It is a rare visitor to the country who returns home unimpressed by the Costa Ricans’ cordial warmth and hospitality. However, Ticos have a hard time speaking forthrightly. They can’t say no! They’d prefer to tell you what they think you might want to hear, rather than the truth. Thus, when a Tico makes a promise, don’t expect him or her to come through, to show up for a date or appointment, or even to return a call. And don’t expect an apology! You usually receive an excuse. Ticos have been called icebergs, for their tendency to conceal the real meaning of what they say or feel below the surface.
Nor should you count on a Tico’s punctuality. Most businesses are efficient and operate hora americana, punctually, but many other Ticos, particularly in government institutions, still tick along on turtle-paced hora tica. “¿Quien sabe?” (“Who knows?”) is an oft-repeated phrase. So too “¡Tal vez!” (“Perhaps!”) and, of course, “¡Mañana!” (“Tomorrow!”).
Making friends with Ticos usually takes considerably longer than it does in North America or the U.K., for example. Family bonds are so strong that foreigners often find making intimate friendships a challenge.
Young female travelers should be prepared to receive piropos—effulgent, romantic, but often vulgar, compliments. Dressing conservatively can help thwart unwanted advances. Since 2005, it has been illegal for men to pay unwelcome compliments to women on the street.
Ticos enjoy being photographed and will generally cooperate willingly, except in the Caribbean, where many people have a surly response to being photographed. Never assume an automatic right to take a personal photograph, however. Ask permission as appropriate and respect an individual’s right to refuse.