Loading Praxis Center site...
Coffee Break

Coffee Break

All my life, I hated the taste of coffee. Even through college, I resisted being one of the many students who were coffee or caffeine dependent. But after only two weeks in Costa Rica, I have learned to like coffee. I suppose when coffee is fed to you in the morning, again during morning coffee break, then during afternoon coffee break, and sometimes even with dinner, you have no choice but to start enjoying it. And a lot of sugar helps!

Indeed, Ticos like their coffee! But the cultural tradition of the ‘coffee break’ is about more than this rich drink. The coffee break is a cultural expression of Costa Rica’s community culture.  In a community culture, there is a greater commitment to relationships than there is to work or to other obligations. Everyday in Costa Rica, there is at least one break sometime around 3:00 pm for people to get coffee and to develop relationships with the people around them. At work, the time is spent getting to know co-workers. In school, sometimes we have multiple coffee breaks throughout the day in order to break up 3 hour long classes and to talk about life with other students. When I have spent coffee break at home with my Tico family, I have found the coffee break is a greater family event than even dinner is. Everyone sits together and talks during coffee break, while the same may not be true of dinner.

I very much enjoy the community culture of Costa Rica, but it is very different from the culture that I come from in the United States. In the United States, work is done first while relationships happen second. At first, I thought that business in the United States was more efficient because of this priority. Maybe this is true, but having seen business in a place with a community-oriented culture like Costa Rica, I would challenge that idea a little bit. The idea here, is that doing work with others is easier when you have a relationship with them and have established trust. And I have seen this to be true. It is not as if work doesn’t get done!

Confronted with this different way of life, I do wonder if the different priorities of the community-oriented culture is better than the priorities in my home culture in some ways. When every business transaction is also about the relationships with other people, I tend to think that those transactions would be more enjoyable and could result in new friendships. Overall, we end up with a population that is more happy at work, and each person has more friends to speak of. Finally, the community is more connected on the whole. There is a reason Costa Rica is one of the happiest countries in the world! So even if these priorities are not the most efficient way to run a business, would this be justified by the fact that the people are more happy? In this war between happiness and efficiency, it seems to me that while Costa Rica has chosen happiness,  the United States has chosen efficiency. I have seen this through my experience in college, where the amount of work that students are expected to do is ever increasing and a great importance is given to a student’s productivity. Its almost like a competition between students: who can handle the most work?

Perhaps the United Statesians can learn something about happiness from this small, central American country where everyone wants to go on vacation and where people live la pura vida, the pure life. Perhaps we can change the cultural structure that makes work separate from friends and leave little time for relationships to have a more community based culture too. But the most concrete takeaway I can give here, is try and take time to appreciate the people around you, and if you ever get the chance to visit Costa Rica, don’t miss out on spending time with the Ticos during coffee break!


29 May 2017


Kortney Cena