How do you know you’re in Central America?

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I’m settling in to a new life in Costa Rica (accounting for, but not excusing my blogging neglect). Costa Rica and Nicaragua are very different countries, and yet my life in each is strikingly similar:

  1. Daily life doesn’t feel “underdeveloped”
  2. It is not a world away from “everything else”
  3. It feels eerily similar to my prior life in yuppie NYC

How is this possible? It is because the world is grooved.

Let me give you more details. I work in a fancy office with advanced temperature control and classy art. I don’t live in a shack but a nice house with roommates. The “locals” I work with speak very faintly accented English and most have at least one family name (out of two) that sounds American, German, Eastern European, Italian, or otherwise not Spanish. The office is international and overwhelmingly white. My new friends and colleagues are fun, educated, generous, and considerate: I like these people. Everyone is well traveled and lists traveling as an “interest” on Facebook. Everyone watches Youtube while they pretend to work.

So how do I know I’m not in New York? I see it in subtle differences.

Bottles at the club cost a lot less than at Crowbar. No one does dishes – at home, in the office, anywhere. Someone else does that. The one guy with all Spanish family names lets you in on a secret: he is a direct descendant of Juan Vázquez de Coronado. No one walks – you’re almost not allowed, and the public bus… hahaha that’s funny. There are no sidewalks, which seems natural because no one you know walks. When you’re driving you try not to hit the people walking on the street but you’re not sure who these people are because they don’t look like the people you know (whom you’ve never seen walking).

Most of these differences (but not all of them) point to a more stratified society, which Central America certainly is. What I found interesting was the ease with which I could (with my new friends) sit atop that stratification and live fairly similar to a young, liberal American in New York, looking down at the other stratas (e.g. developing countries) yet being insulated in a much smaller world.

4,000 miles from all I knew in New York, the world feels close. When I see those people walking on the street, I’m sometimes reminded of great distances, glimpses lasting for one brief second.

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One Response to “How do you know you’re in Central America?”

  1. phil Says:

    Great post, Sam. Absolutely right. My one overriding observation about living abroad is how incredibly similar your world in the new world feels to your world in the old world. No matter how many thousands of miles away from home, yuppie life is yuppie life. True in Santiago, Chile (5100 miles away. True in Pretoria, South Africa (8000 miles away) . People driving the same cars, having the same lunch conversation, arguing about the same topics, going to a bar and drinking the same drinks (Yack and Coke, cachai?), dancing the same way (grind it), using the same pick-up lines, humming the same songs, eating the same food, working toward the same goals, using the same expressions (translated), sharing a similar sense of right and wrong.

    And what’s amazing is many of these people have never been out of the region or country. Nonetheless, the young, privileged and wealthy all seem to have found some gravitational center in between the sun of the United States and planet of their respective countries.

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