Monday, May 22, 2017

Understanding the Culture of a Country, with Helen Dunn Frame

Understanding the Culture of a Country:
A Road Map to Happiness in Costa Rica or in any Foreign Country

“Adapted from the Third Edition of Retiring in Costa Rica or Doctors, Dogs and Pura Vida

Helen Dunn Frame

Top your “To Do List” of things to consider before you move or travel abroad with “Learn about the culture of the places you are considering.” It will pay dividends in a more successful adventure.

Increasingly important for all expats even more than avoiding “The Ugly American” label of the sixties is an acute awareness of the implications of our international interpersonal encounters. Our contemporary world remains polluted by cross-cultural misunderstandings, historical ethnic disdain, and various faux pas just as many rivers in Costa Rica reek of garbage. Today even casual travel requires personal and geopolitical responsibility.

Harkening back to my days in college, we learned in Sociology and Anthropology the definition of a culture encompassed shared values, practices, and rituals that permeate a society. While traditions pervade, different and unique individuals may occasionally in some fashion contradict dominant cultural traits or values thereby confusing the stranger trying to understand a group.

For Ticos, as Costa Ricans call themselves, decorum ranks of the utmost importance. Most natives will do everything possible to avoid confrontation. To cause a scandal, create a public commotion, or raise one’s voice in public definitely are unacceptable behaviors. At its most practical level, the appearance principle including personal hygiene means that you should warmly greet all Tico friends and acquaintances you happen to meet during your daily routines. Everyone should ask permission to enter a Tico home:  ”Con permiso.

When an expat speaks candidly it often creates a problem because Costa Ricans generally avoid conflict in all interpersonal encounters. People eagerly say untrue things because they feel the listener wants to hear a certain response. (Don’t forget expats lie too.) For example, a Tico will attempt to give directions without a clue about a destination’s location. A workman may agree to arrive at 8 a.m. because you wanted him there at that time although he had another job and couldn’t come until noon.

If invited to a Tico function, inquire about the proper attire. "Tico time," the tendency of many Costa Ricans to show up late or not at all to meetings, appointments and other commitments often causes expats frustrations. However, it’s a generalization. Not all Ticos arrive late or don’t call if they can’t come.

Don’t forget to consider the theory of event versus appointment. When you invite a Tico to dinner, he may show up two hours late because he thinks of it as an event, not a time specific invitation. More and more I find that Costa Ricans that deal regularly with foreigners have adapted themselves to expat ways. I have service people who come when they say they will and arrive promptly … or call.

Costa Ricans experience time in abundance, like a delightful climate, beautiful children, and a spectacular countryside. It results in a moment becoming an end rather than a means.

By European or North American standards Costa Rica has been ranked as a third world country although it has graduated to an emerging country. While the cost of living climbs, lower income citizens permeate the society. Yet you only have to go to one of the modern malls like Multiplaza Oeste to realize a solid Costa Rican middle class exists and many Costa Ricans claim considerable assets but they don’t boast about them. Many locals believe that all foreigners are wealthy regardless of the truth. Just by the number of things in a home, or the ability to dine out at will, or to have money in hand without working feeds the myth.

Learning facts about the culture you are interested in will put you head and shoulders above those who don’t. Speaking Spanish even if not perfectly will reap rewards. Pura Vida!

Helen Dunn Frame, formerly a commercial real estate broker in the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex specializing in retail and restaurants, developed professional writing skills beyond those she learned in college. Plus, living in England, Germany, and Costa Rica; and her love of travel (in 50 countries where she gained an appreciation of the value of diverse cultures) have provided background information for several books.
Helen wove many threads of her experiences into the fabric of GREEK GHOSTS followed by the second in the mystery series, WETUMPKA WIDOW. Living in Dallas during a major scandal inspired SECRETS BEHIND THE BIG PENCIL. In a third edition this year, Helen advises Baby Boomers in her book RETIRING IN COSTA RICA or Doctors, Dogs and Pura Vida. It features a new chapter, Retirement 101, Planning Beyond Financial Security, which is also available as a booklet on Kindle.
A graduate of Syracuse University (Journalism School), and New York University (Master’s Degree in Sociology/Anthropology), major newspapers and magazines as well as trade publications in the United States, Costa Rica, England, and Germany have published her articles. She has edited newsletters, a newspaper, and other author's books, created business proposals for clients, and spoken to groups.


To retire full-time, part-time, or not at all, that is the question. As you approach what could be the last quarter, or even third of your life, it’s a major decision to make. You want your adventure to succeed in order that your golden years will be happy, healthy, and content.
This book offers a great first step for starting your due diligence beginning with Chapter One, Retirement 101. It encourages you to look beyond your financial plans and to consider what you will do with your wonderful free hours. If Costa Rica is on your list of possible locations, you’ll learn about its ever changing environment. You’ll undoubtedly discover if retiring to this emerging nation is, or is not, for you. If your choice is retiring to a different foreign country, the book will still help you to recognize what you might face when adapting to a different culture.
You will find references to other books, links to websites, and much needed phone numbers (also listed on the author’s website) that will enable you to carry your due diligence to the next level. And, you may contact the author through her website to download a free Moving Guide and workbook, useful for any move.

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