Ticos: the Good, the Bad, The Ugly, The Beautiful

What are Ticos really like?

Let me start out by saying most Ticos are very nice people. Many Ticos do a lot of things well. I like Ticos - if not I wouldn't live here! (In fact it was their preponderance of good qualities that led me to want to live here in the first place!) So please remember the above as you read what is no doubt a post that will turn some people off and cause controversy.

  • Ticos tend not to get angry unless really pushed to it.
  • They tend not to complain a lot.
  • They tend to be very happy and content regardless of their station in life, lack of money, and so on.
  • They tend to have well behaved children. They are clean, polite, kind, helpful, etc.

    The above is a stereotype of course and that is what I am talking about here: generalizations re  Ticos, or, the typical Tico, if you will.

    And not all of them will fit the above description of their good traits and not all will fit the below less flattering traits. These are my personal observations after traveling here for many years, living here for well over a year (I lived here twice previous to this time) and talking to many other gringos about Ticos.

    However all that I am about to say is based mostly on my personal experience, so feel free to give your own opinions that contradict mine, tell me why I am wrong and otherwise disagree and give a different take on it.

    Let me also say that my Tico friends agree with many of the things I say below, so this isn't just a gringo's point of view. Nevertheless some will be offended by it. So be it. Let's agree to disagree in that case.

    Here we go:

  • Many Ticos are lousy - no, horrible! - drivers!
    They have an unwritten rule here:
    NEVER PULL OVER TO THE SIDE OF THE ROAD IF YOU HAVE TO STOP FOR SOME REASON - SUCH AS TO TALK TO SOMEONE OR RUN IN A HOUSE OR STORE. Instead you should always park right IN THE ROAD so others have to stop behind you and wait for oncoming traffic to pass before they can get around you.

    This drives me absolutely bonkers! It's arrogant, it's stupid, it's dangerous, and it's the way Ticos do things. I have no more to say about it because it just "is what it is".

    This is something a gringo from a more orderly and regulated country like the U.S. has to adjust to. Or else cuss and bitch about it constantly. Hopefully the former and not the latter.

  • Many Ticos don't do detailed, "fine" or "finishing" work well. When building anything you will have to either accept that things won't be done in a "fine" "finished" way, or you will have to stand over them at every step - risking being an "ugly American" or looked upon as being an insufferable micro-manager - if you want things done right.

    Laying ceramic evenly in completely straight lines and completely level from tile to tile. They just don't "get it"! Oh, they will try. They want to please. But they just don't get just HOW fine this type of work SHOULD be, and how painstaking it is to do it right (or at least this is my explanation of why they don't do it right).

    It isn't that they don't have the patience or the desire to do it right, I don't think. It's just that they don't really understand why it's so important to do it perfectly.

    This also applies to the other finishing touch of finishing the floor: putting the "fraguas" in between the tiles. This is the stuff that makes the lines in between the tiles. It can be various colors and it's a paste that is placed in between and then when it dries one has to clean up the lines to make them straight and not have it sticking out where it shouldn't.

    I could go on and on and on about the finishing touches that were not done right in my house. The bottom line is it got to the point where I didn't want to be an ugly American and bitch about everything so I just let it go and now I have to fix it all.

    The Ticos do not "get" why things has to be nearly perfect and why you would even care if it's a little "off".

    This same lack of "getting it" and lack of good, fine detail work applies to various other jobs:

  • Putting light switches in straight
  • putting faucet bases in straight
  • putting plumbing pipes in straight or orderly
  • putting doors in straight or fixing a door that doesn't close well without making a mess of it
  • putting faucets in with the hot and cold on the correct sides - even when you explain it to them, say, 5 times; etc etc.

    I could give plenty more examples but you get the idea. Doing fine detailed work well is not one of Ticos' good qualities.

  • Many Ticos say they'll come (on time) but they won't come (on time)

    I put "(on time)" to signify that they won't come on time, OR they just won't come.

    Examples: If you ask a Tico to a party or meeting or etc - even a date - they will say yes. But they may well have no intention of coming, but just don't want to tell you "no".

    This is (it has been explained to me by Ticos themselves) because they don't like conflict and don't like to disappoint you to your face. (They have no problem with disappointing you by not showing up when they said they would, but they don't want to disappoint you by saying they won't come to your face, when you invite them.)

    The same applies to business appointments.

    They will say "We'll be there Tuesday" but Tuesday comes and they are nowhere to be found. I can't say why they do this, though maybe the same principle above applies: on the phone or in person they just want to make you happy by giving you a time.
    They may indeed come Tuesday, but it might be the following Tuesday.

    They will say "We'll be there within 8 hours" but they may not be there until 16 or 24 or more hours have passed.

    I had an internet problem with ICE, the national electric/phone/internet company. (KOLBI is the internet part.) I called them on the phone and went through all the troubleshooting procedures and then they said they would send someone out within 12 hours to try to fix it.
    I nearly laughed out loud when they said it! Why?
    Well it was about 6pm at night and it gets dark right around 6pm all year here.

    So if they were to come out "within 8 hours" it would mean they would be coming out in the dark on a dirt road out in the middle of nowhere. Finding our house can be difficult even in the day time and I certainly would not want to be called at, say, 3am, to guide them in.

