Big Brother in Costa Rica?

Full name, phone number, ID, two signatures and a security guard check is what it takes to buy $7 headphones in Costa Rica. And why? Probably for more than one reason.

My headphones adventure began when I decided to accompany my friend to the mall after her Mac laptop broke for moral support. Before trudging to the off-brand Apple store, “iCon,” we made a pit stop at the Costa Rican version of Best Buy for some headphones.

The following series of somewhat disturbing events had nothing to do with my confrontational attitude or taste in headphones. I merely wanted some cheap new headphones since my previous pair was so worn out that one earbud no longer worked while the other barely squeaked out music at full volume. And thus, I knew it was time for new ones.

After picking out the “pink fashion earbuds” (aka the cheapest ones), I realized I could not just pick them off the shelf. Why? All the headphones were in a plastic locked box so that they couldn’t be stolen (a common theme in Costa Rica).

Therefore, my friend waved over an employee and informed him that we wanted to buy a pair of headphones. He picked up all six pairs of headphones in the locked plastic box and carried them over to a customer service counter.

After extracting exactly one pair from the box, he then asked me to write down my name and phone number on a sheet of paper similar to the one I filled out to buy a phone. My name was not a problem, but things became a little awkward when I explained in broken Spanish that I lost my phone and that my friend would write down her number. He gave us a weird glance before escorting the official paper and us to the cash register.

h2Then, the employee at the counter looked down at the paper, gave me a confused glance and asked my name. I repeated “Paige Jones,” to which he gave me a puzzled look and searched the paper for my name. Not understanding that was a name, I started making hand motions like a book and pointing to the paper while my friend tried to spell out my name in Spanish.

Finally, he asked for my ID. Upon realizing “Paige Jones” was actually my name, he asked me what kind of name it was, to which I replied American (still not sure of the true origins). The lady working beside him began laughing, comprehending my name was similar to a page in a book. I smiled awkwardly, remembering the good old days when I never had to spell my name out or play pictionary for people to understand.

After finally paying $7 for my headphones, I went back to the first employee to retrieve the headphones. He then proceeded to double check my receipt before bidding me good day.

I thought by this point we were free to go, but that was not the case. Before exiting the store, a security guard reviewed my receipt, looked at my headphones, and had me sign a receipt.

The entire process took about 15 minutes, but it seemed to silly to have so much security and official paperwork for $7 headphones. Needless to say, they were worth it, but this excursion has made me a little skeptical and even paranoid of electronics in Costa Rica. My deep understanding of George Orwell’s “1984” novel thanks to 10th grade English not only fueled  this skepticism, but made me wonder, is Big Brother listening? In which case, I hope he’s ready for some “Vamos a la Playa” on repeat.

international student voice paige jones

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