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Hi everyone,


This happened several times to me recently, but I cannot recall it's happening in the past here. Someone in a local store looks at me when it's my turn and begins speaking to me in English. Not Spanish, but English! Okay, so my Spanish isn't great, but I can understand and can speak okay, especially when it comes to daily life. San Ramon isn't exactly a hotbed of tourism, so I wonder if this is happening to my fellow expats in other non-tourist areas.


Comments? (and, by the way, my response is usually to respond in my bad Spanish, though the first time this happened to me, I was so startled that I answered in English.And the response on the part of the clerk -- in Spanish -- is usually, oh, you speak Spanish?)


saludos cordiales,


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Gayle, I think a lot of Costa Ricans presume that we don't speak Spanish. This happens to me fairly frequently. A neighbor and I went into an air conditioning repair shop just this morning. The only one in the place looked up, smiled, and immediately started hollering for another guy who does, in fact, speak some English. We could have done our business in Spanish, but he presumed otherwise.


Even when I initiate a conversation in Spanish, it sometimes doesn't "take". If I go into our local fereteria, where I'm known, and ask for "pintura blanca de aciete" (oil-based white paint), as often as not I get a blank stare.


Ya gotta laugh . . .

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This used to happen to me when I studied abroad down here five years ago or so. It really bothered me because I wanted to practice Spanish!


Now, I barely get that. People speak to me in Spanish. What happens more often is gringos trying to speak to me in Spanish and I speak back to them in English. :)

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I suspect most of us gringos have had this experience at least once, and likely more often.


The idea of greeting the clerk in spanish and then making a wee bit of small-talk like, 'what a nice day, today; it's not too hot'. Or I find sometimes I can get away with saying what a nice blouse or maybe something like 'your hair looks so cute', does the trick. Ater all, ticos in that situation all greet one another with some small-talk, often with something like, "How's the family". Of course I don't know any tico's family so I have to make do with the weather, or the clothing or the hair, but that serves the same purpose. And it is appreciated cuz that's the same thing ticos do. So when we gringos rush into a farmacia and go right up to the counter and say , "i need some bandages" (or whatever) we are perceived as rude because we did not take a moment to be polite first.


In all fairness it took me a long time to shift gears culturally so that I remembered to make that little bit of small-talk first but gradually it became automatic. BTW, there's another thing for greetings and departures and that's shaking hands. Tico men almost always do that, and some of the women, too.


But I'm sure you will find that by inserting one or two sentences of small-talk when you go into the farmacia, ferretería, or other business you will get a much friendlier reception, even if your spanish is not yet all that good. It's the effort to try making the intitial greeting that 'opens doors', as it were.


One other thing about the ticos addressing the gringo customer in english: They're prolly just trying to practice their english some, and you can't really blame them for wanting to try that by conversing with a native english speaker.




Paul M.


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And sometimes not just practicing their English... maybe showing it off a little bit. We get that here in Palmares on a regular basis and I always make a point to praise their skill and ask where they learned, etc. I think it helps to remember that just like learning Spanish is an important lifeskill for us, Ticos recognize that the path to greater financial security often includes mastering English and we're all proud when we gain expertise in something.


Then there is the possibility that sometimes it is just a way of welcoming us into their community.

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Whenever we encounter a Costa Rican who speaks pretty good English, we compliment them and always ask when they were in New Jersey and for how long. It is astonishing how many of the local folks here who speak English spent time there.



Is there a rule?


It HAS to be!! Every Tico that I have met that has lived in the States lived in NJ. 100%!!


Back to the Spanish-English....I find the younger Tico's love to speak English to use their interaction with me as good "real life" experience vs. only speaking in the classroom.

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Perhaps we, as ticos, would like to show our skills in English because we want to have a nice relationship with newcomers.


I guess the most of the times we want to help and be polite just because is our nature, but I think you are right, guys, expressing your desire to lead the conversation in Spanish is the best way to learn, to practice and to get involved in our local culture.


At the end it is just a matter of human relationship, isn´t it? The differences among cultural frames are not huge, I mean, the most of us like a nice weather, nice landscapes, tasty tropical food, including exquisite fruits, people to talk to and to share with, and this country, beyond our difficulties and defects, is a pretty good place to enjoy life.


I suggest you to be honest and tell those people you are meeting that you would like to improve your Spanish skills. So, tell them: "Por favor, permitame tratar de hablar su lindo idioma. Es muy importante para mí. Corrijame para mejorar. Muchas gracias". Homework: look for the appropriate meaning of the sentence and practice it a lot.

Edited by Rodrigo
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