Various Notes

Here are a few things I’ve noticed that are probably not worthy of their own topic.

Striped Polo Shirts– Costa Ricans LOVE striped polo shirts.  Seriously.  If you are outside and there are more than 1-2 people around, all you have to do is think “striped polo”, look up, and I guarantee you that you will see at least one person wearing one!  Bonus points if it’s red, white, and blue!

Red, White, and Blue– Those are also the colors of the Costa Rican flag, and around here it is very common to see people wearing their nation’s colors with pride!  Even if they don’t have all of their colors on one item of clothing, you will see a lot of outfits put together to feature all of the colors.  For example, a guy out running today had on a blue cap, white shirt, and red shorts.  Part of this, I’m sure, is due to pride in La Sele’s world cup success, but I don’t think that’s all of it.


Statue in Parque Central

Statue in Parque Central

Clean floors/streets– This is another thing that seems very important to people down here.  I have never been at the gym and NOT had somebody mop around my treadmill while I was running.  When I did a long run at the gym, they mopped twice!  It’s not uncommon to see them mopping out the parking garage there, either.  I am wondering if part of it is the rain mixed with tile floors means that there is probably a lot of mud getting tracked in.  Also, clean streets seems to be a big priority for people.  Now, I’ve heard quite a few complaints about the littering, but honestly for a city this size, the streets are pretty clean.  There are crews out working to clean very regularly.  At the vegetable market, you do just throw your fruit rinds from the samples on the ground, which feels very weird.  But apparently somebody does come through and clean up afterwards.

Parks and vegetation are a slightly different story.  Because of the climate, things grow very quickly.  When I first got here, for example, Parque el Bosque (close to my house) was very overgrown, but I heard that it had been mowed recently.  They came about a week later, and it took weedwhackers to tackle the grass.  It was several days worth of work, and then I guess they had the day off or something, because the piles of what they cut just stuck around for a few more days.  But since then, they’ve been back to mow and prune a second time, and it’s looking nice.  Seeing municipal workers out pruning the vegetation or mowing/weedwhacking in parks is a very common sight.

Signs in parks asking people not to litter ask nicely and try to appeal to people’s sense of shared ownership and pride in their community and the environment.

Guachimán (pronounced almost like “watchy-man”)- Almost every business, and many neighborhoods, hire private security guards.  Sometimes they just stand near the entrance or “la caja” (cash register) and keep an eye out.  Sometimes they are near the door, and you need to talk to them and let them know what you want before you can come in.  Sometimes, the door is locked or closed behind a gate, and you need their permission just to get in.  In my neighborhood, the guard goes by several times a day on a bicycle with a whistle and a billy club.  I hear a rumor that he’s actually only the guard for the other side of the street, though!  

Street vendors– It’s very common, I think, in all parts of Latin America for people to go block to block selling various items.  They go by in car or on foot, either calling out or with a bullhorn saying what’s for sale, and sometimes talking about it’s high quality and/or low price.  Occasionally, it’s a recording on repeat.  It actually seems less common here than what I remember from Mexico.  In some neighborhoods where more people drive, I don’t think they come around at all.  But if you need to get around on foot or by bus, sometimes it’s worth the convenience of having the items come to you.

Our most regular vendor is the egg guy.  He comes by every morning in this car, playing a recording of his sales pitch.  There are other egg guys that sometimes come by later in the day.  We don’t buy eggs from him because he only sells cartons of 30, and we don’t use that many.

The veggie truck comes every Thursday afternoon.  The prices apparently aren’t the best, but if you buy your produce at the market over the weekend, you are likely to be out of stuff by Thursday and need a few things to get you through to the weekend.  You also just have to take your chances that he will have what you want.

I have also seen guys selling wooden furniture and blenders go by the house, and people coming door to door to ask for food and/or money.

Out and about, there are of course street vendors that have a specific spot where they sell.  Sometimes, they sell the same thing, for example the mango sellers by my bus stop.  Sometimes, though, they change with whatever is happening.  During a downpour, for example, all of the street vendors put away whatever else they had and started selling umbrellas.  During the world cup, there were lots of flags, posters, and jerseys for sale.  When I had to catch an early bus, I noticed that in the morning, it was mostly newspapers and empanadas for sale.

Lottery tickets are HUGE down here, and there are vendors out all over the place selling lottery tickets.  They seem to do a lot of business.  Many people join a group and buy together instead of buying individual tickets from the vendors.

The most common items that I see for sale, other than produce and lotería, are cell phone cards, fried chicharrones, plantains, and yuca, DVDs, socks, leggings, hair ties, bracelets (and supplies for making those loop band bracelets), arm warmers (?), and purses/wallets.

Toothbrushing– Costa Ricans also love clean teeth.  They brush after every single meal, and there are toothbrushing stations at schools.

Suicide shower head

“Suicide” shower head.

Hot water– Apparently, hot water is on the “sort of nice to have, but not essential” list.  Most houses that I have been in do not have hot water anywhere but the shower.  Water for the shower is heated by an electric shower head that often combines running water and bare wires right above your head.  Some houses don’t have hot water for the shower, either.  Even if they do, if the water heater breaks, don’t expect anybody to be in a hurry about getting it fixed.

Toilet paper– Most of the time, you do NOT flush toilet paper down here.  There will be a small garbage can by the toilet to put it in.  Again, that’s not uncommon for Latin America.  What does seem different is the way that it’s referred to here.  In other places, it’s said that you don’t flush your TP because the sewer infrastructure can’t handle it and you’ll clog the toilet.  Here, at least according to the signs that are up in every single bathroom, not flushing your TP seems to be a matter of respecting your environment and the waterways, and that it’s cleaner for TP to go in the garbage.  Same practice, different way of looking at it, I guess.  Maybe it’s just that clogging the toilet isn’t a good way to respect the environment. 😉

Flax and Chia seeds– You’ll be happy to know that chia seeds are just as trendy here as they are in the US.  Maybe more so, because of the tradition of having fruit smoothies and taking the healthful properties of foods very seriously.  However, nobody is nearly as crazy for chia as they are for linaza, or flax seeds.  They put them in everything.

I guess that’s it, for now.  I will probably be busy over the next few days, and will catch back up next week.


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