Oct 25 2013

Newsletter – October 25, 2013

Welcome to our RetireForLessInCostaRica.com Newsletter!

Paul and Gloria

In Our Special Integration Issue:


Integration – The Path to New Adventures

When you move to a foreign country, many things will be different than in your home country. The people may speak a different language, their customs and food won’t be the same as back home. They may look different, and the way they do things might not make sense to you. You may be tempted to think that your ways, your customs, are superior and that this new land and their ways just don’t measure up. If so, you may choose to live in a community of people just like you, where you can speak your own language, both literally and figuratively. This is a perfectly natural way of dealing with the unknown. But, by not integrating into the new culture, you may be cheating yourself. Learning and experiencing the differences of living in another culture can be a great adventure.

Integration doesn’t have to be all or nothing; it’s really a continuum. On one end of the spectrum, you will find expats who move to a foreign country but choose to live in “gringo enclaves.” Their experience with the locals may be limited to their housekeeper and gardener. They shop almost exclusively at the upscale markets that carry the imported products that they are used to from back home.  They get together with others from their own part of the world for cocktails and to discuss how “they” do everything wrong here. They don’t take public transportation, nor do they use the public hospitals. They only speak their native tongue and refuse to learn the local language. In fact, they don’t understand why everyone just doesn’t speak English. Their experience of the culture is purely tangential and they make every effort to preserve their own habits and customs. They live in a self-imposed though usually high-end “ghetto” of sorts, where it is safe and familiar and nothing out of the ordinary is required of them. In a sense, they tried to take their lives back home and transplant them, intact, somewhere else.

On the other end of the spectrum are the expats who choose to immerse themselves in the local culture. They choose places to live where there are not large groups of expats, and in fact, may not socialize much with fellow expats. They learn the language and develop friendships with their neighbors. They take part in community events, contributing their time, energy, and, perhaps, money in local causes and activities. They are invited to their neighbors’ birthday parties, weddings, and holiday celebrations. They shop local and have discovered lots of new favorite things.

And in between the two ends of the spectrum, there are all the other degrees of integration. It’s not all or nothing. You can take small steps. But to integrate into a new culture requires a certain degree of humility. You have to be willing to accept that different doesn’t necessarily mean inferior and that your way of doing things isn’t the only way, and might not be the best way in the local culture.

And it also requires some courage. As Paul always says, living in a foreign country can be the richest, most rewarding experience of your life, but you have to let it. It can be an adventure if you are willing to learn what the new culture can teach you. You have to be willing to be like a child again and to learn from everything around you. You have to be willing to try to speak foreign words and get over your fear of looking foolish. Start with basic greetings. Smile at people you pass in the streets and shopkeepers with whom you do business. Look for common ground. And remember, you are the foreigner here. You are the one with the obligation to try to fit in, adapt, and maybe even contribute to your new neighbors.

The Free Dictionary defines integration as “the bringing of people of different racial or ethnic groups into unrestricted and equal association.” To me, unrestricted means without barriers. Language can be one of those barriers to integration, but it doesn’t have to be a permanent one. Our friends, Tom and Marcia, moved from the U.S. to a small village in the mountains of Costa Rica where they are the only expats. They are learning Spanish and, while their language skills are far from perfect, they don’t let it stop them from trying to communicate. And they are rewarded by a richer experience and the appreciation of their new friends for their efforts.  “Be more than a spectator,” says Tom. “Join in…Don’t just study Spanish, speak it! It’s natural to be afraid of making a mistake, but get over it and just speak…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…If all else fails a shrug and a smile always works.” After more than four years of living in Costa Rica, Paul and I are still taking Spanish lessons. It’s a process; as they say here, poco a poco (little by little). We are nowhere close to being fluent. But we didn’t come to another country to have only English-speaking friends. We are at the point where we do have Tico friends and can carry on conversations in Spanish. We don’t understand everything, but can usually get the general idea of what they are saying.

So, my best advice is to resist the temptation to be ethnocentric – try not to judge this new culture by the values and standards of your home culture. Learn some Spanish. Get to know some Ticos. Be courageous and humble. And have the time of your life!