    But I knew that wasn't going to happen. It was just a guy trying to make me happy by saying they'd be out within 12 hours. I said, "okay" and hung up the phone and told Joanie what they said and laughed and we both knew this meant they might be out tomorrow some time.

    As it turned out we were right. They came out around 10am which was 16 hours later. Not bad service at all, by the way! I'm not complaining in this case, I'm just saying that you can't rely on a Tico telling you they'll be somewhere at a given time. (Of course this does not apply to ALL Ticos in every case. Again, I am generalizing here!)

    I have friends and associates who WILL come on time, who are very reliable and will give you an honest estimate of when they'll come and will tell you if they can't make it. But they are the exceptions to the rule.

  • Many Ticos often give completely wrong directions

    This goes back to the same concept as above: most Ticos do not want to disappoint you to their face. So instead of saying, when asked how to get somewhere, that they don't know, they will often give you incorrect directions.

    I have had this happen so many times that now I recommend this procedure re getting directions:

    1) get directions from someone
    2) go off in the direction they say and then ask someone else within a block or two
    3) go off in that direction and then ask a 3rd person
    4) Rinse and repeat
    By doing this you will most likely get to where you are going - probably not the most direct route but you will get there.
    Part of the problem by the way, is that Ticos don't use addresses such as "245 2nd Street" or "8765 Fernandez Avenue". There are no numbers on the houses or stores, and if there are they pay zero attention to them.

    Instead they say "400 meters east of the green church and then 200 meters north."
    Not a bad method really but you need to know this about that:
    100 meters means "a block", so "400 meters" means 4 blocks. "50 meters" means "half a block".

    And that green church? It may well be blue or white.
    Are Ticos color blind?!
    No. They are referring to the fact that from the time the church was built, until, say 8 years ago, the church had always been green. The fact that it is now blue has no bearing on the directions they give. To them it will always be "the green church". The fact this will confuse a visitor does not enter into it.

  • Tico government types do not give good road signage
    What I am talking about here is signs to tell you where a major landmark is, or signs that tell you a street is "one way" only, or signs that tell you that you can't turn right, or you have to stop, etc.
    There may be a stop sign but you are NOT supposed to stop!

    Yes, this is rampant where I live and I am willing to bet this is not an isolated case. Even if it is, your area will have similarly crazy sign problems.

    So what apparently happened is the streets here used to have stop signs at many intersections. The City decided to put in traffic lights instead. But they never took down the stop signs. So if you see a traffic light, go with the light, NOT with the sign!
    Easy enough, right? Well, no. The problem is sometimes the lights are too high up or not where a gringo would expect to see them, so you may not see the light, you may only see the stop sign. Recipe for disaster.

    One way streets:
    There is a place in our town where, when you come up to the intersection, it shows signs:
    One way Only - to the left.
    One way Only - to the right! LOL.

    In fact you can go left or right, no problem. It's a 2 way street.
    One ways are not always marked with a sign on the corner you are approaching, showing "no right turn" or "no left turn". Instead the only sign you may see is an arrow on the street you want to turn on pointing the only direction the street goes - IF you can see it (i.e. if there aren't a bunch of cars covering them up). There is no "DO NOT ENTER" sign. There is no "ONE WAY" sign.
    Do not pass go. Do not collect $200. You just have to learn which streets are one way!

    Oh, you're a visitor to our fair town? God help you!
    Wear your seat belt!

    Looking for a turn off to a major landmark or tourist area? Don't expect to find the road signs showing you where to turn! Oh, you may find the first one off the main highway. But after that you'd better have a map. Or better yet use the method above to ask people all along the way "How do I get to _____?"

    Because you may well never see any sign at the fork in the road ahead indicating which way to go to get to that famous location.

    Ticos? I love them! Re-read the 1st paragraph or so above!
    But they are different than most gringos; it's a cultural thing. No reason to get mad about it. Just celebrate that they are a different kind of people in a different kind of culture! Enjoy their more relaxed way of doing things and their not tending to be in a hurry nor following rules nor worrying about details!



  1. Graham on January 18, 2016 at 1:06 am

    fraguas = Grout which needs sealed yearly to keep it waterproof. To be flexible it isn’t waterproof.

    Ticos = Asians, they’re the same.

    Always want to please you and will always say what they think you want to hear. Either accept it’s all BS with no malice or die stressin’

    • miguelbgood on January 23, 2016 at 12:48 am

      Yes, stressing does no good. Hopefully it’s not ALL BS though! ;-D

  2. Danni Krash on January 26, 2016 at 9:05 pm

    Very cool

  3. Roger Brechner on August 28, 2017 at 9:09 am

    Thanks Mike for your very insightful remarks. Knowing the Tico culture will definitely make my transition to CR a “tic” easier (no pun intended). Very helpful, indeed!


    • miguelbgood on September 2, 2017 at 8:41 pm

      Hey Roger, glad to help. I wrote this blog to try to make people understand there is a down side to living here as well as many upsides. It’s not paradise. Yet it can be very worthwhile and rewarding if you go into it with the right attitude and eyes wide open!

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