Helping Ticos Understand the Expat Mindset
In our January issue, Howler published the article Solutions to 28 Cons of Living in Costa, a lighthearted look at certain situations and behaviors that expats sometimes find bewildering or even frustrating about their adopted country. The intent was not to complain or criticize, but rather promote understanding and acceptance among gringos, along with suggestions for embracing the chill lifestyle that likely lured them to Costa Roca in the first place.
Now, we take the opposite perspective, seeking to demystify certain expat ways for the benefit of our Tico friends. This is a broad-brush attempt to help locals understand the expat mindset. We respond to some of their likely questions about our behaviors and suggest solutions. Of course, not every scenario described here is typical for every expat.
Why are you angry when you pass me on the road while driving?
Well, it could be for a variety of reasons. Expatss are used to turn signals and brake lights … and no one stopping in the middle of the road to check cell phones or to pick up passengers. And usually, when pulling into traffic, they are accustomed to being able to merge with the flow of the traffic.
Please bear with us as we strive to develop patience and tolerance, and to keep reminding ourselves we’re in your country.
I ride a motorcycle — why do you look at me so weird?
Once again, turn signals and brake lights are the norm in North America. Plus, if you’re popping a wheelie, we worry about the dangers of overdoing it. If you’re weaving in and out of traffic, it’s hard for us to keep up with you using our front, rear, and side vision. If you’re totally moving too fast and we’re making a turn, the expats’s car will always be the winner in that unexpected impact.
Help us appreciate motorcycle drivers who have their lights working, are not showing off and maintaining the regular speed.
When I walk on the road at night, why do you honk at me?
It’s tough to see as the sun sets and throughout the night. When people walk on the road with no flashlight or reflective gear, we can’t see you. We don’t want to hit anyone! But sometimes we miss you by inches.
Please wear some light clothing, carry a flashlight or use the one on your cell phone.
Why do you expect me to keep my word?
Expats are used to agreeing upfront on the stated price for a product or service. And when someone tells us the date and time to arrive or provide the service, the expat believes you will fulfill that spoken obligation. Sure, this is pura vida, but we don’t think that’s supposed to mean “I don’t give a damn” and you don’t keep your word. Remember, you’re not the only provider of your product/service. Word of mouth — good or bad — travels among expat communities.
If you can’t keep your appointment with gringo customers, at least call or text and let them know. And if the price is going to be higher than what was agreed on beforehand, setting up a visit with the gringo to explain is the best way to avoid surprises and misunderstandings.
Why are so many expats arrogant?
It’s so true, some expats are full of themselves. They see Costa Ricans as a “third-world population” while they come from a more “advanced” nation. Those individuals are totally off the mark on this one! Please be aware that expats don’t like arrogant expats any more than you do. Personally, most of my friends are Costa Ricans. I see everyone as equal.
Try to ignore the prideful expat and don’t let their attitude ruin your outlook on those who are guests in your beautiful country.
Why are some expats so angry?
Those expats were angry before they got here. They thought changing locations would change them. But now, they look in the mirror and realize their angry self-came with them, duty free. It’s a shame that the expats are bold on social media posts, behaving like the social media mafia. On the inside, they are just little people with issues. They are quick to explode in public when dealing with the locals … that’s the measure of their unresolved anger issues.
Just smile and say “Hola amigo no me estas bajando a tu nivel.”
Why do the expats stare at our ladies so much?
Great question! A part of the Costa Rican attraction is the natural beauty. Too many expat men take on the character of the wolf in the old cartoons — eyes popping out and tongue wagging when a woman passes by. They let their primitive instincts overrule being a gentleman … or simply acting like a decent human being.
Please don’t lump all expat men together with a hustler label. There are some jerks out there, but also many gentlemen.
Why do expats wave their hands wildly when finished eating?
This is a good question that deserves a response to help Costa Rican restaurant staff understand. Perhaps these hand-waving customers are choking and need assistance. But more likely, they are attempting to get your attention. Visitors to your country expect quality customer service — that includes noticeable visits to your table in the dining location. If someone’s glass has an inch left of the beverage, offer to refill it. If there are dirty dishes, take them away as you notice them. (You have to make room for the dessert dish — that’s what I told the team I managed.) Don’t be on your phone while you’re working and have customers to take care of. That really ticks gringos off. In some cultures, it’s deemed inappropriate for the server to ask if those at a table are ready for their bill. But not for most gringos. After minutes of trying to get your attention, they may stand up on the chair and wave their hands.
Just pay attention and be committed to quality customer service.
Why do expats look at us like we’re going to rob them?
Stereotyping is a harmful toxin. Unfortunately, some expats have had robberies, home invasions or car thefts added to their Costa Rica experience. The truth is, there is a small percentage of bad hombres out there. They make it difficult for Ticos who are honest, hardworking, and would never violate someone’s property, life or possessions.
Perhaps, assistance from locals in identifying and reporting criminal acts would be beneficial to community relations. And expats are always well-advised to just be smart and wise, and to take regular preventative measures to safeguard yourself, your home and your possessions.
We hope this helps you understand the expat perspective on some common communication issues in our host country. There are always solutions for achieving great interactions and relationships between Costa Ricans and those of us who are guests in your wonderful country.
If we didn’t love you, we wouldn’t be here.