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Engaging People and Learning a Culture

It’s always amazed me how Paul engages people in conversations. And he never has any agenda other than meeting someone nice and being genuinely interested in them. Paul has spoken some Spanish since well before I met him, over 11 years ago. Whenever we went out to dinner, back in Baltimore, he would chat with the Latin waiters and busboys, asking them where they were from, where they lived now, their age, were they married, do they have children, parents, or pets. Paul never cared about their position in life; the Latin busboy, waiter, or gardener – they were all interesting to him. It was never just a quick hello or como está.

Paul and the Pensionados

He would go far beyond that and really engage them, something he readily does today. Paul wants to learn about our Tico neighbors, friends, and shopkeepers. He’s interested in them and will take the time to listen.  He often has conversations with some of the pensionados (retired guys) in the San Ramon central park. Remember, this is all in Spanish, so he’ll often ask them to slow it down, and repeat it if necessary. Sometimes I’ll ask him, “What was that all about?” At times, he’ll freely admit he has no idea, or maybe just a semblance of understanding. But it won’t stop him. Next time he sees that same man, he’ll walk right up to him and start a conversation all over again. If the person is curious about him, Paul is also open about our lives. And sometimes, a superficial conversation turns into something not so superficial.

We’ve been married almost 10 years and I see this in him all the time – the ability to engage someone in Spanish. It’s a quality I wish I had more of. But Paul says that he actually does have an agenda – it’s the Spanish practice itself, and the desire to learn about another country, people, or culture. Interestingly, he had this interest in Latin America all his life. I guess this is one of the reasons we’re here in Costa Rica today, and the reason we continue to take Spanish lessons. Maybe the better I become at the language, the more readily will I engage Spanish speakers in conversation; to enter into their world and to allow them to enter into mine.

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Community – Lost, and Then Found

by Ana Rodriguez Del Valle

As an adult I always wanted to belong to a “community.” I left Cuba for the United States at 13, old enough to remember what it was like to walk everywhere, to know all your neighbors, to sit at the park with the street dogs running around, to buy freshly baked bread at the corner store, to sit at your front porch at night and wave to the people walking by. In Miami, I lived in the suburbs and although there was always a friendly relationship with the neighbors it was never the same again, that is, until I arrived at Costa Rica.

My neighbor’s elderly mother died 10 days ago, the wake took place at home, the family including the children washed the body and prepared it for viewing. Minutes after the death, the neighbors started arriving to pay their respect, the cooking was started, tables were set, chairs were arranged, the casket was laid out in the middle of the living room, the deceased looked beautiful with her hair braided and adorned with flowers. There were tears, there were laughs, grandchildren alternated between going to see their grandmother and playing with their friends as only children can do, as it should be…

The burial took place the next day, after a mass. Throes of people walked to the cemetery behind the hearse on a day so beautiful it defied the concept of death. Thru the town they went, dozens of people paying their respect, the young and the old, the real grievers and the mere curious.

I thought that was the end of it until the next day when i again saw the entire neighborhood arrive at their house just before sunset and shortly after heard the prayers and it was then when I found out this would repeat for 9 days in a ritual called “la novena” which culminates with a mass on the ninth day. At prayer time, I would sit in my back porch and would let myself be carried up to Heaven in a cloud of faithful energy and once there I would hear God say, okay, okay, I will take good care of your dead, how could I not with so many voices asking me as one…….

I know there are people who will say that some neighbors came for the food, or to gossip, or out of an obligation and they are probably right, but to me, who spent the last 45 years of my life attending hushed hushed wakes, in an antiseptic funeral home and attending burials where the bereaved ride inside a dark limousine, this ritual felt right, finally in the sunset of my life I again experience what I did in the onset, the joy of belonging to a community……..Pura Vida!!!!!!!!

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Integration 101: Being Bien Educado


How you speak and what you say are all part of la buena educación, “good upbringing,” a very important trait in the eyes of Spaniards and Latin Americans. This is not related to schooling but how you treat others…Personal hygiene and courtesy are of primary importance, from the look of the fingernails to table manners to the rituals of politeness.

The first rule of courtesy is always to greet everyone; acknowledge their presence. If you enter a bakery, for example, you greet the person there before placing your order. Buenos días, señora. Buenas tardes señor. (Good morning, ma’am. Good morning, sir.) Notice that día is masculine, so its Buenos días. Spanish speakers are often astonished while visiting a home in the United States or Canada to see children pass by them without any greeting and even at times without saying anything to their own parents. This to the Spanish and Latin American mind is mal educado. The custom is that you show respect by greeting everyone.”

