Chapter 1: The Quest for Pura Vida

Being Macha in a Latin American Country

“Macha” is a Tico slang term that means “blonde girl.”  There’s no inherently offensive or degrading connotations to the word, but it does have a certain effect.

I knew before moving to Costa Rica that some Latin American men have a preference for blonde women, but I never really thought about what that would mean.  I imagine being macha is like having big boobs–not everyone prefers it, but it is popular.

Before coming to Costa Rica, it was not a common thing for me to be hit on by strangers.  Part of this may have to do with that I don’t spend much (any) time in bars or clubs, but a lot of it is that I’m not particularly a stand-out.  Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think I’m an unattractive person;  I’m quite happy with the level of attention I get.  I’m just giving some background information.

Since I arrived in Costa Rica, the attention I get has gone up drastically.  It’s a cultural thing that guys are more inclined to express their appreciation for any girl, and as far as I can tell, most Ticas just take it as a compliment and move on.  That’s a good strategy, but it’s strange to adjust when you haven’t grown up with that attitude.  My American-cultivated reaction tends to be indignation at the objectification, a bit of fear, and a sprinkling of flattered.

Guys here have different strategies for expressing appreciation.  A common one is to make kissy noises or little hissing noises through their teeth.  This happens a lot when I’m walking down the street, especially if I’m with a group of gringa girls.  One time, when I was walking home from school, a guy leaned out the passenger window of a truck to make kissy noises at me.  I admire his skill.  It takes talent to have the proper timing and to be loud enough to be heard over the traffic.

Sometimes they’ll take a more human approach and say something.  A week or so ago, I was walking from the bus stop (after dark) to meet up with a friend.  I was walking briskly, and as I passed a man, he glanced at me and then did a double-take and said, “Que linda…(How pretty…).”  When they speak in Spanish, I usually pretend I don’t understand what they’re saying or even that they’re talking to me.

Sometimes guys will scrape together whatever English they can remember from high school.  Yesterday I was with a friend and a couple of guys yelled from across the street, “Good-bye girls!”  I’m not sure if that’s what they meant to say, but I suppose it could be applicable since we were walking away.  The ones that can speak well in English will sometimes come up and talk to us when we’re in the park or something.  Some simply want to practice their English, but there was one who talked to us for quite a while so he could work up to asking for my friend’s number and see if she likes parties.

Otherwise, people will honk as they pass by and one time I was waiting at the bus stop at night and a middle-aged man leaned out the window of his car and gave me a slow wink.

Observe how many blondes there aren't.
Observe how many blondes there aren’t.

I don’t want to give the impression that all Tico guys are creepy or desperate or whatever.  For the most part, the men are respectful, and the ones that I know are good people.  On the bus, guys of all ages will offer any seat that opens up to any women who are standing before taking it themselves.  They also generally allow women to get on the bus first.  When I’m walking, if I make eye-contact with someone, oftentimes they will smile and say, “Buenos.”  Also, I’ve never been in an uncomfortable situation that I couldn’t fix by walking away.  If I don’t want their attention, I ignore them and they respect that.

The weirdest part about being a macha, though, is that I always stand out.  People, both guys and girls, stare at me as I walk by and everyone remembers my name after I introduce myself since I’m the only blonde girl in the class.  At first I tried to dress to blend in and was self-conscious that I was wearing boot-cut jeans while everyone else was wearing skinny jeans, and then I realized it doesn’t matter what kind of jeans I wear, I’m still going to stand out.  On the day I made that realization, I decided to own it and wear cowboy boots.  If I’m going to stand out, I’m going to stand out in style.


5 thoughts on “Being Macha in a Latin American Country

  1. Hi! I just came across your blog and its so interesting! I would really love to travel to Costa rica! my friend did some environmental volunteering there for a project which sounded incredible and it would be great to explore both sides of the country, the more natural and then varied cultural aspects also!

    I’m currently doing my research for final year dissertation at Leicester University, UK. The link to my blog is : . My blog focuses on emerging adulthood and identity, and the importance of blogging for young people. Feel free to have a look if you have chance 🙂 the aim is to try and get a discussion going, so if you have an opinion on anything discussed on there then please feel free to comment and likewise if you know anyone else who would be interested in sharing their views on blogging please feel free to pass the link on 🙂 Take care and hope you’re having fun in Costa Rica!! xx

  2. It’s a very interesting stroy to me as I just come in this country 3 months ago.
    I also was told that my lunch companion said “que Linda !” two beautiful ladies passing our table.
    And after that, “Gracias” one of the lady responsed who is supposed to be a Tica.
    I am learning Spanish and especially interesing in Costa Rican colloquial.
    Thank you for your article.
    Have a nice day.

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