Costa Ricans’ unique traits derive from a profoundly conscious self-image, which orients much of their behavior as both individuals and as nation. The Costa Ricans feel distinct from their neighbors by their “whiteness” and relative lack of indigenous culture. Ticos identify themselves first and foremost as Costa Ricans and only Central Americans or Latin Americans, as an afterthought.
Costa Ricans regardless of wealth or status are used to act with utmost humility and boasting of any kind is usually frowned upon. The rise of a young, self-conscious nouveau riche is changing all this. Fortunately, it remains true to say that the behavior and comments of most Ticos are dictated to quedar bier, a desire to leave a good impression. Like the English people, they are terribly frightened of embarrassing themselves, of appearing rude, vulgar or unhelpful. And this might lead to somewhat hipocritical comments on their part: “Nice hairdo”, while thinking the complete opposite.
In Costa Rica violence of any kind is extremely rare. The religious fervor common in Mexico and Central America is also unknown. It has been said that the law-abiding Ticos respect and have faith in their laws, and the state institution; but worrying statistics on theft and crime suggest the apparition of a different type of tico, heavily influenced by what is becoming a globalized culture of violence. In fact a distaste for anything that impinges on their liberty or that of the nation is just about the only thing that will make Ticos furious. Attempts to modernize the police force, for example, bring floods of editorial columns and popular outrage protesting for militarism.
Democracy is Costa Rica’s most treasured institution, and the ideal of personal liberty is strongly cherished. Costa Ricans are very proud of their accomplishments in this area and show it on the eve of the Independence Day, when the whole nation comes to a halt and everyone sings the national anthem.
Many old virtues and values have faltered under the onslaught of foreign influence, modernity, and social change. Drunkenness, drug abuse, and a general idleness previously unknown in Costa Rica have intruded. And theft and burglary are seriously on the rise. But most Costa Ricans remain very strongly oriented around traditional values based on respect for oneself and the others, tolerance being one of the most characteristic traits. The corner stone of society is still the family and the village community. Social life still centers on the home and family, bonds are so strong that sons and daughters do not see a need to leave the home until they marry. Nepotism is common, but government attacks on corruption has thwarted it a bit. You can generally count on Tico’s loyalty but don’t count on his punctuality.