Every now and then something happens here that really shows up how different life in Costa Rica is from life in New Zealand or Canada.
Speaking as I was of maids in the last post, I was reminded of a conversation I had with a friend recently. She's getting married soon and has been giving serious thought to the subject of house work and servants. She told me that her fiance's mother had taught him to wash and clean because she wanted him to be able to look after himself. My friend's family has always had a live-in maid, so she's not so self-reliant and is pleased that at least one of them will know what to do. But her biggest house management question is whether to have a live-in maid, or someone who comes in every weekday and on Saturday mornings if there's a party planned, but goes home at night. She figures a live-in would only be necessary if she has a baby and wants help during the night. Upper class Costa Ricans have maids and nannies as a matter of course, and why not if labour is cheap and plentiful. I just can't imagine doing it myself though. I would be uncomfortable having someone in my house all the time and unwilling to have someone else caring for my baby. And I'd find weird (a bit Victorian even) to have a servant, someone who lives on the margins of my life but whose own life is much less comfortable.
I had another moment of culture shock not long after I arrived. My Ob/Gyn drove me to the hospital after I miscarried – my first experience of real Costa Rican driving. I was having a thoroughly discombobulating and strange day anyway but the drive added a surreal touch to it. We went out to the car, a late-model, leather-upholstered, wooden-dashed Jaguar it was, and found a whole gang of people washing it by hand. Dr Urcuyo waved them off and we roared off downtown. The doctor drove like a Tico, fast and erratic, while talking to me about the D&E he was going to perform on me, answering his pager (he had two women in labour waiting for him at the hospital), and talking on his cellphone. At one point an elderly man stepped out on the street in front of us. Dr Urcuyo kept on talking and driving, ignoring the man entirely. The pedestrian had to skip across the road pretty smartly; the front bumper only missed him by a few inches. My heart rate rose appreciably, but no one else seemed at all fazed. I guess they both knew that it was the pedestrian's responsibility to get out of the way and that the car wasn't going to slow down.
If you tried driving like that in Vancouver the pedestrians would come after you with guns. I watched a guy beat and kick at a car on Robson Street because it was stopped halfway across a pedestrian crossing and he had to swerve slightly to walk past it. Made me nervous about driving there because who hasn't occasionally gotten caught on a crossing when the light changes just as you reach the intersection, or before you can make your left-hand turn?