San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Costa Rican Curiosities, a Continuing Collection

IN a previous article, I gave you some examples of what I call “Costa Rican curiosities,” with an explanation that none of the observations were meant to be judgmental (TT, Sept. 9). As promised, here are a few more.Fair Play. Costa Rican courts do not use the jury system. In some cases, one judge makes the decision. In others, a panel of judges makes the decision.I once had to go to court to testify for a taxi driver because I was in his taxi when a bus backed into it. I hadn’t been in the country for that long, so I was shocked to find that the bus company had sent two false witnesses. Nevertheless, the judge ruled in favor of the taxi driver – perhaps because she was amused by my attempt to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, in very bad Spanish. Afterward the taxi driver wanted to pay me for having testified, and again I was shocked. I was under the impression I was doing my civic duty.Information Gap. Once, in Nicoya, a town on the peninsula of the same name in the northwestern province of Guanacaste, I had my passport and money stolen by someone whom I could identify. I went to the local headquarters of the Judicial Investigation Police (OIJ) (the Costa Rican feds) to make a detailed statement.Then I had to go downstairs to the Nicoya police to make the same statement.Subsequently, I had to go to the hospital to have the minor bruises I had suffered examined for another report. After that, I heard nothing.A long time later, I told a policeman friend of mine how nothing had been done, even though I had clearly identified the thief. He advised me to go to some office and make the same report again.Though perplexed, I did so. Again, I heard nothing. Finally, I just forgot about it.Recently, talking to my husband’s daughter, a lawyer, I found out that making the statement is simply the first step in the process. A statement is not a charge, so for the police to arrest the culprit, I had to go through yet another process. During the filing of all those reports, no one had thought to inform me of this.Macho Contradictions. Supposedly, in Latin countries such as Costa Rica, male chauvinism is more prevalent than in North America. Yet, here, as many women are doctors and lawyers as men.There are many women dentists and architects, while I have never met a female dentist or architect in the United States. In addition, a great number of Costa Rican judges and diputadas (legislators) are women. At this time, Costa Rica has many women in high government positions, including that of vice-president.Moreover, other Latin countries have had female presidents. Despite all this, far fewer women than men know how to drive here. It seems the issue of machismo is more complicated than we might imagine.Tico Tumult. Costa Ricans love noise. Anyone who has gone shopping in San José can vouch for this. In the shops, the music is often so loud that it is impossible to talk to the clerks. It is not unusual to go into a restaurant and find the radio and the television going at the same time. My Costa Rican husband likes to leave the radio on all the time, on stations such as Monumental, where there is nothing but talk, talk, talk, usually about sports. I am always telling him that someone I don’t know is yelling in my house.Wayfaring Strangers. We are nomads; Ticos are stay-at-homes. Any given tourist in Costa Rica probably has seen much more of the country than most Costa Ricans. Most middle-class Ticos have one or two areas they go to periodically for vacations, but that’s all. The contrast is even more dramatic in the campo (rural areas). I live in a small mountain village smack dab between the two oceans, and I have talked to only one person here who has ever seen the ocean!Moreover, most of the villagers here barely know San José.Government Gaffe. Some years back, the government decided to manufacture new coins, gold in color instead of silver.As was logical, it replaced the old ¢100 and ¢50 bills with coins. Then it made an insane decision. Despite the inflation that had reduced the colón to the value of half a penny (it’s now worth about one-fifth of a penny), it put out a new gold coin worth ¢1. On top of this, the coin was tiny, about the size of a shirt button, and cost much more to manufacture than it was worth. No one wanted to use it.An Ingenious Solution. With no help from the government, the Ticos finally solved the problem of the worthless, pesky ¢1 and ¢2 coins accumulating in bottles in their homes. Stores started returning change in the following way, and are still doing so: If the amount owed ends in ¢1 or ¢2, the store keeps the change. If the amount ends in ¢3 or ¢4, the customer gets ¢5 back. As a result, very few of these useless coins are still around. I don’t know where they all went, but perhaps the government should find them all and use them to fill the holes in the roads.Now, if the Ticos can do it, why can’t North Americans get rid of the penny?THESE are some more curiosities for you, but believe me, the list goes on and on. Stay tuned.

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