Chapter 1: The Quest for Pura Vida

Things I’m Having Trouble Getting Used to

  • Bathroom etiquette.  In public restrooms, the toilet paper is kept outside of the stalls, so I have to remember to take some with me or I’m out of luck.  Also, after it is used, toilet paper is thrown in la basura, the trashcan, rather than the toilet.  I feel like this has something to do with water pressure and not clogging the toilet, but I could be making that up.
  • La ducha.  The first time I took a shower, I turned the one knob and waited for the hot water to arrive.  It never did.  I spent the next two minutes hopping up and down while I shampooed faster than I’ve ever shampooed in my life.  Later, I asked my host parents if no hay agua caliente.  They showed me a switch on the shower head.  Turns out there’s not hot water heaters like we’re used to in the U.S.; the water is heated directly in the shower head.  Anyway, after they showed me, my host mom told me she likes to take cold showers and that cold water is better for the skin.  My host dad waved his hand in her direction and said “Que mentiras”, what lies.  I’m inclined to agree with him, simply because I don’t know how I would be able to survive cold showers every day, even for beauty.
  • Not shaking hands.  I’ve spent half my life developing a good, firm handshake, but it does me no good here.  Men greet each other with handshakes, but women greet both men and women with a kiss on the cheek, which feels really weird, especially when I’m meeting someone for the first time.  I think I could handle it now, but people have realized it makes me uncomfortable and have started waving at me instead.
  • Greeting everyone in the room.  Every time someone arrives or leaves, they go around the room and greet everyone with a handshake or kiss on the cheek, whether there’s two or 20 people in the room.  I like it, but it makes it difficult to wander around aimlessly.
  • Never going barefoot.  I love to go barefoot, but ticos always have shoes on, even in the house.  I do have the guilty pleasure of walking around my room barefoot when the door is closed.
  • Crossing the street.  There’s not really crosswalks in Heredia.  People just wait at the corners until there’s a lull in traffic, and if there isn’t one, they just start crossing until someone stops.  Hopefully.  It’s something that takes a lot of courage, so I just follow the high school kids and let them be brave.  Also, did I mention the drivers in Costa Rica are crazy?
  • Not knowing how to be polite.  I don’t know how to phrase things in a nice way.  There’s so many expressions of appreciation and attentiveness and greeting that I take for granted in English, but when my host dad pointed out pictures of Costa Rican birds and iguanas, the best I could do was say “oh!” enthusiastically.  I also do not know how to articulate to my host mom the degree to which I love her food.  I hope my facial expressions translate.
  • The pants situation.  Most ticas wear skinny jeans most of the time.  I’ve only seen a couple of pairs of boot-cut jeans, and then only on older women.  It’s pretty rare that they wear shorts, and they never go around in athletic clothes.  It’s a tough situation for me to decide what to wear, because it’s pretty cloudy with a chilly breeze in the mornings and fairly hot and humid in the afternoon, so I have to choose whether to tough out being cold or hot.  Honestly, though, I rarely notice it because it’s not really extreme in either direction.
  • Always being fed.  Don’t get me wrong, this is great, but there is ALWAYS FOOD.  My host mom always asks if I want to try something, and of course I do, because it looks delicious, but I just ate three plates of food that was also new and delicious.  Tranquila, Renee, there will be time to try it all.
  • Bonus:  The castle next door.  It’s not literally next door, but there is a castle about half a block from the house.  I asked my host mom (two different times to make sure I understood) what it was for, and she said someone lives there.  Nice.

5 thoughts on “Things I’m Having Trouble Getting Used to

  1. I could NOT do a cold shower at all!!! Many eons ago I lived in Spain for a month and I remember the not flushing toilet paper situation. Then a water pipe broke and it took them 2 weeks to fix it. In the USA it would have been repaired in a matter of hours.

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