Thursday, April 24, 2008

Facing frustrations

“The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself.” —George Bernard Shaw

“But what if a reasonable person is trying to adapt to something unreasonable?” —Me

A friend told me that in the United States one dies of stress, while here in Costa Rica one dies of frustration. We laugh about it, but there is a grain of truth to this notion. While life is markedly more hurried at home, here it’s important—if one wants to maintain some semblance of sanity—to adjust to the slower culture and adopt a more tolerant, patient attitude.

Accustomed to the efficiency of the US, I get frustrated at having a dishwasher sit on the kitchen floor for two weeks while construction workers show up at random to fix the hole in the wall—you know, the hole where the dishwasher connects to the plumbing that was installed five centimeters too high according to the plumber?

Adapting is going for nearly an entire weekend without water, which is what just happened to us—and not for the first time. Costa Rica runs on hydroelectric power, and apparently the water is sometimes shut off during the dry season to help avoid brownouts (which we have also experienced). In the US, I’d be on the phone with the water company trying to find out what’s going on and how quickly water service will resume. Here, the idea of calling with that question is nearly laughable. The water will go on when it comes on, and we just go with the flow (or lack thereof).

Remember our waiting list for a landline telephone? We’re still on the list. We honestly do not think we will ever have a landline while we are living here. I don’t like it, but I don’t dwell on it, even though cell phone service is spotty. See how well I’m adjusting?

The ultimate in aggravation is surely the lack of maps and street signs in this country. And knowing that you could stop and ask for directions and, because a Costa Rican does not want to hurt anyone’s feelings or be unhelpful, the directions you receive may be wrong.

Just when I think I’ve truly embraced the Pura Vida lifestyle, something happens—not even necessarily maddeningly frustrating, it could be something minor—and the dam of built-up frustration bursts, while my all-American self comes shining through. I share what’s bugging me with Dan or an American friend in Costa Rica and we shake our heads, commiserate, and eventually laugh at the absurdity of it all. Culture shock isn’t always the extreme sense of anxiety you might imagine; in fact, it happens routinely here to us as we go about our daily lives.

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