Monday, February 4, 2008

Not all Costa Ricans Speak English

I've noticed lately that U.S. and Canadian visitors to Costa Rica, even long term residents of the Puerto Viejo area, are actually getting angry at Ticos for not speaking their language—English. It's true that many people speak a little English and it is easy to live here for years and not learn much Spanish, especially in this area with its many speakers of patois; but the very least a person can do is recognize that they are the ones speaking a foreign language, not the Ticos. I can only presume that these are the same people who want English to be the official language of the U.S.

A few examples:

Recently I was in ATEC, in my office in the back, and I overheard someone talking to one of the cashiers about coming back tomorrow to pick up a job she needed done. This person was speaking in English to the Spanish-speaking cashier and I could hear that she was very upset that she wasn't being understood. This is a person who has lived here for years. She hasn't learned the word maƱana? She then came to me to explain what she needed done and something to the effect of, "I don't know why she doesn't understand me!"

Another person recently moved here and owns a business. This well-intentioned person wants ATEC to provide a translator for community meetings, such as the upcoming meeting about the marina. This is already a sore subject with the local government because they think it is a bunch of foreign activists who want to stop the marina project.

A tourist recently told me about watching another Canadian tourist get angry at a guy selling snacks on the bus because he couldn't understand that the guy didn't have change for the large bill he was giving him. The first tourist, who spoke some Spanish, had to ask him to "simmer down" and realize where he was.

I'm not saying don't come to Costa Rica if you don't speak Spanish. My own Spanish still needs a lot of work. All I'm saying is be aware that Spanish is the language of Costa Rica. It seems obvious, but apparently it is not for some people.

Pura vida.


Jackie said...

It's mystifying why someone from the US or Canada would take the time and spend the money to go to another country that they should know ahead of time is unlike the place they come from. It seems like you would miss a lot of the whole purpose for going. Why bother? It's cheaper and less stressful just to stay home and enjoy McDonalds and cable TV. Seems like one of the necessities of anyone traveling to another country should be openness of mind and heart and appreciation and respect of the differences in culture, language, and perspective of the country in which they will be the guest and foreigner. It doesn't seem like a difficult concept. I'm sure most travelers are averse to the image of the "ugly American" and are looking for the variety that a temporary transplant to another part of the planet brings with it.

Noble said...

I think most travelers appreciate the cultural differences, but there is a certain type that seems to want everything to be just like North America only warmer and cheaper.