Friday, January 13, 2012

Observations on Urban (United States) vs. Rural (Costa Rican) Life

*Disclaimer: The urban areas I have lived in include: San Francisco, CA, Berkeley, CA, &, in New York, Harlem, The East Village, The West Village, & Brooklyn.  The rural areas I have lived in include only my small town – of around 1,400-1,500 people – in Costa Rica.*

Walking Down the Street

Urban life: People often avoiding eye contact, talking on their cell phones/iPhones/etcetera, listening to iPods, wearing sunglasses, walking quickly to their destination.  NOTE: New Yorkers often get a bad rap…my experience was if you smile at others, they will frequently smile back, as long as they are not at a near gallop in their pace.

Rural life: Almost everyone trying to make eye contact/giving a smile or a simple greeting, almost unheard of to wear sunglasses while walking (despite the crazy sun/heat), hardly anyone wearing headphones, everyone walking/biking/driving slowly to their destination (regardless of being early/late).  Cell phone usage is common, but it does not usually stop the person from greeting you (unless maybe they are a teen).

Shut the Front Door!

Urban life: People mainly keep their front doors closed (unless it is an excruciatingly hot day/they are having a house party).  Closed doors do not signal that no one is home.  In order to see if anyone is home, one would knock on the door a few times/ring the bell (usually not more than twice, though).  If there is no answer, they would leave.

Rural life: Almost everyone leaves their front doors open, regardless of weather.  This signals to others that someone is home.  If the front door is closed, it almost always means no one is home/everyone is asleep.  In order to see if anyone is home, a person walking by on the street will loudly yell “Upe!!”  Depending on the person, they will yell this repeatedly until they get an answer.  Most people will stop after a handful of “Upes,” though.  If you’re having a rough day/don’t want to be social, it’s best to keep your front door closed…this often prevents “Upe-ing.” (NOTE: some people will walk right in if the front door is open).

More on Doors

Urban life: Bedroom doors & bathroom doors, as well as front doors, when they are closed, are almost never opened by a person on the outside of the door, unless they knock first & get a response that it is okay to enter (or unless it’s a significant other or something).

Rural life: Closed bedroom doors, bathroom doors, & front doors are not always a signal to not enter.  Children in particular are known to just walk in, especially into bedrooms.  I learned early on in my host family’s home (that I no longer live in) to LOCK the bedroom door.  I entertained a way to make sure no one would enter our bedroom without knocking, but did not think it was a good idea to traumatize others just to make a point.

Let’s Get Together!

Urban life: When people want to meet with others for coffee/dinner/whatever, they often set up a time in which to do so.  If they say “We should get together!” & leave it at that, they often are only doing this as a nicety, & don’t really intend to see the other person again, unless they run into them.  However, if it’s a “Let’s get together,” followed by taking out one’s blackberry/other electronic device (in order to set a time/date), it’s on.  That all said, if the intention is to get together, a time/date is set, & generally adhered to.  One might show up at 7:10/15 (to a restaurant, say, for a dinner date), when the time agreed upon had been 7:00, but later than that would be pushing it (unless they were in rush hour traffic/had a medical emergency/etcetera).

Rural life: When people meet up with others, it is almost always by chance/informal.  It is not common to set up a time & date for coffee, especially.  If you want to have coffee with a friend in the community, it’s usually best to just “drop by” during caf├ęcito time (in the afternoon, usually between 2 & 5pm), & often the other person will welcome you with coffee & maybe a snack (and a 1-2 hour chat).  People are not usually put off by someone just dropping by (in urban life, the drop by is not common, unless it’s a super close friend/there is an emergency/it’s a, um, “special friend” dropping by late at night).  NOTE: People will hardly ever say “no” if you say “we should get together.”  They may agree, generally, to a possible date/time, or say “that should be fine,” even when they have a legitimate other engagement.  No one likes to say “no,” to anything, ever, even when they really mean “no.”  It’s best to avoid saying “no” at all costs.  “Maybe” works well.  Oh, one other very important thing.  If you do have a legitimate meeting (like for an organization), it is customary to show up anywhere from 20 minutes to an hour+ late.  People who show up late will not apologize/advise others in advance (as it is, again, customary to be late).  If you show up 15 minutes late, you will almost always be the first person there.  The first staff meeting I attended for one (very legitimate) organization started 1 ½ hours late!

Keep it real,

The Lannings (btw this is Melinda writing, and it’s my first blog post.  Exciting stuff!  Lol).

1 comment:

  1. I love this comparison. It's so true how odd it is to try to break established social norms for a given area. I've been making it a point to smile at people, say hello and ask how they are doing in my apt elevator or at the gym, and it's amazing how many people are taken aback. Thanks for sharing.