Costa Ricans in Wisconsin: Focus on the little things

ticos4thAfter curiously perusing the aisles of Miller and Son’s supermarket, the Costa Rican crew settled on some familiar cans of pop and headed for the check out.  They bought the drinks and just as they were about to leave, one of them remembered to ask the cashier for straws.

“The straws are located in aisle 10.” She replied politely.

There was an awkward pause punctuated only by the beeping of the check out machines where the cashier may have been thinking: “Why did he ask for straws after he paid?” while the Costa Ricans were definitely wondering “Why won’t she just give me a straw?” In Costa Rica, when you buy a can or bottle of pop at the supermarket, they usually give you a complementary straw. After talking up the friendly, hometown service at Miller’s, this was a difficult one to explain and it was one of many among other surprises my Costa Rican family would encounter on their 10-day quest through the Midwest.

I first began traveling to Costa Rica in 2006 and after experiencing the hospitality and kindness of the Costa Ricans, it has always been my dream to share that same experience with a Costa Rican in Wisconsin.  That dream became a reality last fall when guest writer Bernal Blanco shared his one month experience in Verona.  This time, however, would be different.

In January, I married my lovely Costa Rican wife. I knew I was marrying into a large family, but  wasn’t exactly sure of its proportions.  I found out fast as word got out that my wife and I were planning a trip to Wisconsin.I had invited the in-laws, but before long aunts, uncles, and cousins came calling to see if they could get in on the experience too.  In the end, there were eight of us and a ten-month-old infant.

I’m sure this had a lot to do with safety in numbers.  Costa Ricans are known to travel in packs. To given you an idea, San José – the capital city of Costa Rica – is 60 minutes by bus from San Ramon and my 27 year old wife has never gone there by herself.  If she can’t go with her parents or a friend, she won’t go. The majority of our family travelers didn’t have passports and had never been on a plane before. As you can see, telling someone here that they don’t get out much really takes on a whole new meaning.

The “pack” mentality became apparent when we decided to cram all of us into one large vehicle to visit Minnesota instead of dividing up into two comfier cars and even more apparent when the whole group spent one gleeful night on air mattresses in my parent’s living room.  For them seeing the sights, hearing the sounds, and smelling the smells—- both good and bad—- together, are what makes the experience special for them.

I knew this coming in and I had repeatedly pledged to keep the trip simple. We did spend close to 10 hours in Target and Walmart and we may be responsible for the uptick in sales at the Verona St. Vincent de Paul store, but even I overestimated when purchasing water park tickets for the group.

I had envisioned screams of fear and excitement as they experienced the water park rides, but in reality, I was only able to get half the group to go into the water. The other half were content hanging out at the hotel and relaxing.  I even got passes to the indoor/outdoor water park so they couldn’t say it was too cold outside, but nonetheless, my raging river idea went over a little more like a trickling stream.  I soon realized that I had been going for the big impression when they were looking for the little things.  Watching the squirrels run around

xinia mower
She’s a natural…

the yard, seeing the ducks at the park, and riding our lawnmower were just some of the small details that they really enjoyed.

For them, the most fascinating mystery of my hometown was how anything survived the winter.  Being from a tropical country where plants bloom year-round, they were particularly perplexed by this dormant period. “Where do the squirrels and birds go?  Do you have to replant the grass every year?  What about the farm animals?  What about the cows? Does their milk freeze?”

What about the cows? Well, a trip to Wisconsin wouldn’t be complete without a dairy farm visit.  Cattle and dairy farming are very common in Costa Rica and if you have even 15 cows, We took them to a local farm where approximately 600 cows are milked three times a day and I was finally able to impress them with something BIG. The level of efficiency, organization, and calculated production that happens in our local agricultural industry is something that doesn’t exist in Costa Rica.

In the end, the little things always win us over. Seeing the awe and appreciation for our small corner of the world through the eyes of my Costa Rican in-laws was definitely the best part and even if they couldn’t get straws at the supermarket, they had the experience of learning to drink from a can.