Excerpted from Tune Up Your Spanish: The Top 10 Ways to Improve Your Spoken Spanish, by Mary McVey Gill and Brenda Wegmann, p22.

Being bien educado.

La buena educación is one of the reasons I came to Costa Rica, and Latin America in general. After having lived in Mexico for 2 ½ years in the ‘70s, I was aware of the Latin rituals of politeness all too well. I learned by observing and then doing. I noticed, too, that the children were much more included in social events and parents were not excluded from teen parties. I noticed that everyone at a gathering was acknowledged, from the grandparents down to the young children. I saw being bien educado as being an integral part of the fabric of Latin life. It’s one of those civil things that attracted me to Latin America.

Even before my years in Mexico, back in the 1960s, I noticed this decorum. I lived in the San Francisco Bay area and my friends were Latins from every part of Latin America. Both my girlfriend at the time and my roommate were from Colombia. I would go with them to dances, family events, and other Latin functions. I was never excluded, and I learned to be bien educado. I felt like I belonged because they readily accepted me. In fact, at college, I always belonged to the International Relations Club and visited the International House at various college campuses in California. I was often chosen to represent Colombia at cultural events featuring the folkloric dance, the cumbia. To the spectators, I was Colombian, albeit a blond-haired, blue-eyed one.

It’s so easy.

Being bien educado is the easiest way I know to begin the integration process. It will be especially helpful in your community, barrio, or neighborhood. It’s something you can use every day the rest of your life, whether you’re in Latin America, Europe, the U.S., or Canada. Sometimes people say that Costa Rica is like the U.S. was 50 years ago. But I think that good manners and acknowledgement went out the door well before that. It doesn’t come naturally to us because, to some extent, it may never have existed in the northern European culture. Certainly though, people were friendlier many years ago, more courteous and polite. But being bien educado is something that can be learned.

So how does being bien educado help you integrate?

Because you now acknowledge everyone, and by uttering a few pleasantries along the way, you will be seen as someone who is friendly and approachable. In just a few short days you’ll be waving at your neighbors. They’ll see you and you’ll see them. You will be familiar, as will your car. It’s the single best thing you can quickly and easily do to enhance your experience and integrate into your community. But please, don’t wait for them to start. It must come from you. All you have to say is “Buenos días. ¿Que tál? ¿Como está?” (Good morning. How’s everything? How are you?) I guarantee, they will respond. They’ll be thinking, “This is no ordinary Gringo, but one well-brought-up. His parents taught him well.” Soon, very soon, it will come from them too, and you’ll be well on your way to making some new friends and acquaintances. Are you being bien educado?

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Our September 2013 Cost of Living

September was just about on track. As you can see, we came pretty close to meeting our $2,000 monthly budget. There were a few expenses, however, that we want to point out.

First, you’ll see that we show $98.07 in non-reimbursable expenses for our trip to Las Vegas with International Living. While we did buy some things to bring back home — like clothing and household items — since we will be using those things in Costa Rica, we are showing them just under the normal categories. The $98.07 is for taxis and other miscellaneous expenses on our “day off .” We are NOT showing any travel expenses for this trip because they are all reimbursed.

We also want to mention that our “Transportation” category is higher than normal because of two car-related expenses. In September, we paid RITEVE, which is the annual inspection required on all vehicles in Costa Rica. Cost: $20.06. Also, we paid our supplemental car insurance for the next 6 months. That amount came to $160.74.

Our Household/Misc. expenses were also a bit higher than normal because we purchased a couple of small household items while in Las Vegas. In addition, we had to purchase a new printer in Costa Rica as our old one finally stopped working. We paid $82.34 for an Epson combo printer/copier/scanner.

As usual, to help put things into perspective, here are our expenses for the previous two months:

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Questions and Answers – Converting Money Into Colones

If you are thinking about moving to Costa Rica (or anywhere unfamiliar, for that matter), you have lots of questions and are searching for the answers. We get a lot of questions here at Retire for Less in Costa Rica, and often, we get the same questions more than once. So we’re starting a new feature in our newsletter called “Questions & Answers.” Here’s this month’s question:

Eric asks, “My question is about what to do about money when I come for my visit. Will I need to convert money to the colon to spend or will I be able to use the US dollar? If I need to convert then how will I go about doing that? Will local banks convert or ?? Also will I be able to use my debit card at an ATM to get more funds as needed.”

