Experiencing Tico Culture & Language

Partnerships for Peace

Costa Rica

Costa Rican culture is very humanitarian and democratic with a strong belief in peace through dialogue and negotiation, perhaps a reflection of the country’s longstanding tradition of peace and democracy. Costa Rica abolished the army in 1948, it is the home of the UN-established University for Peace and one of his former presidents won the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts in negotiating a peace plan to put an end to the civil wars in neighboring Central American countries.

It is also a collectivist rather than individualist culture. There is a strong sense of responsibility to the family and a sense of belonging to the community at large. Costa Ricans are hospitable and very friendly among themselves and with visitors. Costa Ricans are called “Ticos” because of their unique way of saying diminutives in Spanish. For example, when saying something is small —or “chico” in Spanish— Costa Ricans would say it is “chiquitico,” or very small. In fact, they can use language in very creative ways. They love to use language to talk about many topics from politics to soccer and enjoy telling jokes to lighten up the spirit.

The national motto “pura vida” may translate in many situations as “it is all good”, but it can have indefinite meanings. This expression has come to represent Costa Rica itself and the lifestyle of the “Ticos” as it is seen and heard everywhere in the country. It can mean “hello”, “good-bye”, “thank you” or “you are welcome”, or even a more elaborate greeting such as “how are you doing?” in a phrase such as “¿Qué, pura vida? Environmental protection, renewable energies and the relationship with biodiversity and nature are also part of the “pura vida” lifestyle.

“Tico time” reflects their way of life as well. The “pura vida” mindset makes Costa Ricans be lenient with time, which leads to the habit of arriving late for an appointment, events or seeking flexibility with very structured and set agendas. Being a polychronic culture, Costa Ricans may commit to several things at the same time and are more concerned about people and being present in the moment. This practice may be quite rightly annoying to people from monochronic cultures who rely on time keeping and punctuality. This does not mean, however, that punctuality is not required in many formal settings and occasions, particularly when people from other nationalities are involved. Costa Ricans also take time to talk about life with family and friends. An afternoon coffee (“cafecito”) may turn into a light-hearted talk of over thirty minutes. The lunch hour is literally untouchable and is supposed to be enjoyed in the company of colleagues, family or friends.


Why do Costa Ricans love invading your personal space?

El Cafecito de la Tarde
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