Welcome to Costa Rica, the most advanced third-world country you’ve ever or never visited. CR has a very high literacy rate, no army, very little violent crime and a culture of graciousness. People here are very proud of their status in Central America and of their first-rate medical care and symbols of modernity: new shopping malls, hotels, and cinemas. The problem is that they are still holding on to old systems and ways of thinking: Whereas they have embraced technology, a large portion of their workforce is engaged in doing make-work, bureaucratic jobs which are, or should be, obsolete.
When I purchase something in a store with computerized registers, the machine at the cash register scans the chip in my card. So far, so good. Then, the cashier prints out a duplicate of my receipt and scotch-tapes it into a little notebook (!), while another person comes over and opens the box containing my purchase and examines every item inside (cord, batteries, etc.), without using a parts checklist, before repacking the box (!!). It appears that management is unaware of the store’s computer system’s ability to back up and generate sales reports; and the official box-opener has repacked my items incorrectly and increased the chances that something will break before I get it home. It is at times like this that it’s best to take the anthropological view and pretend you’re observing the private, if odd, ritual of a secret society. And whatever you do, NEVER express frustration or annoyance; respect is very important here.
The good new is that, when the transaction is done, they always smile and say “Con gusto” and “Pura Vida.”