Costa Rican Culture Shock: Up Close and Personal

Dorothy said, “There’s no place like home.” She’s right, but each nest has its own charm. Mission life is an opportunity to get cozy in many places. As we hug friends back in the prairie over the next few days, it’s a great time to share some cultural quirks of living in small town Costa Rica. You won’t even need your passport.

Hello is an art form.

Once you adapt, you may never go back. Here ladies greet everyone (male and female) with a slight embrace and a kiss to the air beside the cheek. Repeat, kiss to the air. You are giving the sound, not the real smooch. If you feel comfortable, go ahead and touch your cheek to theirs. It’s like the Christian side hug, but with faces.

Always go to your left, so that right cheeks are side by side. Trust me, it’s just driving in your lane. Everyone’s right cheek is common ground. Do not be tempted by any force of nature or physics to change this up. Even when it works, it’s awkward. And if one goes left and the other right, you end up in one of the few spots that bump the Latino personal space bubble. So be wise: go left.

Man-to-man hellos happen by handshake here like normal. In my opinion, girls have all the fun. For someone who once debated if hugging a non-husband, non-family male was kosher, this style of greeting has become sweet. The bit of physical touch is zero about romance and all about courtesy. Try it. You might like it.

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Side note: A funny little dance happens as a gringo when you meet someone and you size each other up to see if you’re going tico-style hug or stateside handshake. Especially between two expats.

And when you travel back to the states, it’s just going to feel cold to offer the business handshake. So my apologies in advance, Nebraska peeps. I love you too much not to pull you in for a moment.

Don’t forget to ask about their day, their family, their pets, and how they are feeling. More questions means more love.

When you enter a room, plan to make the rounds greeting everyone. It’s the best way to kick off any gathering.

Near and far.

Culture here is zoomed in. People stand closer. Cars drive closer (to people and other cars). Houses are built closer, often sharing walls. Land lots on our block span about 22’ wide, so homes link together Lego-style to make the most of space. Laws delegate who owns and cares for each side based on the compass rose. Taxis zip up and down our narrow street, sometimes within arm’s length of the foot traffic. From jeans to grocery aisles, life is just lived tighter. It feels normal now.

But you can’t come right up to our front door. After 5 years here, that would freak me out. Gates and walls are everywhere, reaching to the sky, holding passersby a comfortable distance away from doors and windows. People stand and chat through their wrought iron. For good reason, everyone makes security a priority. Even warm climate culture has healthy boundaries.

So please, come say hello. Tap your keys on the gate and let’s chat. We aren’t afraid to get up close and personal in the land of pura vida.

Be sure to catch the second serving of this three part series: Talking Trash.


What’s your culture of hello? Has your personal space ever been breached? Please leave a comment and tell us your story.

Tree Frog Photo by Trevor Cole on Unsplash


12 comments

  1. Hope you are keeping all these blogs you’ve written. One day they will all be in a devotional book, not unlike those of Elizabeth Elliott. Something along that line. This is the second time I’ve seen it, and believe I spoke this to you before. They’ll touch the lives of many for years to come.

  2. I’m not going to be able to come to the open house tonight. So sorry. I’m feeling a little sick. Don’t forget to send me pictures from Monday night please. Thanks

    Sent from my iPhone

    >

  3. Pingback: Costa Rican Culture Shock: Talking Trash « The Good News Family

  4. Just left our Tuesday LifeGroup. As we were heading out the door, one of the Ticas leaned in to do that cheek touch/ air kiss. And she went RIGHT!!! I followed suit, but you were right: it felt very awkward.

    You just keep on writing the truth, Kris. I am loving it!!


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