Friendship is different with Ticos

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

The issue of Tico friendship is interesting. The dynamics here are about as different as English and Spanish.

Most Ticos have so much family around them they need or have no room for friends, Tico or gringo. They may go to bars with other Ticos but rarely depend on individual friendships for emotional support or company. Ticos find company easily, as most are eager to talk, unlike, let’s say, Southern Californians, Small talking to many people is the their idea of friendship. Americans may think it’s superficial. I find a beauty in it.

It’s a bit like small town U.S.A. where you can go to the local coffee shop and have relaxing small talk with your neighbors, Try that at a Starbucks in Southern California, and you may come to appreciate Tico friendships, which are not as deep as what Americans are used to. In my opinion, one reason Americans form deeper friendship is real estate speculation.

Americans use their principal residence as an investment vehicle. Communities and families are disrupted by the selling of the principle residence to make a profit, and moving somewhere else. Ticos hesitate selling a personal residence to make money to buy more things at the expense of leaving family and community. They value their roots.

To deal with community change, Americans have become good at making extended family from friends. The Tico celebrations I have attended were mostly family members. Typically, I remember equal amounts of family member and friends at Thanksgiving celebrations in the U.S.

Ticos are not inclined to make extended family members through friendship. They are a tolerant and accepting people. But, don’t think that tolerance and acceptance includes friends becoming extended family. In my experience, they just don’t roll that way. And their idea of friendship is a 15-minute talk across the fence, which is mostly a monologue, one neighbor listening and the other speaking.

Friendship here is a matter of quantity rather than quality. A quantity of superficial friendships means many different people having that 15-minute conversation across the fence. It takes the place of a handful of quality friendships in which people open up about their hopes and fears in a deeper way. Both can be satisfying.  Which you prefer has to do with your culture, community and proximity to family.

Many people move to a different country and forget they are moving to a different culture. They marvel at the happy Tico and think if they move here they will be happy as well. Then they don’t learn even a moderate amount of Spanish, fail to at least partially assimilate, and they move back to where they can have their cultural expectation easily met.

Phil Baker
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