in the US people are more community oriented and this community can be friends, neighbors, members of a class, group, volunteering, etc. Usually brothers, sisters, aunts/uncles, live farther apart. In CR community most of the time means family as in brother/sisters, uncles, etc. It is sad but I don’t really know my neighbors.
Beaches: CR beaches have gone a transformation. I remember going to Jaco and Tamarindo with my parents, almost no buildings in sight, CR run sodas and hotels, no traffic and deserted beaches. Imagine we used to drive our cars ACROSS THE RIVERS in order to get from Jaco to Manuel Antonio (I remember a few times after crossing the rivers we had to open my dad cars’ doors to let the water run out (it was an adventure getting to MA!). There were only 2 or 3 hotels in MA. I am talking circa 1987 here! Nowadays its sad but its more difficult for us ticos to enjoy our natural beauties. Most tourists that come to CR get to see more natural wonders in a week than any tico will see in 10 years and many in a lifetime. Where paying $15 (and all charges were in colones) a night was the average 15 years ago in Manuel Antonio, Tamarindo etc, now its nearly impossible to do. Last time I spent more than 2 night in a beach was 5 years ago and have only been once to Arenal and Puerto Viejo. Sad, but I guess this is the price we need to pay to cash in the tourist buck.
Malls : Oh yes malls! What we ticos used to do 10 years ago on weekends I have no idea! I really hate going to the mall on weekends (I prefer to go at lunch hour to Multiplaza when I actually need to buy something). Metropolitan ticos seem to love this gift from US pop culture. Now if only we could imitate your excellent water parks!
Prices: Costa Rica used to be extremely inexpensive for the average gringo. Not so anymore although I still tend to believe that "what is expensive in CR is inexpensive in the US and vice versa". Real Estate prices have skyrocketed. Probably you wont believe me but 20 years ago you could build a real MANSION with $100,000. Curiously enough, it has never been so easy for middle class ticos to buy a home (which is not the same as "afford"). Colon interest rates are at a historic low (down to 12% from 21% a year ago). I believe this is not sustainable and might cause a lot of trouble down the road as many people who can afford a $40,000 homes are buying $75,000 homes.
TLC [CAFTA]: Free trade agreement with the US? I have no idea if this is something good in the end and I am sure no one in the country really knows (who has time to go over those thousands of pages). People will vote on this based on gut or passion. However, I do believe that if it does not get approved we will be in trouble just because most other countries have already embraced it. Just keep my cell phone bill as it is!!!!
Wrap up: the US and Costa Rica have many many things in common (I’m talking about actual real people, not governments) and also many many differences. I think this is what make us attract to each other so much. The magic will end when CR becomes so similar to the US.
Congratulations on your wondeful blog! I hope you are with us for a long time!
Thank you, Manrique. Me, too!