Alligators 'n Roadkill

Alligators 'n Roadkill
On The Road


Friday, April 23, 2010

Maybe Dorothy thinks she is still in Kansas......

I had the weirdest experience/encounter yesterday in town. I went to Arenal on my beer wagon, ‘cause I had to go to the hardware store, to get some fittings for a project I am working on…….

Now, I prefer to go to town on the scooter, ‘cause it doesn’t use much gas, and it doesn’t need any parking space (like that is a big issue in a town as small as ours). As is usual, there weren’t any cars parked in front of the Colono (Almacenes Colono), our only hardware store. So, I did what I always do, and that is that I drive in parallel to the store front, and park so that my front wheel is headed in the same direction as the traffic flow on the street out front. Then, I went inside to do my business.

(And, now, I do hate to do it to you yet again, but I have to take you aside so I can explain another curiosity of Tico life):

Just in case I haven’t mentioned this before, shopping in a hardware store is a very different experience here. As God is my witness, the following is true: Say you want to buy one screw - just one. First, you must find a clerk to help you locate said screw. Generally, you can reach into bins, onto shelves, and take things from racks, to look at, read the label, whatever. But, if you should decide that you wish to purchase this screw (#8 wood screw, brass, say), you must hand it to the clerk. The clerk and you then walk over to a real, live computer station (circa 1997), where the clerk must find said screw in the inventory, so that the price may be determined.

Then, after entering the price information, and ascertaining your identify (for the actual bill, or receipt, known here as the factura), the clerk will usually ask you if this is a cash purchase. This is important, and you quickly learn to volunteer that this is indeed a cash transaction whenever the clerk neglects to ask you. That is because the cost is less for a cash transaction than it is for any use of plastic. Their position is that the bank charges them a fee for processing any plastic transaction, so they will pass that along to you. When you think about it, this is actually preferable to the system in common use in the states, because (just in case you didn’t know this) all merchants in the states have kicked up their sales prices an additional percentage (whatever U. S. banks charge them) on each and every item they sell. And, that additional percentage is cheerfully, if somewhat blithely, paid by one and all.

Next, the clerk tells you the total cost, including taxes. You then walk over to the cashier (caja), where the information that the clerk entered will print out. You wait (in case there are other customers; not too common at Colono) until the cashier calls your name (remember, the clerk asked you for that), and the cashier tells you how much; you pay her, and she gives you your change, along with two copies of the factura, or receipt.

You then take that receipt over to another desk, where yet another clerk double- and triple-checks your receipt against the merchandise which has been carried over by the original clerk (that’s right - one lousy wood screw), and bags your purchase, and gives you the original of the receipt. So, you have dealt with three people to handle one very complete screw, er, uh, small purchase. Talk about labor intensive!

(Back to our story):

Just so we’re clear, the manner in which I parked my little scooter did actually take up two parking spaces, because the store has maybe five spaces marked, facing the front of the building.

Now, I’m in the store, talking to a helpful clerk, describing in great detail what it is that I need to do, and asking for her to wrack her brain (‘cause two are better than one, you know) to see if we can’t come up with something to solve my little problem. A gringa came up to me, and smiling very big, sort of leaned back, as if unsure of herself, and asked, “Excuse me. Is that your little red thing out front?” Now, I’m used to receiving questions, comments, and compliments on my little beer wagon, so I very brightly replied, “Why yes indeed. That is my little red thing.”

She then says, “Well next time why don’t you park so that others can find a spot, too?!” And, she proceeded to rant for some time about how inconsiderate I was, etc., etc., blah, blah, blah……. I was totally and completely flabbergasted! I was speechless! I thought to myself, “Where am I? Am I in Costa Rica? Where the HELL did she come from? Has she not spent any time here in the land of pura vida? Who is she kidding? Obviously, she doesn’t live here.” And, of course, not a single quick retort was to be found, anywhere in my cluttered mind.

Now, here’s the thing. I freely admit that I would never park like this in Dallas (not that I would ever find that many empty spaces right in front of any store). But, I also have to say that if I was the one who found that one inconsiderate person had taken two spaces, and if I was so inclined, I would start out by asking them if they could please move their vehicle, so that someone else might park. I sure as hell would not accost them inside the store, interrupting their shopping experience (and, it IS an experience here), and loudly bawl them out. On the other hand, if someone was to ask me to please move, nicely, I would have been out the door, excusing my bad manners, and moving my little scooter.

But this situation was so absurd, her manner was so out of line (for Costa Rica) as to be downright rude (imho) that all I could do was laugh, and tell her that I was certainly sorry for having parked at all. The clerk was baffled, as was another clerk, who was passing by when the gringa went into her rant. They didn’t understand what she was so mad about. I continued to laugh, as I pretty much ignored the gringa, and explained to the clerks what I was guilty of, and what had so incensed this lady. They frankly did not understand the intensity of the anger, and the male clerk said that maybe she needed the plaza, up a couple of blocks, in order to have enough room to park.

And, no, I did not go move my scooter. And, yes, when I did exit the store, I saw that the lady had found a spot to park, two spaces over from me, because there still weren’t any other vehicles in front of the store. Pura vida, mae.


  1. Anger is, generally, not part of the cultural profile here, thank goodness. The level of anger in normal life in the States, esp. on the E. Coast, can be quite offensive to Ticos. She was definitely out of line.

    Yes, most of the hardware stores here use that same search/purchase system, though some have open "stacks" so you can browse and most, once I've been to them a few times, lower the chains or ropes to let me wander around in the stock on my own. Never been in a store, though, where they called my name. It's on the computer screen already at the caja.

    The factura checking and bagging process is usually in parallel to my trip to the caja, so it's really not any more (maybe less) time consuming than standing in the checkout line at a U.S. store. In fact, line gamesmanship, while a necessary time-saving skill in the States, doesn't get used here a lot, at least for store checkouts.


  2. The lady was out of line, it's difficult to be held accountable to two sets of cultural standards at the same time.

    If it happens again just respond to her in Spanish and pretend you don't speak English.

  3. Exactly. That is precisely what I finally figured out I should time a gringo or gringa accosts me when I'm going about my business, I'll answer 'em in Spanish.

  4. oh dad!! you are a funny TICO-gringo! LOL..julio and I are cracking up!!!