Tuesday, May 29, 2018

So Your Character is From Costa Rica ... Featuring Hannah Costello @ Que What Now?

It's time for this week's So Your Character is ... Post! This is a weekly segment where I interview lovely volunteers from around the world to give you a firsthand account of being a citizen of their respective country or having a disability. I'm hoping to encourage international diversity, break stereotypes, and give writers a crash course on how to write a character from these different places on our planet. If you haven't checked out last week's  So Your Character is from Hawaii ... be sure to hop on over there and give it a read!

Disclaimer: The content below may be culturally shocking to some. Each of these posts is as uncensored as possible to preserve the authenticity of the cultures of each of the interviewees.

(None of the Images are Mine)

Originally from Canada, Hannah (15) now lives on the Pacific side of Costa Rica, about half an hour inland, almost in General Valley. You can find her playing with her cats, chickens and goats, reading, or talking to her friends online. When she isn’t catching up on her homeschooling, that is. She has a twin brother, as well as a younger one, who are a constant irritation, but she loves them. She is attempting to learn Spanish through full immersion. And if you ask her what she wants to be when she grows up, she’ll say “a writer,” even though she has barely written anything. 

What do you feel is unique to your country? Landmarks? Celebrations?
The volcanoes and gorgeous beaches are obvious landmarks. There is a mountain range in the middle of the country. Mount Chirripo being the tallest of the peaks, is the only place in the country to ever receive snow, though it does not stay on the ground. Arenal and Turrialba are probably the most recognized volcanoes and the most active up until recently. Playa Ballena is a national park in Uvita (a small town on the Pacific coast) with one of the most beautiful beaches. This is one among many protected reserves and parks around the country. 

Mount Chirripo

Playa Ballena

The celebrations that I think of are the Independence Day celebrations and the indigenous Boruca tribe’s Dia De Los Diablitos, in which the young men in the tribe wear masks they make themselves, and run around the village chasing another man dressed as a bull. There are mock bullfights, which the bull always loses, to represent the fact that the Boruca tribe was never conquered by the Spanish. This is only one of seven indigenous tribes in the country. 

Tell me about your country's environment. What are some of your favorite places?
Being so close to the equator, Costa Rica does not get winter, instead, what we get is a rainy season. From May ‘til mid-November is typically cooler, more overcast and with more rainfall than the other half of the year, the dry season. Most mornings, pretty much year-round, are sunny; the sun is intense. In the dry season, the sun stays all day, most days. During the wet season, it is almost inevitable that you will get the heaviest rainfall you have ever seen, every afternoon. 

We love going to the beach, the ocean is at room temperature, and beaches here are so plentiful, they are usually near empty, unlike the crowded beaches of North America during the summer. 

I also absolutely love the city of San Isidro De El General, which is the city nearest us. It is not a tourist attraction so it is full of ticos and presents the real flow of life that you only get when you’ve been living here a while. The city has a wonderful and authentic feel to it. 

San Isidro De El General
Tell me about your country's food. What are some of your favorite dishes?
The food here is actually kind of bland, but I love it, nonetheless. 

A typical lunch or dinner dish is called a ‘casado.’ This is rice, beans, meat, vegetables, with a side of some sort (cooked plantain, ‘picadillo’, etc.). This is the typical meal for anyone, it’s what people make at home, it’s super cheap at a restaurant. In a restaurant, you can pick your meat and the vegetable will usually be a salad. At a ‘soda’ (a small, usually family-run restaurant or snack stop), you might simply order a casado and they will bring you whatever meat and vegetables they happen to have in the kitchen that day. 

A typical breakfast is ‘gallo pinto’, or simply ‘pinto’, a mix of rice and beans, spices and cilantro, served with eggs, bacon, or whatever side you want. 

Gallo pinto
My favorite snacks here are empanadas (a corn-flour pancake, filled with beans, cheese, or meat, folded and sealed into a pocket, and deep-fried), and patacones (plantain bananas which are deep-fried, squashed into pancakes, deep-fried again, and used as chips). 
‘Lizano’ is the name of the sauce used as a seasoning in everything, including pinto. 

Tell me about any different speech patterns in your country. Slang? Idioms? Words for things such as “biscuits” instead of “cookies”?
People here call themselves ‘ticos.’ I have read that this originated from the word ‘hermantico’ which means ‘little brother,’ in this way, everyone in the country is affectionately called brothers and sisters. Ticos like to add the suffix ‘-ito’ to things, making them ‘little.’ ‘Agua’ (water) becomes ‘aguita’, ‘ahora’ (now) becomes ‘ahorita.’ This does not change the meaning of the words, usually, it just makes them more affectionate and slang-y. 
The word ‘maƱana’ literally translates to ‘tomorrow,’ but here is just means, ‘not today,’ any time in the near future is acceptable. Same goes for ‘ahora’ meaning ‘now.’