While some places in tourist locations will accept dollars, you will need colones for many of your day-to-day expenses, especially in smaller towns. Just bring your debit or credit card and a small amount of cash with you. You can go into any bank and (1) withdraw money from their “cajero automático” (ATM), then (2) take the dollars into the bank along with your passport and ask them to change it into colones. It’s usually as easy as giving the person at the window your passport and the cash, and saying “colones, por favor.” FYI, in our experience, the maximum amount you can withdraw from an ATM is $700 in one transaction because of the size of the stacked bills coming through the dispensing unit.

Before your visit, you should check with your home bank regarding the following:

  1. Do they have an affiliate banks in Costa Rica where you would not incur an ATM fee?
  2. If not, what is the fee your bank charges per ATM transaction?
  3. Do you need to notify anyone at your bank that you will be traveling to Costa Rica for a specified amount of time?

While you can also use your debit or credit card to pay for many transactions, you will often save money by paying in cash. Read more about it here.

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Monthly Weather Report for San Ramón, Atenas, and Nuevo Arenal  – September 2013

You’ll notice that our monthly weather report has a new look, and a newly added  location – Nuevo Arenal, located on the north side of Lake Arenal. Not only are we going to show rainfall and temperatures for three towns in Costa Rica, we’re showing it in a format that makes it easier to compare the data.

The normal rainfall for the Nuevo Arenal area (the north side of the lake) is between 160-200 inches per year. The dryer months of February through May receive about 4 inches per month of rainfall. The other side of the lake, where the town of Tilarán is located, has rainfall more

Click to enlarge.

like San Ramon, with about 80 inches of rain per year, however it is windier on the south side of the lake.

In 2011, our weatherman, John recorded 171 inches of rainfall. In 2012, he recorded 155 inches. In 2013-to-date, they have received almost 111 inches. As you can see, they get an incredible amount of rain. Interestingly, the south side of the lake gets over 50% less than the north side. John says that the other side, the south side where Tilarán is located, is on the continental divide and gets less of the Caribbean effect, hence less rain. As you can imagine, the Nuevo Arenal side is more jungley, yet it’s only a 30 minute drive from there to Tilarán.

You can still click on the map to the left to enlarge it and check out the average rainfall for the towns you are interested in. Remember that the areas shaded in darker blue tend to be higher and also the places most expats choose to live.

Click to enlarge.


Our San Ramón Weatherman, Paul Yeatman

Meteorology has been Paul’s lifelong hobby.  As a child, he devoured books about the weather and earth sciences vigorously. Later, he took a few college courses in meteorology, and still later, he served as a meteorologist for the U.S. Army in Vietnam.  Now, Paul gets to practice his avocation in Costa Rica, albeit on a very small scale with just temperature and rainfall data, probably the two most important factors regarding the weather. He wanted to include weather info on our website to help people decide where to live, although weather is just one of many factors to consider in determining where to relocate. Current weather data is from our current home at about 3,000 ft. elevation and 10 minutes outside the town of San Ramón. Weather data prior to December 2012 is from our previous home at about 4,000 ft. elevation and 10 minutes outside the town of San Ramón.

Our Atenas Weatherman, Lance Turlock

Lance and his wife, Diana, moved to Costa Rica about 2 years ago after living 30+ years in the Lower Mainland of British Columbia (Vancouver and environs). They live in the Central Valley near the town of Atenas and are at an elevation of about 2700 feet. They have no need for air conditioning or heating. Overnight low temperatures are comfortably cool (low 60’s). Daytime highs can be relatively hot (high 80’s, low 90’s), but rarely uncomfortably hot.Lance started to keep track of daily temperatures and rainfall in order to have factual ammunition to help disabuse friends, relatives and acquaintances of any misconception that the weather must be like that of a tropical jungle.


Our Nuevo Arenal Weatherman, John Nicholas

After many visits to Costa Rica, John and Cathy Nicholas moved from New York to Costa Rica in 1991.  They chose Arenal for its sacred, majestic beauty, its lush wildlife, its relaxing lifestyle, and its proximity to activities and sites such as the Volcano Arenal and the beaches.  They own the B&B, Chalet Nicholas, which has been in operation since 1992. Temperatures and rainfall are measured at Chalet Nicholas which is located at approximately 2,200 ft. elevation and 1 mile west of the town of Nuevo Arenal.

We will continue the weather info next month.

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