May 11 2013

10 Ways to Fit In When You Retire in Costa Rica

by Tom Bunker

My wife, Marcia, and I have lived in Costa Rica for almost 3 years. We have made many friends and are well-known by most of the community. We moved here from Southern California where our lives were very different. We lived in a nice house in a nice neighborhood and I can honestly say that I didn’t even know all my neighbor’s names.

We’ve made more of an effort to fit in with the community here. Let’s face it, I’m a big, old Gringo and will never be mistaken for a Tico. Then how do I “Fit in?” It’s simply a matter of attitude and it takes very little effort. But it does take some. Here’s how I do it and what I recommend you try. These are my opinions and they cost nothing, but are worth ten times that (engineer humor). You may want to try some of them and see what happens.

  1. Speak Spanish! Don’t just study Spanish, speak it! It’s natural to be afraid of making a mistake, but get over it and just speak. You will also have to study the language and there are many ways to learn through classes and/or books. If you only study and speak in your class, you are not learning. You are surrounded by Spanish speaking people; even the children speak Spanish. Start with greetings and pleasantries and numbers. When you don’t understand, just say so. Don’t be embarrassed or afraid. You will make a lot of mistakes, but it won’t be long until people are praising how much you understand.
  2. Slow down! There is always time to greet someone and ask how they are before you ask where the milk is.
  3. Learn how to tell what is normal in your area and relax. If you don’t feel comfortable with your surroundings, how can you relax? Are the men walking towards you carrying machetes dangerous, or are they just field workers on their way home?
  4. No offense to fellow Gringos, but you can get a lot of wrong information from some of them. Many are well-intentioned, but ill-informed. Try to confirm things independently.
  5. Be more than a spectator. Attend local events and join in. Ticos are extremely welcoming and will go out of their way to make you feel welcome. We are always asked to dance with people. Marcia always gets led around on peoples horses. They are happy to see you enjoying the activities that they enjoy.
  6. Join in. We joined the local senior’s group. It got us a lot of new friends and we look forward to our meetings and outings.
  7. Photos make great inexpensive gifts. I like to take photos at peoples parties and at community events and print some. It seems like everyone has photos on their phones and will show them to you, but getting a print is always well-received.
  8. You don’t have to give up your Gringo friends and activities, but don’t limit yourself to them. You will miss out on a lot of great experiences.
  9. Avoid negative people.

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