San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

On Cultural Contrasts

There I was, with my friend and my grandchildren, wandering around the Seattle, Washington, drizzle in a beautiful Puget Sound park, when we came to an enormous fenced area.

“The dog park,” my friend told me.

I sighed, thinking about all the eternally chained-up dogs in Costa Rica. Then we came to a small fenced area in which was posted a curious sign: “For small, shy or recuperating dogs.”I laughed. “Only in America,” I thought. America meaning, of course, the United States, though I’m sure such facilities can be found in Canada, as well.

What struck me, of course, was the cultural contrast. Then I got to thinking about other cultural contrasts between us northerners on the American continent and those south of the U.S. border. So here’s a sampling. I’m sure you can think of some more.


Only in the United States…

Only in Costa Rica…

is it difficult to buy anything in a small size.

is it difficult to buy anything in a large size.

does the large double size add up to a 50 percent savings.

does the large double size add up to more than the total price of two of the small sizes.

do you see perfectly good blenders and TVs set out on the sidewalk for Goodwill to pick up.

do your worn-out flip-flops disappear if you leave them sitting by the front door.

do you find 10 different kinds of mayonnaise on the shelves, thus causing some of us to waste 15 minutes trying to make a decision.

do you find not one jar of the one kind of mayonnaise the store carries.

does nearly everyone have insurance of one kind or another, if not every kind.

do people look perplexed when you ask them about insurance.

does everyone have an automatic dishwasher.

does everyone wash dishes by hand in cold water.

do cans of “natural” soda pop in the health food section advertise that they contain “real sugar.”

does no one know what high-glucose corn syrup is.

can you complete your month’s shopping, be it organic yogurt, prescription drugs, shoes or tires, in a single store.

must you go to four specialty shops to buy shoelaces, thread, perfume and paper clips.

do men look right through women who are in their 50s.

do men still pursue women who are in their 60s.

do people scurry aside if they think they might be in the way.

must you ask for permission (permiso) to get through.

do TV shows cut off whatever is happening in an interview or reality show to run the advertisement on time.

do TV shows sometimes cut commercials and run as much as 10 to 20 minutes late because everyone gets so involved in an interview or reality show.

are doctors venerated as gods.

are doctors often mistrusted and seen at nearly the same level as nurses and pharmacists.

is the ideal female body skeletal.

is nearly any female body acceptable, except a skeletal one.

is a sex scandal political suicide.

is a heterosexual sex scandal not only politically acceptable, but rather appealing.

can you walk into a huge department store and have a difficult time finding an employee.

can you walk into a store and have an employee breathing down your neck while you are simply browsing.

can you sue someone because you tripped on a tiny uneven place on the sidewalk.

must you look down all the time when walking because of all the obstacles, holes and irregularities on the sidewalks.

are there bicycle lanes between the sidewalk and the car lanes along a great many roads and highways.

are you lucky to get a sidewalk at all, or, for that matter, even a bit of room on the shoulder of the road.

do you throw or give away appliances, from blenders to washing machines, when something goes very wrong, because the repairs cost more than the items are worth.

can you afford to keep repairing things time and again at a minimum cost.

are kids expected to move out when they are 18.

do kids live at home until they marry, and sometimes afterward.

must people eat a different meal every night.

do people eat rice and beans every day.

do women have no concept of floor wax.

are women continually waxing floors.

is calling someone “fat” akin to a hate crime.

is “Gordo” or “Gorda” considered an affectionate nickname.

must funeral homes have simple and dignified names.


can funeral homes have names like La Ultima Joya (The Last Jewel).

does it cost $100 to have someone clean your house every two weeks.


does it cost ¢10,000 (about $19) to have your house cleaned twice a week.


is Alcoholics Anonymous always, in fact, anonymous, usually holding meetings in church basements and such.


do you see large signs at AA meeting sites loudly proclaiming their existence, such as “Aquí grupo Alcohólicos Anónimos El Nuevo Amenecer” (Here, AA group The New Dawn).

do real men never eat quiche.

do real men have no idea what quiche is.


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