There is not much about business etiquette in Costa Rica that will surprise or alienate global minds. Western standards generally apply throughout the board. But of course, there are some country-specific cultural mannerisms expats should be aware of in order not to offend anyone or end up in embarrassing situations.
The Costa Rican concept of personal space might take some time to adjust to, especially for North Americans and people from Central and Northern Europe. Many people, both acquaintances and strangers, will keep much less distance from you in any situation. Touching among acquaintances is also a lot more widespread in Costa Rica than it might be in your own culture. This is very normal and no cause for concern or discomfort. Just go with it, and who knows, you might come to like it!
Take some time to get to know your coworkers and colleagues. It is customary to stop and chat for a minute, even when meeting someone in passing. Family always comes first in Costa Rica, so you might want to inquire about your colleague’s family or share details about yours.
Small talk is also part of any business conversation. Do not bring up any business-related topics before your business partner does in order to not seem rude or rash. Rushing straight to the actual point or showing signs of impatience will not shed a good light on you. Again, take your time and talk a little. Topics can range from anything country-specific — nature, people, food, habits — to soccer, the nation’s favorite pastime, family, and dancing. It will be hard for you to miss that Costa Ricans love to dance and will make use of any occasion for a little display of rhythmic proficiency.
Expat women should keep in mind that machismo is still very much alive and well in Costa Rica — not only in the very traditional roles of men and women in rural areas, but also in everyday life in the big cities. Some mannerisms that would clearly be considered harassment in Western cultures are normal and accepted here.
Staring and hollering at passing women is a preferred pastime of many Costa Ricans. Advances stop at this point in the vast majority of cases, though, so there is no cause for serious concern. Still, the majority of our female readers might find this unpleasant. Unfortunately there is very little you can do about this, so it is best to just completely ignore it.
If you experience this behavior in the workplace, though, it is time to act. Confrontations and arguments are done in a fairly indirect manner in Costa Rica. Clear and direct action might confuse and irritate your coworkers. Please try to respect this, no matter how unprofessional the behavior towards you was. As in any workplace argument, it is important to bring your point across and clearly mark boundaries without blindsiding your counterpart.
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