9/28/11

Culture Shock or Unique Customs? Reflections from Costa Rica


When thinking about moving to a new country, how do you prepare for the possibility of culture shock? Are you aware of different traditions in your new home? Stephanie, a WorldTeach volunteer in Costa Rica, shares her observations of some unique Costa Rican customs:
Costa Ricans eat every meal with a spoon. It makes sense, really. Using a fork to eat a Costa Rican meal would result in what I like to imagine as the outcome of a Jackson Pollock coming back to life and painting one last masterpiece with rice and beans. No one wants to struggle with that kind of spillage, so the spoon is the utensil of choice in a typical Costa Rican household. Or so I was told.

“Yes,” explained Sarah, 30 minutes prior to greeting our host mothers for the first time, “your Tica madre will surely offer you a fork at the dinner table because she’ll assume it’s what you’re used to. Don’t  be afraid to accept it, it isn’t an imposition, and they’ll expect you to anyway”. Wonderful advice really, because, one hour later, I found myself at Maritza’s dinner table, being asked by way of elaborate charade, if I would prefer a fork to a spoon.
Proud of my ability to adapt effortlessly to Costa Rican customs, I turned down the fork.
From that night on, I ate every meal with a spoon—while the rest of my host family chowed down with forks.
What the hell. Was this some sort of culture shock mind game? Had I not been assured that I’d be the odd one out had I chosen a fork over a spoon?
Like an idiot, I ate with a spoon (unnecessarily), for a month. It wasn’t until attempting to cut a piece of steak that Maritza finally offered me a fork and a knife—my lucky day.
It turned out that more valuable advice would have been that virtually nothing in Costa Rica makes any sense at all. Hypersexual adolescents in a devoutly Catholic country is just another example,  along with toothbrushes in the freezer and underwear in the shower. I can’t help but laugh every time this country throws another nonsensical reality in my direction.
Of course I recognize that Canadian customs might seem just as odd and illogical to Costa Ricans (barefoot in the house, for example), as their customs are to me, but it’s these very quirks that make exploring other cultures so interesting and entertaining. And I must say, I’ve gotten pretty good at balancing beans on the end of my spoon, defrosting my toothbrush, and avoiding the Calvin Kleins strewn about the shower.

Curious about Costa Rica? There's still time to apply to be a WorldTeach volunteer! The deadline is October 15th. Get more info here: 

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