Meet “La Familia”

Friendly is an adjective frequently employed to describe the Costa Ricans or ‘Ticos’, as they like to call themselves and with good reason!. Foreign visitors should be prepared for a barrage of personal questions when introducing themselves to Ticos, who are usually curious about travelers and you should expect to be asked ‘Are you married?’ and ‘How many children do you have?’. Be warned if you are unmarried and childless, you’ll be received with puzzlement and possibly even pity. For the family-minded Ticos, a partner and children are very desirable and it is still very much the accepted way of life.

Generally, Costa Ricans have large families with extended family living nearby or in the same home and many social activities revolve around the family unit. Unlike their Western counterparts, Ticos seem to enjoy living at home and will usually stay with family members, even if they leave home for another area to study or work. Children normally live with their parents until they marry – Jacquie, a 38 year old professional friend of mine, caused uproar when she chose to move from her family home to her own apartment a mere five minute drive away. Her family couldn’t understand why she would want to leave her cozy home, where her two sisters lived and her brother lives next door with his family, to be alone. She is now happily married to a New Zealander and lives in his country, which is a wrench for her parents but far more understandable for them as she is with her husband! Men too, remain cosseted by their mothers until marriage provides them with a wife to prepare their food and wash their clothes, which may be rather a shock to foreign females! However, Tico parents are devoted to their children and work hard to provide for their families and as those parents age their children will work to make their parents’ old age more comfortable. Most Ticos would be horrified at the idea of packing off an elderly family member to a home, but instead care for them within the home. Space may be short but there seems to be love in abundance!

On a long weekend or the busy Holy week vacation, you will see large Tico family groups descend on the country’s beaches, loaded with cool boxes the size of coffins to accommodate the arroz con pollo and bottles of Imperial for the family outing. Mothers fuss with plastic plates and servittes to feed the masses, fathers crack open their beer, grandmothers huddle in sweaters to doze, despite the heat, teenagers pose and children run screaming into the waves. After an early start and a long day out, what seems like an impossibly large group of people will cram into the family car – always room for one more! – and drive back to the city. Invitations to join in a family outing by Ticos are a great opportunity to really feel a part of life here and you are sure of a friendly welcome to the family!

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