When we first moved to Costa Rica in 1999, my son Neil was 11 years old and my daughter Hannah was 15. In those early days, after coming home from a visit to the town center, maybe to the grocery store or whatever, they would complain “Dad, why do they stare?”
The answer was and is “because they are Ticos.”
One of the major reasons that I chose to move to a foreign land with my family was that we, as a family, would learn another culture & language. Well, I’m happy to say that it worked. We learned a language and a culture, but lord knows it wasn’t all smooth sailing.
It really helps to keep in mind the objective: that of learning a new culture. That way when things are different, we can tell ourselves: “that’s why I came here.” The problem is that sometimes different equates to strange and uncomfortable.
The eye contact thing was something that, for me, took a little getting used to, and even more so for my kids. In time we all have come to appreciate it. In Costa Rica you always acknowledge the presence of the other person, whether it be driving along a dirt road and passing a guy walking along, or in the grocery store as you walk past the stocker.
I think that my gringo, privacy-loving heart, is a little afraid that if I engage with this person, they will take a bunch of my time, or need something from me. I think that it was somewhere right about the 200th greeting – the 200th greeting that happened for the simple love of the greeting, I began to accept it. Touch base, say hello, share a good feeling and move on with your day.