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Friday, February 23, 2024

When in Costa Rica: Master Local Sign Language and Snack Etiquette

Just about everything is different between Guanacaste and Pennsylvania. The language is different. The food is different. Heck, the cows are even different. Many of us these cultural differences are one of the main reasons we have decided to call this little country home for the past 12 years. As you spend more time in Costa Rica, you start to notice the differences on the microlevel. So, sit back and enjoy these little snippets of Tico culture.

Point with your Lips

When I’m going for a walk, relaxing on the beach, or driving in the car with my little family, it is an inevitability that I will end up pointing out a bird, crab, or some other form of wildlife. And when I do so and a member of my family shows enough interest to ask ‘Where is it?’ (Thank you youngest son), I point it out the only way that ever occurred to me, with an outstretched pointer finger. If I were Tico, there’s a solid chance that I’d replace that pointed finger with a kissy face.

I have to be honest; I didn’t even notice this one. My wife pointed it out and now does her own kissy face pointing all around the house. If she needs the remote for the TV and it happens to be out of reach, she puckers up for a kiss in the direction of said remote, instructing me to get it for her. The other day we managed to be out to lunch together without our screaming children in a cafeteria-style soda attached to a hardware store.

The food was delivered directly to each person onto a plastic tray, so the restaurant was full of folks holding their lunches making kissy faces to his or her lunchmate indicating which table to sit at. I enjoyed it immensely.

Floppy-Arm Pull Over

While we’re talking about body parts being used to send a message to another person, I’ve got another one. Have you ever seen a Tico at a bus stop indicate to an oncoming bus that it should pullover and let them get on? There is one universal action for ‘Hey! Pull over!’, it’s an arm held a little less than perpendicular to the body with a floppy-wristed waggle that moves the hand up and down.

It’s not just used for buses either. It’s an indication for any person in any car that the person with the less than perpendicular floppy-wristed waggle would like you to pull over and chat, a lesson that I learned after zooming by my landlord with a smile and wave in return. He wasn’t saying hello. He wanted to talk about the rent.

Tiny Snacks

It doesn’t take spending much time in this country to notice that tiny stores dot every corner and plaza in every town. These little stores hold the basics, food for making meals, cleaning products, a fridge full of beer, but I’d wager that by volume the most purchased items are tiny, cheap snacks. For a dollar or less you have your choice of about 100 different little bags of chips. The same goes for ice cream.

People of all ages think anytime is a good time for an ice cream treat. Next time you drive through a small Tico town at around quitting time (approximately 5pm), keep an eye out for full grown adult men, many of whom look like they’ve put in a hard day of physical labor, daintily nibbling on an ice cream cone.

So next time you visit Costa Rica, or if you’re an expat already enjoying Ticolandia, and you’d like dive headfirst into the culture, start by pounding some gallo pinto and yelling pura vida to everybody. However, if you really want to get into the nitty gritty of it, flag down a bus with a floppy arm for a ride to your nearest pulperia and indicate to the shopkeeper which tiny snack you’d like with a purse of your lips.

About the Author

Vincent Losasso, founder of Guanacaste Wildlife Monitoring, is a biologist who works with camera traps throughout Costa Rica. Learn more about his projects on facebook or instagram. You can also email him at:

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