Costa Rican #coffeeculture

Alex Somborn is a student at University of Arkansas and an ISA Featured Blogger. Alex is currently studying abroad with ISA in San Jose, Costa Rica.

Somborn, A

Though I am not one to frequently tweet my thoughts using the world-renowned social media forum, twitter, I do happen to think of hashtags every once in a while that I would use if I felt so inclined to inform the twitter-verse of my latest life musings. One of my most recent musings (that I have still chosen to withhold from twitter) is the coffee culture that prevails here in Costa Rica. If there is one thing that Costa Ricans love/can’t live without/will die for (besides soccer), it’s coffee.

After two months here in San José, I have found that coffee is not just a beverage to enjoy on the go or over a quick conversation waiting in line, but it is indeed a culture. Thus, whenever the opportunity prevents itself, I find myself “hastagging” events here with the cleverly alliterative term, #coffeeculture, because it accurately sums up a point in as few words as possible (the ultimate goal of a hashtag).

Coffee runs through every “tico’s” (a Costa Rican word for themselves) blood. Coffee to-go is not a common concept here because “having coffee” implies the process of sitting down at a table with acquaintances, friends or family, usually with bread, and chatting about life and “cualquier cosa” (whatever thing) that comes up in 30-45 minutes it can take to finish a cup of café (coffee). There are two points in the day when the “coffee culture” stops even the hardest of workers from their job to give them a small respite, those usually being 10am and 3pm. If I am at my host home at either of these two times, it is highly probable that I will be offered coffee and expected to sit down and relax for a bit.

When I first arrived in Costa Rica, this was a hard concept to accept. As an American, I am used to the “go go go, must get this done now, no rest for the weary” mindset, while here in Costa Rica, I have yet to see any evidence of this lifestyle. There is a saying here in Costa Rica that all Ticos know and live by, which is “pura vida.” It literally translates to “pure life” or “good life” and to put my own spin on the common idiom, what you hear is what you get. “Pura vida” is used equally as a salutation and farewell, demonstrating each Tico’s belief and hope in the availability of a “good life” for all, all the time.

In the most refreshing way, there is no sense of urgency and there is no rush to accomplish tasks. The fact that people generally meander down the streets (rather than rush past people as we Americans commonly do), literally evidences the slower pace of life here, and as I said, it’s refreshing. At home, I’m used to having an agenda and sticking to it and if I fail to complete something on my agenda, I end my day with a sense of failure and a promise to myself to take away time from other things the next day (such as lunch with a friend, extra conversations after class, or even sleep) to finish what I had originally planned. In Costa Rica, this is not the case.

I do not mean to say that people are lazy here, no that is not the case at all, rather I am finding that they understand the importance of cultivating relationships with one another and living life in such a way that doesn’t make another person’s head spin. As important as it is to finish a job here, it is equally important to take time from your day to sit down, relax and enjoy a conversation and a cup of coffee. The two go hand in hand.

I have been learning considerably more than I expected about myself here in Costa Rica, such as my tendency to choose catching up on schoolwork over lunch with a friend. Here however, the acute emphasis on relationships trumps the imagined necessity of “all work no play”. This unique mindset has infiltrated my own way of thinking. Above all, I am learning to prioritize in new ways, not shirking the responsibilities of school and other commitments but simply realizing that I can make time for whatever I deem important. Because of this, relationships have naturally elevated to the top of my priority list. Though I’ve only known my ISA group for close to two months, most of us agree that we feel like we’ve been friends for years. This newly found appreciation for cultivating relationships has allowed for numerous occasions such as sharing an inside joke with a classmate, being able to talk to my professor about what’s happening in my life (that is not normal for me in the states), and even swapping life stories with a taxi driver as we wait in the congested traffic of San José.

Coffee. Yes, it contains caffeine, which is a common catalyst for energy, but here, it serves equally as a catalyst for the intangible: friendships, culture and life. This idea of “coffee culture” is something I hope to carry with me back to the states and infuse into my every day life there.

Stop and smell the coffee. #thisiscostarica

Author: alexsomborn

Hey there, I'm Alex.

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