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Center for International Studies
Member, Texas Tech University System The Princeton Review - 373 Best Colleges, 2011 Edition

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Costa Rica

Costa Rican Culture

The richness of Costa Rica stems from the cultural diversity of its people. Throughout its history, waves of immigrants have added to the pre-Hispanic native populations, settling on this land and making it their home.

Presently, in addition to the majority Mestizo demographic, there are several colonial and national immigrant ethnicities that have restored their unique cultural heritage like African descendants, Chinese, Hebrews, Lebanese, Italians, etc., as well as native people of Bribri, Cabecar, Maleku, Teribe, Boruca, Ngobe, Huetar and Chorotega.

Costa Ricans are proud to have had more than a century of democratic tradition and more than 50 years without military. This was abolished in 1948, and the money that the country saves from not having armed forces is invested in improving the quality of life of its citizens. This contributes to the social peace that makes Costa Rica a welcoming place to visit.

Costa Ricans, also known as “Ticos,” are famous for being very hospitable people and they would like to keep this reputation. They are well-mannered and hard working, always willing to offer a smile and a handshake to people.

They know that their country is unique, and they are generally willing to offer help to those visitors that are lost, at times even explaining cultural aspects that a foreigner might find strange, making their stay as pleasant as possible. It is said that “Ticos” are the best asset that the nation has, and once you have experienced their friendliness and spontaneity, you will be convinced.

Etiquette and Customs

Meeting and Greeting

Unlike many Latin American countries, a hug is not a common greeting in Costa Rica. It’s acceptable to shake hands on first meeting, including a light touch on the shoulder or forearm during the handshake. Friends and relatives may greet each other with a kiss on the cheek and a hug.

Gift Giving

  • Gifts are usually not brought to a first meeting.
  • If invited to a Costa Rican house, it is appropriate to bring flowers (avoid lilies as they mean death), wine, spirits or chocolates.
  • Make sure that gifts are nicely wrapped and they are usually to be opened right away.

Dining Etiquette

  • Do not begin eating until the host says, “Buen provecho!”
  • The knife remains in the right hand, and the fork remains in the left; when the meal is finished, the knife and for are laid parallel to each other across the right side of the plate.
  • The fork and spoon above your plate are for dessert; always start from the outside and work your way in, course by course. There will be separate glasses provided at your setting for water, and white and red wine or beer (after-dinner drink glasses come out after dining).
  • Bread is placed on the rim of your main plate or on the table near your plate
  • When not holding utensils, your hands are expected to be visible above the table—this means you do not keep them in your lap; instead rest your wrists on top of the table (never your elbows).
  • Pass all dishes to your left.
  • Never cut the lettuce in a salad—fold it with your knife and fork into a bundle that can be picked up with your fork; any salad will usually be served after the main course.
  • The most honored position is at the head of the table, with the most important guest seated immediately to the right of the host (women to the right of the host, and meant to the right of the hostess). IF there is a hosting couple, one will be at each end of the table.
  • It is considered bad form to leave the dinner party or the table; before sitting look for place cards or wait until the host seats you.
  • Usually the one who does the inviting pays the bill; sometimes other circumstances determine who pays (such as rank).
  • A 10 percent tip is usually sufficient in restaurants.

Quick Facts

Climate: Tropical year round and the rainy season goes from May to November.

Population: 4,608,426 (June 2011 estimates)

Ethnic Make-up: Whites and mestizos 94%, Afro-Caribbean 3%, Native American 1%, Chinese and other 2%

Religions: Roman Catholic 70.5%, Evangelical Protestants 13.8%, Atheist 11.3%, and other 4.3%

Government: Constitutional democracy

Languages: The primary language spoken is Spanish. Another 10.7% of the population can speak English also.