Let me be clear: After over a year in Nicaragua, I can say that it is not a paradise on earth. Au contraire.
It isn't so much the prevalence of thieves, beggars, and mangy dogs that rankle me, but the fact that these seem to be an accepted part of the landscape. This is not to say that most Nicaraguans are thieves or beggars, but that many Nicaraguans just shrug their shoulders at such things; it's merely part of life here, or so it seems. Stray dogs that wander in and out of churches and homes and businesses are routinely ignored, their unbidden presence taken in stride, like that of houseflies or cockroaches. Neighborhood children make a habit of begging from total strangers, with some of them routinely swiping things from their neighbor's yard or house; it's often just laughed at. It is not at all surprising that many of them continue their thieving and beggaring as adults, and that the beggaring is usually opportunistic and dishonest. Nor is it surprising to routinely encounter petty cheating and skullduggery among relatively respected businesses. Such businesses are in the minority, and are easily avoided after the first petty theft. And one just learns to keep one's doors locked when unattended, and to keep tabs on small stealable articles.
Now, I am quite well practiced in the art of opposing my surrounding culture, so I am not inclined to passively accept these things as normative. What's wrong is wrong even if everyone is doing it. I must live with the situation, but i will not be pressured or coerced into merrily accepting it. I do not subscribe to the axiom to "do as the Romans do".
Nor should I neglect to mention the positive aspects of life in Nicaragua. In contrast to stray dogs, I find the presence of other animals here quite appealing. The frequent clip-clop of a cowboy riding his horse past my house, the cattle and pigs and chickens kept by my neighbors, are all in fine relief to the relative sterility of the American scene which characterized most of my life. The songs of tropical birds are a cheery part of my mornings now. Perhaps most charming of all are the harmless little lizards that dart about on my walls, often stopping to look at me as I sit at my desk. The beauty of the northern woods has been replaced by tropical mountain vistas. And I have found it very easy to adjust to a habit of fresh fruit from the market all year long.
But the nuisance of the stray dogs and the ameliorizations of the above paragraph are of little consequence. I must maintain my sanity in the face of culturally accepted dishonesty. And that is best achieved by putting it into proper perspective.
I am living now in a place where petty thievery and dishonest beggary, while not practiced by most folks, are largely accepted as almost a normal and inescapable part of life. That's not good. I have recently come from a culture where abortion and sodomy, while not practiced by most folks, are largely accepted as a normal and inescapable part of life, and are sanctioned by the state. That's worse. Pick your poison.