The language here is much faster, slurrier, and slangier than the Spanish spoken in Spain. Spaniards enunciate more clearly and speak more formally than ticos do. If you tried to speak Costa Rican Spanish to a Spaniard, they would likely not understand what you were saying, or at least not all of it. You would have to slow down and enunciate more properly, as well as use more of the formal forms of words. 

Describe briefly a regular day in your country.
The sun rises at about five or five-thirty here, so everyone is up then, or before. School and work start at seven or eight. Dinner is around five or six (when the sun goes down), which is usually a casual family event, children, siblings, and neighbors can all show up for a snack and a drink and conversation. 

Sunday’s are family days. Most people go to church (it’s a highly Catholic country, though of course other religions are represented) in the morning and spend the day with extended family, eating and talking, etc. Houses are multigenerational, with grandparents living with the families (not always, of course), and the country, like most, has a very patriarchal history, so often women are expected to stay home to tend children, clean and cook, while men go off to work or out into the farm. There are now plenty of women in the workforce, but this situation still happens, especially in small communities.

Some of the people who live in small villages do not have cars and will walk the long distance to the city. Or they will catch a bus or hitchhike. If they are not walking to the city, they are likely walking to their farms, to tend the food and animals growing there. 

How does your country compare to others, especially the States since my audience is primarily American? Environmentally? Politically? Culturally?
Ticos have a strong emphasis on appearance. You see a lot of gelled or dyed hair, bright makeup, tight clothes, heels. There is less discrimination about actual body shape/size, how you actually look, and more emphasis on how you decide to present yourself. There is a wide variety of body types here, but they are all beautiful. 

There is huge respect for family here, and pretty much everywhere in the world other than North America. Children are welcome almost anywhere. The airports here have a priority line for handicaps and families, so that small children aren’t stuck forever waiting to go through customs. 

Costa Rica has no army. There is honestly no reason for the country to be attacked. All funds that might have gone to the military have been directed to education and healthcare. This has resulted in Costa Rica having the highest literacy rate in Latin America, and prescription drugs being cheaper and more readily available. Except Advil is only available in a pharmacy and in limited quantities. 

Costa Rica is super eco-friendly and making significant efforts to go green. 

Briefly describe three of your country’s historical events that you feel are important.
September 15th, 1821. Costa Rica’s independence from Spain. This day is celebrated every year with fireworks the night before, and parades of school children in traditional dress dancing playing instruments and carrying the national flag. 

February 2010. The first female president in Costa Rica, Laura Chinchilla, is elected. This was the year I first traveled to Costa Rica and we were actually here during this election. I was young and didn’t understand the importance then, but I do now, as this is something the United States has not yet managed to accomplish. 

2021. Costa Rica has pledged to become a completely carbon-neutral country in this year, and they are currently on track to accomplish this goal. (This isn’t really history, but it could be if you were writing a story set in the future, I feel like it will be important.)

Laura Chinchilla
What are some stereotypes about your country that irk you? What media portrays your country badly be it a movie, a book, or a TV show?
Latin America as a whole has a reputation for being poor and criminal. People traveling seem to assume that they cannot have money on them, or look wealthy because they will be robbed and/or hurt. Women ask if it will be safe to travel alone. 

These are valid concerns when traveling anywhere, but here, just as in any other country, there are good and bad people, and there are different circumstances. However, Costa Rica is consistently ranked among happiest countries in the world.

In our experience (no research included):

If you seem wealthy and you leave something of value out, you obviously don’t need it and it becomes fair game. Petty theft is a big problem here, but armed robbery or burglary is much less so. Men will catcall women on their own, but they are respected and are less likely to be hurt than they would be in the States. Family is respected and children are safe, parents of small children are safe. People here are very welcoming and nice, as long as you are being respectful to them; learning a small bit of Spanish before traveling will take you a long way in the ticos’ eyes. 

What media portrays your country well be it a movie, a book, or a TV show?
I honestly have not sought out media specific to this country, so I am not a good person to ask. I think that it is probably an underrepresented culture in media, though. 

The only books/movies that I know of that take place in Costa Rica is Jurrasic Park and all its sequels. These do not spend a lot of time discussing the people of the country, and only slightly more the environment, being as the focus is on the dinosaurs, but I do not think that they portray it badly. Except for the sad lack of dinosaurs actually existing here. 

Who are your top three favorite fictional characters native to your country in books, movies, or shows?
I honestly don’t know of any. You would have to do your own research here. 

Thank you, Hannah, for this very informative post! Come back next week for a post all about Denmark!

Are you interested in participating in this project? Check out the tips archive to see which countries have been filled and if you're from a different country, shoot me an email at howellvictoriagrace(a)gmail(dot)com. I'm especially looking for Cuba, Venezuela, Switzerland, Zimbabwe, and Iraq.

Do you have any characters from Costa Rica? Did this inspire you to write a Costa Rican character or set a book in Costa Rica? Are from this or been to this country and you have further input? Feel free to share! Do you have any questions for Hannah? Be sure to thank her!

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