Getting Things Done in Costa Rica – Guest Post
While “The living may be easy” in Costa Rica, getting things done is not – at least not straight forward. Basically getting anything done involves four things – Finding Who, Finding Where, explaining the What, and patiently Waiting. This is true for nearly everything from building a house to changing a light bulb.
Explaining the What
The first thing usually is to figure out the What, which as Dezi Arnez used to say “involves a lotta splainin to do”. You might be able to find someone who speaks English, but if not, you are left with trying to explain a head gasket, carburetor intake valve, or windshield to someone in Spanish. In these cases I will sometimes revert back to “Say Anything in Spainsh for Gringos” -by mainly putting an “o” on the end of words – such as “pado de brako“, or “carboratoro“. Hey, sometimes it actually works.
Other times it’s a game of charades with a lot of pointing an miming. Google translate might help, but that only seems to work when I have good mobile internet access on my phone, which is pretty rare. It really gets hard when I need to find a part for something that I have no idea what even in English. I only know what I want it to do – like a hose connector for a US style propane tank. Luckily most Ticos are very patient, and have learned to live with the games of charades we play and attempts at Spanglish.
In the Supermarket, often the What is for things that have totally different names and packaging like Natilla (Sour Cream), or Whole Wheat Flour (Trigo Entero), or a whole host of other things.
Finding the Who
The who here can be the name of a store, service, or the name of someone who might know the name of someone who knows the name of ……. Unlike in the USA, you do not have the yellow pages, Angies list, or other such services to guide you. You pretty much have to go by what other people tell you, and this can be a chain several layers deep.
Recently we discovered that the cap to the reservoir for the automatic transmission fluid on our 1999 Honda CRV was missing (“capo de copa de liquido de tramsmissiono” – hey, it worked!). The first auto part store in Liberia didn’t have it and sent us to a second one. They also didn’t have it and sent us to a third one. I finally called a gringo friend and they suggested a “Used Respuesto” store nearby.
It was a huge warehouse with parts overflowing everywhere. Luckily one of the employees spoke English. I explained what I needed and he went into the abyss in back and after 15 minutes came back and said he didn’t have one, but would try to call an even bigger used part warehouse in Grecia. He offered to take down my number and call me if they had it. I gave him my phone number figuring that there was no way I was ever going to get a call back.
Well to my utter surprise, a day or so later he called back and said he found that part! You really have to appreciate the tenacity of Ticos, not to mention their ability to find needles in haystacks.
Finding the Where
As mentioned in my previous example, the Where can be a long chain of places. To make matters more difficult, Costa Rica is a country by and large that has NO ADDRESSES. You don’t tell people it’s a store at 2130 Main Street.
No, it’s more like 30 meters past the main street, then left 20 meters west, then look for the junk on the right and go down the alley to the first door. This actually is pretty close to the directions we got in Alejuela when we went to get our windshield repaired. Since it’s sometimes hard to determine from the signs just what type of places they are, it took several trips back and forth and even a few attempts to “get out and ask for directions!”
But in the end, patience and persistence won out and we were able to get our windshield replaced in about 1 hour for $100. Many expats here have learned that when you do actually find a place which you are likely to return to, save those actual GPS coordinates into you GPS device. Many models come with a “Save my location” feature which stores the Degrees, Minutes, and Seconds of your location.
Waiting for Godot
Lastly, there is waiting.
Now I must give credit where credit is due. Many Ticos I know really do make and effort to come when they say they will. Of course that depends a lot on how well you are able to tell them where “here” is. On the other hand waiting for someone from AYA, Cabletica, or any government agency here to return your call is going to involve a lot a waiting and listening to Musak on the phone.
It is not called Tico Time for nothing.
Today’s post was brought to you by Steve Friedman
Steve and Martha Friedman moved to Costa Rica from Denver Colorado last year after retiring. They are currently living in Playa Hermosa, Guanacaste. Steve blogs at his satirical site here.
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In addition to writing on this blog, Greg has written for other online publications and has written two popular books about living in Costa Rica:
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