People Differences: U.S., Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Guatemala

People Differences: U.S., Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Guatemala

First, my disclaimer: This is not and certainly cannot be anything beyond opinion based on my personal experiences with input from friends and my interpretation of observations of others. I am only writing this because it is one of the most common questions I get. Maybe it will help you do your own research.

First, I want to address the U.S. side. I have personally seen bigger differences between people in Los Angeles, Seattle, Richland, New York and Atlanta than between people in the U.S. and those of Central America. If you are Spanish/English bilingual you will probably see this as well.

My first Central American experiences (visits and, eventually, living there) was Costa Rica. On the positive site, Costa Rica will "feel" more like the U.S. in many ways. One of them is a sense of superiority over others in Central America. This goes way beyond personal observation. The book The Ticos documents this. I have described Costa Rica as "Gringolandia in Spanish".

That said, I spent most of my time in the Central Valley -- San Jose and Alajuela to be more precise. Thus it was "city life" with freeways, malls, too much traffic and such. My experiences in small towns was much more like just people without Gringolandia programming.

I moved to Costa Rica to get away from appointments, schedules, and all too much structural overhead. Costa Rica was just too much like my U.S. life to be what I needed. So, I was off to Nicaragua.

If you are familiar with the southwest U.S. here is something to help orient you. You will recognize that Mexicans are treated as the cheap labor supply for the U.S. Well, in the same way, Nicaraguans are the cheap labor supply for Costa Rica. Most are in Costa Rica illegally and send money back to their families back home. Having grown up in southern California, it was all too familiar.

As a new resident of Nicaragua I felt a breath of fresh air. Nicaraguans were generally open and not pretentious. Early on I was talking to an old Nicaraguan and asked him why, after all the U.S. intervention of the 1980s, Nicaraguans accepted Gringos. His answer surprised me. He said "we are smart enough to distinguish the actions of a government from the actions of people". It made sense but not what I expected from an old man living in little more than a shack on the outskirts of Estelí.

I loved my time with the Nicaraguan people. Generally I found people with a good sense of humor rather than the more closed attitude I experience in Costa Rica. What was wrong was the government. I understood why Sandinismo was so popular -- particularly where I lived -- but the fact that pretty much nothing could get done unless you were part of the clan was a serious issue. Everything you tried to do had was too many political bridges to cross. Even getting Citizenship -- something that should have taken a couple of months -- stretched out to over two years. While I had only been in Guatemala for less than half an hour (changing planes) in my life this inefficiency is what inspired me to look into an alternative.

When I went to Guatemala I had only intended to get residency. In Nicaragua your permanent residency must be renewed every five years and that renewal includes new original copies of all the documents you needed when you first applied for residency. In contrast, permanent in Guatemala means permanent so I decided it was worth the effort. But, something changed.

Maybe it was I who changed but I saw Guatemala as having a lot of the good things of Nicaragua -- specifically people willing to work and with a sense of humor -- plus more. On the "more" list are:

  • Much of Guatemala is at elevations of 1000 meters and more. What that means is nice temperatures in most of the country.
  • A government that came closer to being functional. That is, you didn't need a tattoo of Sandino on your butt in order to get things.
  • If you needed to go to Guatemala City for something (like your residency paperwork) you went to a place with decent weather instead of an oven like Managua.

I decided to move to Guatemala in 2012 and have been here ever since. My experiences have not been all good but they weren't all good in Nicaragua, Costa Rica or even California. It's certainly the best option I have experienced in my life.