This little matter is of such consequence here, I thought to take special note of it. We Norte Americanos have long been steeped in a rhythm of life that accounts for seconds. Since we were toddlers our slogans have been “Do it now.” “Don’t Waste Time.” “Have a Strong Work Ethic.” “Time is Money.” “Efficiency!” and about 500 more. An ad for a drug that is currently running on U.S. TV has an objectionable guy running around saying “Too slow!” about different things, intimating that his antacid is really fast.
Earlier I wrote about the phrase our lawyer mentioned: living in leisure means more to a Tico than making money – the “work as little as possible” phrase. It seems shocking to you, I’m sure. North Americans have long been inculcated with the idea that to live is to work to be successful; that we are here on this Earth to make money and we had better get to work on it yesterday! Costa Rica is a culture that is exactly the opposite. I mentioned earlier that there are 17 holidays in CR throughout the work year – there are that many, not counting the weeks off for Christmas and Easter and the other fine national celebrations. Those days are for spending with the family, not for working, and it is rare that you will find a man who would rather earn more money, regardless of his financial situation, than be home with a day off.
Time is so very important here in its absentia, and it is so very important for newcomers to understand that when you plan to meet someone, and they set the time they will arrive, and they show up an hour later with smiles, happy to see you, but not one word about being late, well, you begin to understand what I mean. It is not rudeness on their part, in fact it would be rude for you to mention their tardiness! This is a different culture. Get used to it. Relax. Enjoy life. There is one saying that means this culture, and Ticos use it as replacing “hello.” It is Pura Vida. It means you are wishing a friend “the good life” (literally “pure life”). A lovely way to live. A relaxed, without stress way to live. A tranquilo way to live! It is also saying that a new Norte Americano must really adjust to a really different culture!
We have to remember that North Americans pride themselves that their operations are organized. They like everything in their lives to have structure and the element of time is critical to structure. In the hot climate zones, people are not structured, so they don’t care if they plan a lunch for noon and the guests don’t come until 12:30 or 1:00. And anyway, the host might not serve food until 1:30 or 2:00! Time is just not relevant to enjoying friends. This non-structured life means that life becomes a lot more spontaneous. And, from my personal observations of living in or traveling through a dozen or so countries, I do believe that these hot climate, non-structured, not organized people are happier. Really happier with themselves and with their lives.
I have a favorite true story about a friend in the U.S. who had a job offer from Hewlett Packard here (they have a large assembly plant in San Jose). She is in middle management and first complained about the salary offered being “only sixty some thousand dollars” (she was earning around $85K). After my telling her the standard of living in CR she calmed down and after a few more telephone talks and emails with HP she booked a flight a month away for the interview.
Later I emailed her and asked about what was happening and she replied “Well, I emailed [her contact at HP] that I would come down for an interview and gave him the date, and he didn’t get back to me for a week! Then when I emailed him the time I would arrive, he took five days again to get back to me so I said to hell with it, if he doesn’t care enough to reply to me promptly I don’t need to work for that company.”
I had to laugh and tell her that this was just standard in CR. If you had a month before your plane left there was no need for him to contact you immediately – maybe an American need, but not a CR requirement. We take things easy here. And, after all, if you talked to each other in a day or in two weeks, the plane would still take off on the day planned, so what was the big deal about the conversation? She just did not understand.
I also told her about a newly arrived neighbor who needed an attorney and I recommended ours at ARCR (see Supplement). Later I asked him how it turned out and he replied “I got another attorney. I had an appointment with yours, and I waited for 35 minutes and finally left. He didn’t show up!” I thought I’d check with our attorney to get his side and he said “Yes, I had an appointment with your friend, but he was not there.” I explained what had happened, but the attorney could not understand, saying “But I came to my office, why did he leave?” American culture up against Pura Vida.