Every nationality has its own sense of identity. Costa Ricans have their own unique traits that derive from a profoundly conscious self-image which orients much of their behavior as both individuals and as a nation. The Ticos--the name is said to stem from the colonial saying "we are all hermaniticos (little brothers)"--feel distinct from their neighbors by their "whiteness" and relative lack of indigenous culture. Ticos identify themselves first and foremost as Costa Ricans and only Central Americans, or even Latin Americans, as an afterthought.
They're extremely critical of themselves, as individuals and as a society. Costa Ricans, too, regardless of wealth or status, act with utmost humility and judge as uncouth boasting of any kind. A desire to leave a good impression. Like the English, they're terribly frightened of embarrassing themselves, of appearing rude or vulgar (tactless and crude people are considered "badly educated") or unhelpful. As such, they are exceedingly courteous, almost archaically so (they are prone, for example, to offer flowing compliments and formal greetings). It is a rare visitor to the country who returns home unimpressed by the Costa Ricans' celebrated cordial warmth and hospitality.
Ticos are also as tranquil as doves. Violence of any kind is extremely rare. The religious fervor common in Mexico and the Central American isthmus is unknown. And the law-abiding Ticos respect and have faith in their laws, their police force, and state institutions (except, it seems, on the roads). In fact, a distaste for anything that impinges on their liberty or that of their nation is just about the only thing that will make their hackles rise. Attempts to modernize the police force, for example, bring floods of editorial columns and popular outrage protesting "militarism."
Democracy is their most treasured institution, and the ideal of personal liberty is strongly cherished. Costa Ricans are intensely proud of their accomplishments in this arena and show it at 6 p.m. on each 14 September, on the eve of Independence Day, when the whole nation comes to a halt and everyone gustily sings the national anthem.
A progressive people, Ticos revere education. "We have more teachers than soldiers" is a common boast and framed school diplomas hang in even the most humble homes. Everyone, too, is eager for the benefits of social progress. Sociologists, however, suggest that Costa Ricans are very conservative people, suspicious of experimentation that is not consistent with a loosely held sense of "tican tradition". Changes, too, supposedly should be made poco a poco, little by little. Ticos share the fatalistic streak common to Latin America: one that accepts things as they are and promotes resignation to the imagined will of God.
Many old virtues and values have faltered under the onslaught of foreign influence, modernity, and social change. Drunkenness, drug abuse, and a general idleness previously unknown in Costa Rica have reared their ugly heads. And theft and burglary are seriously on the rise. But most Costa Ricans remain strongly oriented around traditional values based on respect for oneself and for others. The cornerstone of society is still the family and the village community. Social life still centers on the home and family bonds are so strong that foreigners often find making intimate friendships a challenge. Nepotism--using family ties and connections for gain--is the way things get done in business and government.