Costa Rica Stereotypes: An Outrageous Generalization

Feb 15, 2019

All nationalities have stereotypes about them. We generalize about everyone. But how do others generalize about Costa Ricans? How do Costa Ricans generalize about themselves? What are the Costa Rica stereotypes?

This might be contentious.

In any newspaper, this article would sit in the “opinion” section. It would start with words like, “This article represents the views of the author only. This article does not represent the views of this publication or its owners.

Or something like that, anyway.

What we’re talking about here is the Tico – or Costa Rican – psyche.

The traits that make a Tico a Tico.

So trigger warning: we will generalize here. We all generalize. Well, most of us generalize. And most of us in Latin America generalize about everyone.

Latin Americans generalize and stereotype all the time about other Latin Americans. Argentineans are arrogant and aloof. Chileans are hard-working, Colombians violent, Brazilians hard partiers, and so on.

Latin Americans generalize about us gringos, too. Especially in Costa Rica where we have lots of gringos.

Generalizations about gringos include the assumption we’re grubby and unkempt and we smell. We’re sloppy dressers and we’re cold and reserved. Many Ticos assume we’re drug addicts or sex tourists.

There’s a grain of truth to all these generalizations which is why they’re there. The term “ugly American” exists for a reason.

And as a Brit, I know all about stereotypes. Our food sucks and we’re arrogant. We’re so arrogant, we’re the Argentineans of Europe (except far less beautiful).

So how do people generalize Ticos? What are some Costa Rica stereotypes?

I was lunching with a friend, a Costa Rican attorney, who also contributes to this site occasionally.

I can’t remember the original topic of conversation, but someone said something, someone else replied, and my friend ended up saying, “… and that’s our problem in Costa Rica. We’re total posers with nothing to back it up”.

He expanded with examples. Like, when on a bike, a Tico needs all the right lycra gear and helmet, even if they’re cycling a few short meters down the street. It’s a question of perception, of how they look to others.

Ticos will always ensure they have the brand name of anything displayed anywhere. Clothes, surfboards, whatever.

His point was that Ticos always want to appear better at something than they actually are.

He said Ticos believe looking like you know what you’re doing is better than actually knowing what you are doing.

To my friend – again a Costa Rican – this attitude permeates throughout society. It starts at home and runs through the education system and the workplace. It goes into the top echelons of government and is a major reason for the country’s problems.

He also pointed out how his fellow Costa Ricans were arrogant about this. He said they were proud of getting away with looking like they know something rather than knowing it. It’s one thing to fake it to save face. But it’s another thing to fake it without caring that everyone else knows you’re faking it. And still faking it regardless.

So was he correct? To a degree, yes. As mentioned, most generalizations have at least a grain of truth to them. That’s why people repeat them.

Is every Costa Rican a “poser with nothing to back it up?”  No.

No more than every gringo is a scruffy bum in board shorts, in Costa Rica for the sex and the drugs.

But after almost two decades living and working in Costa Rica, I can understand my friend’s point. Particularly with the arrogance that compounds the ignorance.

Like the Argentineans and British, many Ticos think they’re better than their neighbors. As the Central American country with the most peaceful history, this is understandable. But it’s still arrogance, and it still annoys the neighbors. Ask a Nicaraguan.

But Costa Rica stereotypes go both ways.

My friend and I didn’t discuss the positive Costa Rica stereotypes. When you’re drinking with your buddy, there’s no time for that “but here’s my counterpoint” talk. But it’s only fair to list them here.

Ticos might be arrogant frauds (his words not mine), but they’re also very kind people. Most Ticos would give you the shirt off of their backs if they could.

Ticos are quiet and reserved – the opposite of brash Americans (another generalization, see how easy it is?). They are warm. Ticos are positive, glass-half-full people and I love that. I’m a natural cynic, but Costa Ricans often make me feel like a grinch for being cynical. Ticos make me a better person, I admit it. They keep my darker side in check and make me feel better about the world.

Now these positive generalizations are still generalizations.

There are assholes out there too. Anyone who has ever driven in Costa Rica will tell you that. Oops, was that yet another generalization?

I’ll stop right now before I get into (more) trouble.

James Dyde is the editor of CentralAmerica.com. He lives in Escazu, Costa Rica.