Country Focus: Intercultural Nuances of Doing Business With Costa Rica, Part 1

During the age of Imperialism, many of those who settled in Costa Rica were seeking land and mercantile opportunities. This “rich coast,” named Costa Rica by Columbus, is barred physically with mountain ranges and water, from instability and hostility that plagues the region, and promotes civility and neutrality within Costa Rican borders. Costa Rica has no official army to guard its borders, a history of peace, a relatively stable democratic republic, one of the highest literacy rates in Central America, and a sound economy.

Though Costa Ricans feel a strong affiliation towards the U.S. ideals of hard work and individual effort, their attitudes towards the U.S. and its citizens is ambivalent. In fact, like Belize, you may feel more comfortable in Costa Rica than other Central American countries. Though sharing in the Central (and Latin) America tradition of being relatively conservative and risk averse, in addition to the dominance of the Roman Catholic Church, Ticos are monochromatic (punctuality counts here!), they are probably the most punctual people in Central America. Other Tico distinctions include negotiating patterns in markets, where bargaining is considered a game and an expected practice, it is simply rare in this Central American country. In general, Ticos welcome affluent foreigners, however they do not encourage poor immigrants, for they cite them as the cause of petty crime, loss of civility, and other social ills.

Like the United States, Costa Rica, leans more egalitarian than hierarchical. Costa Rican prosperity, general ethnic homogeneity, and commitment to widespread education contributes to an egalitarian society. While there are various social classes, there is a strong emphasis on the equality and dignity of work regardless of social class. There is no need to tip taxi drivers in this egalitarian culture. Following the egalitarian pattern of Costa Rican society, machismo is not as strong as in other Central American countries. There are lower levels of gender discrimination in Costa Rica. For example, women keep their own identity apart from their husbands in all legal and business matters and there is a greater acceptance fore women in business. “Sharing the wealth” is a government mandate that encourages egalitarianism and enforces the preexisting humanitarian, democratic, and group culture attitudes. This “sharing” culture also extends to Costa Rican mentality—they are open to discussion on almost any topic.

Ticos are also similar to U.S. Americans regarding their demeanor. They are more subdued and detached in their communications styles, similar to U.S. American businessmen and women. Ticos are more reserved, non-emotive, proud and self-respecting. They have strong beliefs and are not easily persuaded. It is these beliefs more than rules that can determine decisions—rules are guidelines, most things are taken on a case by case basis. While they may have a strong self-image, because of the egalitarian mentality, they have a strong distaste for arrogance and expect all, even those in high positions, to display humility. Status is not as important in Costa Rica, and even if you have a lot of accomplishments, tooting your horn here is not exactly smiled upon.

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