(Hannah’s Note: Ellen and I are on a boat from Panama to Colombia! We wrote a few extra posts to keep you entertained while we are gone – we should be back online on December 22nd or 23rd.)

One of the things I’ve really enjoyed about Costa Rica is the constant communication between drivers using car horns. In Canada, you only use your horn when you have something really important to say. You honk it loudly when someone is about to hit you and hasn’t seen you, or to show your anger at someone who did something stupid like drive into the intersection and get stuck there when the light has changed. Or the old light honk when the guy in front you hasn’t seen the light change. Of course you might toot at friends or someone waving signs on the side of the road, but the horn is something reserved for relatively serious situations, and it’s sort of frowned upon to use it too frequently, or else you might come across as rude. (Typical Canadian thinking, I’m sure.)

Here, you use your horn for absolutely everything. I haven’t spent a lot of time on the road here, but every time I take a bus or get in a car I’m blown away by how many situations call for horn honking here. In San Jose, taxi drivers are renowned for constantly leaning on their horn to convince traffic in general to go faster. They don’t appear to be honking at anyone in particular, just getting out their frustration that they aren’t through an intersection yet or that there is such a long line up to make a turn. Most people don’t go for the loud insistent honking here though, they use a few little friendly toots for pretty much every situation. If you’re overtaking, you honk a bit to let the guy know that he shouldn’t try to pull into the lane. The other driver honks back in acknowledgement. If you’re going around a blind corner, you honk to let an oncoming car know that you’re there.

This taxi in Panama tooted its horn at me to ask if I needed a ride.

This taxi in Panama tooted its horn at me to ask if I needed a ride.

Motorcyclists honk to let people know that they’re pulling onto the curb to bypass traffic, or more commonly, driving down the middle of the road on the yellow line, honking to let drivers know they’re coming. When the road is too narrow for two cars to pass, and one has to precariously drive into the ditch to let the other by, both drivers honk as if to congratulate each other on a job well done. You honk when you see someone else do something dangerous, you honk to thank someone for letting you in after merging… it just goes on and on.

Of course they also use honking in the same situations that we would use it, but it seems that angry loud honks aren’t really used between cars if a little friendly toot will do the trick.