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Culture

Defining the culture of a country can be a monumental task and is usually very subjective. Because of this, we present you with a few short excerpts from resources that together will give you an overall impression of humanities, attitudes and lifestyles in the country.

One of Costa Rica’s biggest attractions is not the mountains or the parks or even the coastal resorts, but its people. Costa Rica has managed to develop into a successful agricultural community and maintain a steady upward trend towards educational supremacy and political stability. This has proven to be its key to the successful development of tourism, especially catering to the travelers who are looking for environmental experiences and leisure activities that incorporate natural settings.

Perhaps its culture or the confidence of the people that makes them regionally unique. Both have been bi-products of a literacy rate which exceeds that of the US. Not being enough, Costa Rica has formed an even greater cultural pride through non-violence and for four centuries of peace.

Most of the “Ticos” are very conservative individuals who don’t usually welcome “strange” or different ideas. The country’s economy and industry have grown incredibly in the past years, but the culture still retains conservative tendencies. A lot of foreigners view the Ticos as lacking initiative and as being passive. They also complain of the lack of punctuality and of quick decision-making. However, the positive aspects of the Tico identity are the friendliness and hospitality that most people transmit. Costa Ricans are also extremely social, and they enjoy gatherings and celebrations of all sorts.

One aspect of Costa Rican culture must be treated separately from others- “machismo”. The machista way of thinking is shared to some extent by most men and women, although it’s not as extreme as in other Latin countries. While machismo has its negative aspects, it also has its advantages, and is often used by most local women to their advantage.

Finally, when talking about culture, one must not forget the topic of religion. Even though 90% of the country is Catholic, they practice a “lukewarm” Catholicism. Ever since colonial times, the Catholic Institution hasn’t exerted a powerful influence either politically or culturally. Most Costa Rican Catholics view their religion more as a tradition than as a practice or even a faith.

Many foreigners have fallen in love with the country and the culture of Costa Rica. The main characteristic of the culture seems to be moderation, as opposed to other countries that offer a culture full of extremes and excesses. The race and the classes are pretty homogenous, while the ideal of the Tico identity encourages compromise and peace, instead of revolution and violence. Even the machismo attitude is tame when compared to other places in the region. Although religious, Ticos frown upon fanaticism or excessive power of the Church. Perhaps this respect for the middle ground is the reason why many foreigners have chosen the country as a travel destination or as a permanent residence.

Costa Ricans are still conservative when it comes to family issues. Traditions, communions, engagement parties, weddings and funerals, these events are attended by the extended family as well as by a large quantity of friends and their family members. Also, most Costa Ricans still live at home until they are married, and leaving the household to go to college or to gain independence is still very rare.

Traditions are also shaped by gender differences and the “machismo” system. Men and women are expected to act differently from each other, and to respect their roles. A large proportion of Costa Rican women are professionals and hold important positions in both businesses and the government, but they still retain some traits that are traditional and conservative.

Besides traditions that revolve around the family, there are also several significant religious celebrations. The main religious events are: Easter Week or Semana Santa, Christmas Week and August second, which is the celebration of the Virgin of the Angels. Costa Rica is also different from other Latin American countries, because it practices a “lukewarm” Catholicism that causes a strange mixture of partying and religious celebration during these holidays.

For Easter Week, many people that live near the capital city of San Jose choose to go to the beach; for them, Easter is mostly a time to relax and to have a good time. However, some people choose to stay at home and to join religious celebrations that include masses and processions. A lot of people attend religious celebrations held at churches or at homes (like rosary and prayer events that offer large quantities of food and drink), while others choose to escape their urban routines and go to the beach. Even though some Costa Ricans decide to party during religious celebrations, they still prefer to do it in the company of their family, thus maintaining cultural and family unity. Ticos are extremely friendly to foreigners, and once they’ve gotten to know you they’ll invite you to family gatherings and celebrations. After all, hospitality is probably the most widespread tradition in Costa Rica.

“Interest–and excellence–in the arts have been slow to develop. Costa Rica, with its relatively small and heterogeneous pre-Columbian population, had no unique culture with powerful and unusual art forms that could spark a creative synthesis where the modern and the traditional might merge. Costa Rica’s postcolonial development, too, was benign and the social tensions (which are often catalysts to artistic expression) felt elsewhere in the isthmus were lacking. And more recently, creativity has been stifled by the Ticos’ desire to quedar bien (leave a good impression), praise the conventional lavishly, and criticize rarely.”

Costa Rica doesn’t overflow with native crafts. Apart from a few notable exceptions–the gaily colored wooden carretas (ox-carts) which have become Costa Rica’s tourist symbol, for example–you must dig deep to uncover crafts of substance. There are few villages dedicated to a single craft or crafts, as in Mexico or Guatemala. Much that is sold for home decoration or to tourists reflects a mediocre kitsch culture that is imitative rather than creative. And, other than the carretas, there is nothing distinctly and recognizably Costa Rica.

Though the government, private donors, and the leading newspaper La Nacion sponsor literature through annual prizes, only a handful of writers make a living from writing, and Costa Rican literature is often belittled as the most prosaic and anemic in Latin America. Lacking great goals and struggles, Costa Rica was never a breeding ground for the passions and dialectics which spawned the literary geniuses of Argentina, Brazil, Mexico, and Chile, whose works, full of satire and bawdy humor, are “clenched fists which cry out against social injustice.”

Ticos love to dance. By night San José gets into its stride with discos hotter than the tropical night. On weekends rural folks flock to small-town dance halls, and the Ticos’ celebrated reserve gives way to outrageously flirtatious dancing befitting a land of passionate men and women. Says National Geographic: “To watch the vise like clutching of Ticos and Ticas dancing, whether at a San José disco or a crossroads cantina, is to marvel that the birthrate in this predominantly Roman Catholic nation is among Central America’s lowest.” Outside the dance hall, the young prefer to listen to Anglo-American rock, like their counterparts the world over. When it comes to dancing, however, they prefer the hypnotic Latin and rhythmic Caribbean beat and bewildering cadences of cumbia, lambada, marcado, merengue, salsa, soca, and the Costa Rican swing, danced with sure-footed erotic grace.

A nation of avid theater lovers, Costa Rica supports a thriving acting community. In fact, Costa Rica supposedly has more theater companies per capita than any other country in the world. The country’s early dramatic productions gained impetus and inspiration from Argentinian and Chilean playwrights and actors who settled here at the turn of the century, when drama was established as part of the school curriculum.

The Costa Rican flag contains five stripes: The blue horizontal stripes represent the sky. The white horizontal stripes represent the peaceful nature of Costa Rica, and the red horizontal stripe in the middle represents the blood shed to pursue the freedom of Costa Rica.

The blue ribbon at the top of the coat of arms states in silver letters “America Central” (Central America.)

The two branches of myrtle closing the coat of arms represent the peace of Costa Rica. The white ribbon that joints the branches states in golden letters “Republica de Costa Rica” (Republic of Costa Rica.)
The seven stars above the volcanoes and the oceans represent the seven provinces that Costa Rica has: Alajuela, Cartago, Guanacaste, Heredia, Limon, Puntarenas, and San Jose.

The mountains/volcanoes represent the three mountain range system that Costa Rica has. They form a valley and divide the country in two parts. The two oceans represent the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. The merchant ships sailing on each ocean represent the cultural and commercial exchange between Costa Rica and the rest of the world. The rising sun represents the prosperity of Costa Rica. The small circles at both sides of the coat represent the coffee beans.