Posted by: ramblinmanjimj | December 8, 2008

The Freedom to be Unpretentious

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I found this interesting post on A Costa Rica Blog at
http://www.costa-rica-guy.com/blog/?p=160″
365 Reasons I Love Costa Rica

Reason #30: The Freedom to be Unpretentious

Pretentious is defined by Webster’s Dictionary a couple of ways. My favorite is the one that is “expressive of affected, unwarranted, or exaggerated importance, worth, or stature.” I realize that I am often critical of society in the U.S. There may be someone who reads this that is put off by that. After all, I am from the U.S. and I guess in many ways I am guilty of being the pot who called the kettle black. Yes, I admit that I am often guilty of pretentiousness myself. It is a way of denying (to the world and to myself) how average and unheroic I really am. My frequent observation of those from the U.S. that try to make the cultural transition to life in Costa Rica, is that their pretentiousness is not so much in trying to be someone they are not (that is what they do at home among friends). It is in trying too hard to convey that they are from a place that is far better off economically and that that puts them in a superior position vis a vis the rest of the world. The attitude of “looking down” and “talking down” to anyone who does not speak, look, dress, smell, or act just like they do. The truth is that where you were born, or where you went to school, or what you scored on the SAT, your socio-economic position or any number of other such “feathers in your cap” do not make you better than the next person. They only make your experience of life different. Whenever I feel I must don my own “feathery cap of pretentiousness” I believe that is just me trying to draw attention away from my unlimited human inadequacies. And we are all human.

My experience of Latin America has largely been limited to my time here in Costa Rica and frequent visits to other countries such as Nicaragua, Panama and Colombia. With noted exceptions, usually from those of the “higher classes,” the society here is decidedly unpretentious. Costa Ricans are quite comfortable being exactly who they are socially, economically, morally and in every other way. There is not a sense, at least I don’t feel it, of having to “keep up with the Joneses.” “Political correctness” (another subtle form of pretentiousness in my view) is also not in vogue here. I have to admit that that aspect of the culture and society of the U.S. keeps me here. I detest it. Here you can be poor and proud of it. What you have, materially speaking, is not the measuring stick of what you are “worth” and that is refreshing. Is that 100% true in all cases? No and especially not in certain areas of San Jose, where U.S. culture and influence are very strong. But San Jose is not Costa Rica and by and large outside of the social and business scene of this city, there is a liberating lack of pretentiousness. No one is going to judge you by what kind of car you drive, or job you have, or how big your house is. They will judge you by how big of a smile you wear and whether you know how to be polite and, especially, based on your humility. It feels good to be free from all that pretentiousness. Life is too short to live it trying to be someone else. Being unpretentious means having the ability to laugh at yourself. It is to have an awareness of who you are and to be comfortable in being just that person. In Costa Rica you are free to be yourself as long as you let others do the same.

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