CultureShock! Costa Rica by Clarie Wallerstein is a refreshingly informative analysis of the history, customs, and culture of Costa Rica. While it covers much of the basic history that is repeated by relocation guides, it connects historical events to its social implications.
The approach reveals in detail the “idiosincrasia” that is uniquely Costa Rican. For example, Clarie goes into detail about how the lack of large indigenous populations meant that settlers needed to provide their own labor.
All but abandoned by Spain, by the early 18th century they were using cacao beans as currency (as the Chorotegas had traditionally done) and fashioning clothes out of goat hair and tree bark.
Wallerstein, Claire (2011-01-01). CultureShock! Costa Rica (Kindle Locations 418-419). Marshall Cavendish. Kindle Edition.
Clarie also deals with the tenancy of many tour guides to slant the positive aspects a bit too much.
While it is clear that everyone was pretty much poor , however, such rose-tinted analysis ignores the fact that there was racial segregation and social distinctions, based on the Spanish class system.
Wallerstein, Claire (2011-01-01). CultureShock! Costa Rica (Kindle Locations 441-442). Marshall Cavendish. Kindle Edition.
The history lesson continues, and does a great job of explaining how the current political situation is shaped by the Latin American economic troubles of the 1980s, and Costa Rica’s 1981 default on sovereign debt. She explains how President Oscar Arias brokered a peace deal with Nicaragua and how the politics in that country and the United States have influenced Costa Rica’s otherwise, unique political system.
German sociologist Ilse Leitinger, who has worked in the country for more than half a century, said, “Costa Rica must be the only place on the planet where you can see cars leaving polling stations on election day full of smiling people waving the flags of opposing parties out of each window.”
Wallerstein, Claire (2011-01-01). CultureShock! Costa Rica (Kindle Locations 632-634). Marshall Cavendish. Kindle Edition.
The book of course is not all about history and politics. A good deal is dedicated to food and subjects of enjoyment in Costa Rica. However, I rate the book highly for it’s explanation how history affects attitudes and beliefs. Many other books try to explain the things that make Costa Rica unique, but fail to provide such a perceptive view of the how and why things are the way they are.