Costa Rican Culture Shock: Talking Trash

Culture quirks. Everyone has some, whether on a personal or national scale. Do you squeeze the toothpaste in the middle or from the bottom? Does the roll go in front or behind the end of the bath tissue? Talking today about some local flavor we experience as expats living in small town Costa Rica.

Bathroom humor.

Allow me to get this out in the open. We don’t flush any sort of paper products here. None. It all goes in the waste basket next to the toilet. Plumbing aperture and septic systems set the law of the land. But if you do forget, don’t go after it. This is not a hill we die on.

However, when you travel back to the states after learning the rhythm, you are going to look around “holding the bag” in a lot in restrooms during re-entry. Enjoy the naughty glee when you remember you can do the drop.

It’s a dirty job.

Trash: we all have some. Especially those of us who can’t flush the Charmin. A block-wide barking chorus hales the 3x/week pass of the garbage truck. Maybe dogs think the scruffy workers are thieves on the prowl. Humans are grateful the bags of junk depart quickly to a better place.

A word of warning: canines are so earth-friendly, they sniff out stuff that’s “still perfectly good” in the elevated trash baskets. They recycle it for you—puppy piñata fashion. All you have to do is pick up the scattered carnage the next morning. What could be more helpful?

Getting there.

Roads here are both man’s best friend and white knuckle events. Highways span mountains and rivers to coastline and cloud forest, enabling tourism to carry the economy in a big way. Swurvy, scenic routes introduced this girl from the land of flat, square grids to her first taste of stop-the-car sickness. The obstacle course of pedestrians, traffic as close as latin air kisses, and weaving motorcycles, make driving practically a full contact sport. Whatever the destination, you are paying attention. Narrow gravel and asphalt tracks without shoulders keep you on high alert.

Before smartphones hit the scene with GPS anointing, our family traveled by map and faith. We watched the stores on the roadside, often named by town, to see if we had struck the right road. It went like this: guess the correct turn. Look up the next few towns on the map and chant the unfamiliar words to keep them in your head. Scan the businesses as you enter each town for a Ferretería (hardware store) Lindora or a Soda (diner) San Mateo.

Now the Waze app gives directions without having to stop and ask, with a side of humor when the pronunciation software goes bilingual. Ticos probably feel the same about my Spanish.

As involved as driving is here, I have it on authority that locals like it that way. A friendly Costa Rican in line at the airport told me about his commercial transport career. Twists and turns are interesting. Driving in the Midwest was Novocain to his brain. To every interstate system, a time and fan base under heaven.

So no need to talk trash about the land of Pura Vida. If you forget the pickup schedule, don’t worry. The dogs will let you know.

Be sure to catch last week’s culture shock debut: Up Close and Personal, and stay tuned for next week’s wrap up: Cover Your Ears.


What culture quirks do you prefer? What has bumped you? We’d love to start a conversation.

Bottle on the Beach Photo by Scott Van Hoy on Unsplash


7 comments

  1. Pingback: Costa Rican Culture Shock: Up Close and Personal « The Good News Family

  2. I love your way of phrasing these! We’ve got the same “shockers” in Mexico. Do it’s a hoot to cross the border in Laredo, TX and in every restaurant restroom there are signs (with very large letters) urging everyone to please, please, please put the toilet paper in the toilet.

    There’s always a little pile of paper on the floor where the trash can should be. 😉


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s