After the remodeling contract was signed between us and the contractor and House Hunters International Renovations in the rear-view mirror, it was time to get started.
We had many plans and remodeling projects that we were intent that would eventually yield to us our dream home.
I made that 30-plus minute commute from our rental house to our new home to be on hand that first day. I took my lunchbox, a list of translated construction terms, a Spanish dictionary, and a portable radio in hand.
Work progressed on our remodeling: major repairs, changes, and additions over almost four months. And, I am proud to say that I was there every day with the crew. There were only a few exceptions. I had very well-placed intentions to be alongside the crew when they started each day including the many half days on Saturdays.
However, since the start time at the job site for them was 6:00 AM, I must admit that they had a start on the day’s action by my arrival at 7:00 or 7:30 each day. After all, folks, I was supposed to be retired. My wife was left at home all day without transportation and with two dogs, one still a puppy new to our household. She was the person who suffered the most during my all-day commutes to the construction site.
I had seen the contractor’s work and had high confidence in his abilities. I had to be there every day to make certain that nothing got lost in translation, quite literally. Everyone who has been through similar construction and renovation projects insisted on this.
It proved to be excellent advice, even in the latter stages of our projects. My contractor spoke no English and I spoke almost no Spanish. I needed to be there because of the language barrier. I wanted to make sure my wife’s and my intentions and remodeling instructions were not misinterpreted linguistically, culturally, or by differences in construction style or standards.
My objective from the start was to be accepted as equal to the crew. I wanted to add valued suggestions and comments. Nonetheless, I didn’t want to be perceived as a meddling “ugly American” giving orders and trying to run the show. My approach from the beginning was to work alongside the men, working up a sweat, with my own set of projects. This way, I wanted to demonstrate that I had some understanding of construction, an appreciation of hard work, and hopefully, in time, gaining their trust.
We wanted to be certain that we got the right type, color, and quality of paint. Therefore, we had put into the contract that we would choose the colors and purchase the paint for the entire house. With my wife’s capable designing hand, we used eight different colors. Additionally, we needed a boatload of elastomeric paint to help cover existing and future cracks.
We bought it from a paint store in our community and an English-speaking salesman drove up on his motorcycle to estimate the quantities. The week that the work began, the paint store delivered it in their small van. We paid for it in cash or efectivo, instead of charging it on our credit card. Therefore, we received a nice discount. I chose to patch and repainting the master bathroom and closet as my first project while the crew worked elsewhere.
While I was making this effort, the crew was busy elsewhere. They were removing curtain rods, curtains, light fixtures, wall plates, etc. They started with a hammer and concrete chisel stripping the plaster that had been previously earmarked for removal.
The Spanish interpretation of “little by little my men are destroying your home” became an all-too-familiar rallying cry. But in time, it brought a smile to all of their faces and to mine as well. This remodeling work was necessary in order to restore our house to its “properly-built” stature.
The week started with hard work and good intentions. But when I saw our curtains and wooden curtain rods wrapped with duct tape and tossed on the floor in the garage, I had second thoughts. I had a sinking feeling that we had a serious learning curve in front of us.
I was able to them that duct tape wrapped around wood and fabric and laying uncovered on the floor in the garage for a long-time, would provide a very unfavorable result. A couple of the crew and I worked together to carefully remove the duct tape. Then, with one of the men, we built a curtain hanger. We attached it to a wall in the garage from what used to be the master closet wardrobe.
Then we draped the curtains over this makeshift storage rack and covered it with a new tarp.
This intersession seemed to gain me a bit of respect. It also sent a message that this new family had a certain set of standards. In actual fact, the rest of the week proceeded with my painting and patching along with their demolition and no further incidents.
Coffee & Lunch
I often continued to work through their morning and afternoon coffee breaks. Then I also ate lunch with them blending in as best I could. I always tried to treat the men as individuals and equals. I also made an attempt, when I could, to help them unload delivery trucks that frequently arrived. Or I’d pick up a tool, a shovel, or lent a hand when someone looked like they could use an extra one.
I felt the remodeling workers were not used to a gringo treat them as co-workers. Maybe they’d take extra care or effort on their projects if I’d treat them on an equal level, with respect as fellow human beings,
The author of this blog, Ticonuevo, is a US expat who moved to Costa Rica and used the services of GoDutch Realty to purchase a property in Costa Rica. In his blogs, Ticonuevo describes his own experiences of taking the step of moving to Costa Rica and getting a new life started.
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