I am trying not to be one of those gringos. I’m not here to get wasted, use drugs or party until 6 am like a 16 year old. I’m living in Costa Rica first because of health reasons and quality of life and second, to own a business that makes a difference in the lives of others. Plus so many other countless reasons like meeting new people, immersing myself into a different culture and stepping outside of my comfort zone, challenging myself to do more with my life.
On Wednesday, I got a call from two friends in San Jose (Ticas) who were coming out to Manuel Antonio for the night for a work project and they asked me to join them for dinner. I was super excited. I really love these two women. They’re so energetic, kind and bubbly. Plus, I always have interesting conversations with them.
We met in their hotel’s bar and had a nice time catching up. One of the girls is fluent in English and we usually talk in English together however the other girl speaks good English but isn’t as comfortable with it (just like me with Spanish) so when I was talking with her, I did try my best in Spanish and we had more of a Spanglish conversation.
However all the ease and fun spiritedness of the evening changed when we went to dinner and was joined by one of the hotel staff. Another woman who I’ve met before and really liked. But as we sat down at the table, someone asked: Are we talking in Spanish or English?
I responded first and said, Let’s talk in Spanish.
The woman who speaks fluently in English asked me: Are you sure, can you really understand us?
To which I responded: No worries, I might not understand everything but it’s okay. It’s how I learn.
Then, for no apparent reason, I got a huge (figurative) slap in the face by the girl who works at the hotel. She proceeded to go off on a tangent about how I’m gringa and of course I can’t understand because gringos only associate with other gringos and therefore I’ll never learn Spanish.
I didn’t know what to say in the moment. I was in such a state of shock. So I’d like to clear up a few things:
Like I said in the beginning of this post, I’m not here to party like many other gringos. I work every day. EVERY day.
Within a few months of moving to Costa Rica, I had found an attorney and we started the process of getting my residency here. While I no longer have to do border runs every 90 days because of my pending residency, when I did do them, I always left the country for at least 3 days. Those are the rules. And I follow the rules unlike most everyone else who leaves the country for 3 hours.
Unlike many other gringos, I own a legitimate, legal business here. I pay taxes to Costa Rica.
In my business, I hire Ticos. I am living in Costa Rica and therefore it’s important for me to give opportunities to its citizens rather than taking away jobs from them. It is also why I would never go be an illegal worker at any business here (which was suggested to me when money was really tight).
When I go to one of my local supermarkets where I know the owner is fluent in English, I still speak in Spanish with him.
I go to the farmer’s market on Saturday’s and speak with the farmers…in Spanish. And I look forward to my Saturday’s at the feria.
If I hadn’t been robbed twice and spent my entire savings on replacing the stolen items plus having other items break due to electrical surges, I’d take Spanish lessons. I even have a list of names of local people who are teachers but with no savings and little income, it’s just not possible at the moment.
However, for 9 months before moving, I did take classes as it was important to me to have a basic understanding of the language before moving.
The majority of my friends in Quepos are Tico and we speak in Spanish when we’re together or texting. But I don’t see them every day or even every week for that matter. So it’s not like I’m talking in Spanish every day. I wish I was but I work from home and that limits my immersion into the language.
The gringo friends that I associate with are all fluent in Spanish and have legal residencies and businesses.
For many years in California, I worked in an industry with a lot of Mexican immigrants and I never made them feel bad for their struggles in learning the language. Instead I supported them, was mindful of the words I used and talked slower so they could understand me.
So please don’t judge me as I’m doing the best I can with limited resources and little support. If this was the United States and you were trying to learn English, I wouldn’t talk as fast as I possibly could. I would try to support you in learning the language. And I would look up to you for having the courage to try to do something different with your life.
To add insult to injury that evening, the Sopa Negra that I so wanted to order had been changed by the new chef and it now contains both bacon and chicken. And there’s nothing on the menu description to warn people of that. One of my huge pet peeves. And the meal I did eat seems to have given me a nasty stomach bug for the last day and a half. Or maybe it was the very long and uncomfortable 2 hour dinner that gave me the stomach bug.
Either way, here’s what I do know: Not all my actions may be perfect but I’m doing the best that I can.