... Costa Rica Culture: an Overview ...
by Infocostarica Staff

When one talks about culture, one is venturing into ample terrain. This piece can't possibly cover the whole ground of Costa Rican culture, but it does discuss the following points: race, class, customs, identity and religion. Costa Ricans, as any other people, are complex and full of surprises.

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The country boasts a population close to 3.5 million people, which by standards of the region, is not large at all. El Salvador, for example, is half the size of Costa Rica, but it has double its inhabitants. Also, the growth rate of the population of Costa Rica is only 2.3% per year, and it's actually decreasing.

Racially speaking, the country is one of the most homogenous of the region. Costa Ricans don't like to consider themselves as racists, but they also enjoy talking about their unique "whiteness" , when compared to other Latin American countries. The 1989 census classified 98% of the people as white or mestizo, and 2% as black or indigenous. A foreigner traveling through Central America will notice the difference between Costa Ricans and their neighbors. Even though racial problems don't exist to the extent that they do in the U.S. or in some European countries, some "Ticos" look down upon darker-skinned people. Blacks weren't even allowed to go beyond the Atlantic province of Limón, until a 1949 reform. However, racial confrontations are extremely rare and prejudice, even though it exists, is displayed in indirect and careful ways.

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Costa Rica is also homogenous when it comes to social classes. Most of the population can be placed in a middle-class, and even though extreme poverty exists, it's not as large a problem as it is in other Latin countries. By the standards of a developed country, Costa Rican incomes are very low, but when compared to other neighbors, salaries and earnings prove to be much better. Besides the poor and middle classes, there is an upper class, which is very elitist. As in other countries, this class is composed by both traditionally rich families as well as by "nouveau riche" families. Even with the existence of extremely rich or poor individuals, Costa Rican society is composed mostly by a middle-class, which causes the impression of class and social homogeneity.

Most of the "Ticos" are very conservative individuals who don't usually welcome "strange" or different ideas. The country's economy and industry have grown incredibly in the past years, but the culture still retains conservative tendencies. A lot of foreigners view the Ticos as lacking initiative and as being passive. They also complain of the lack of punctuality and of quick decision-making. However, the positive aspects of the Tico identity are the friendliness and hospitality that most people transmit. Costa Ricans are also extremely social, and they enjoy gatherings and celebrations of all sorts.

One aspect of Costa Rican culture must be treated separately from others- "machismo". The machista way of thinking is shared to some extent by most men and women, although it's not as extreme as in other Latin countries. While machismo has its negative aspects, it also has its advantages, and is often used by most local women to their advantage.

Finally, when talking about culture, one must not forget the topic of religion. Even though 90% of the country is Catholic, they practice a "lukewarm" Catholicism. Ever since colonial times, the Catholic Institution hasn't exerted a powerful influence either politically or culturally. Most Costa Rican Catholics view their religion more as a tradition than as a practice or even a faith.

Many foreigners have fallen in love with the country and the culture of Costa Rica. The main characteristic of the culture seems to be moderation, as opposed to other countries that offer a culture full of extremes and excesses. The race and the classes are pretty homogenous, while the ideal of the Tico identity encourages compromise and peace, instead of revolution and violence. Even the machismo attitude is tame when compared to other places in the region. Although religious, Ticos frown upon fanaticism or excessive power of the Church. Perhaps this respect for the middle ground is the reason why many foreigners have chosen the country as a travel destination or as a permanent residence.