J-M and I did our best to pretend we were bilingual while in Costa Rica. We tried to be somewhat discreet with our Spanish – English Dictionary, but it accompanied us everywhere. We would memorize the basics, like numbers and greetings, and then look for opportunities to practice them.
I can remember a missionary friend from Guatemala, serving in Toronto, telling me she became bilingual by learning one word a day. No problem. In our own language-training course, we were also taught that words are more easily learned by using them to describe what you are doing, as you do it. For instance, you would recite sentarse as you sit down or levantarse as you stand up.
I know that perro means dog, interchanged with the term estúpido in certain situations.
Here are some of our favourite Costa Rican Spanish words and the experiences that helped download them into our lexicon.
This phrase is specifically Costa Rican vernacular; you wouldn’t use it in the same way in, say, Brazil or Mexico. It is directly translated “Pure Life,” but is used in all sorts of ways, such as hello, you’re welcome, no problem, cool, great… This is the one Spanish phrase we learned, but chose not to practice because we didn’t feel entitled. This one is Costa Ricans Only.
This is a typical Costa Rican greeting, if not pura vida or hola. It is short for buenas dias (good day), buenas tardes (good afternoon) and buenas noches (good night). It’s just good. Makes for a very positive place when everyone says GOOD! to each other.
Our first day in Costa Rica at Playa Juanquillal in the evening, we were given a magnificent display of a lightning storm over the ocean. The following day, there was a thunderstorm that kept us indoors most of the afternoon and forced us to relax. By day three, we were getting used to them. In fact, tormenta electrica came in some form (great or small) every day, except for our last. We even experienced a thunderstorm in the sun! I could fully see my shadow through the downpour and I wondered, “Should I or shouldn’t I get out of this pool?”
In rainy season tormenta electrica is part of the fun. Especially when you put on your best Count von Count accent when you pronounce it, hah hah hah.
Pop is called mineral in Ghana and soda in the USA.
Soda is called pop in Canada and means fast food in Costa Rica.
Therefore, gaseosos is the least confusing word to order my daily dose of Coke Light at the soda.
Con mucho gusto
When directly translated it means with much pleasure, but con mucho gusto is the Costa Rican response to thank you, if not pura vida. Whereas, in other Latin American countries it would most likely be de nada.
It got to be ridiculous when we were at Rio Celeste and so very grateful and over-said gracias to the staff there… And then we stopped, so as not to inconvenience the servers to give us the five syllable response.
When we left Rio Celeste and ate at a restaurant on the road, we were surprised and a little relieved when our waiter only said con gusto to our gracias. That’s fair.
Let me just say that J-M was loving this Costa Rican slang term for a blond male.
I asked J-M at one point if he thought we could live without the GPS alerting us to “DANGER! Bridge ahead.” All 159 we crossed were clearly marked with a yellow PELIGRO sign.
Hey look at this! I showed J-M the cheat sheet on the menu that directly translated pastor as shepherd. Of course J-M knew that already and, also of course, shepherding one’s congregation is the duty of the pastor. This translation makes so much sense.
But we forgot all about this banter on our last day in Costa Rica, when we were hoping to purchase a piece of art in San Jose. It would be the ultimate souvenir, an original painting of a well-known Costa Rican painter of the mountainous landscape we’d come to love. And it would be our ANNIVERSARY PRESENT (how we would justify the expense). The cost was exorbitant, beyond what we could afford, never mind what we were willing to pay. But we were enamored with the painting. I played the “pastor” card and told Amir, the curator, that we could not afford his price because my husband is a pastor, so if he couldn’t give it to us at our price, we would have to say no.
Amir said, “I am a pastor too! In my village in the mountains!” J-M was skeptical for a couple of reasons, including the number of nudes Pastor Amir had in his collection… and what the heck was he doing selling art in the city if he had a congregation to pastor in the village? But Amir insisted. “From one pastor to another, you can have the painting at your price!”
It wasn’t till much later – too late to clarify with Amir – that we realized, He meant shepherd! He thought you were a shepherd!
And I, a shepherd’s wife.
At our last dinner at a chic little restaurant in an old building with a young crowd, jazz music playing, and us feeling privileged to be there, I told J-M, estoy contenta, which means I am happy/content. The trip from start to finish was a total success in that we enjoyed everything we experienced, it was a much-needed investment into our marriage, and just the right length of time. We were ready to return home.
The only bummer was that we felt like we just got the hang of the language – to hear it in conversations and be able to respond to some degree – only to have to leave that behind. Being surrounded by the language and practicing it wherever you go is certainly the fastest education and we were halting that by leaving.
Just then the waiter came by and J-M proficiently put together and pronounced a string of Spanish words, so that there was no confusion and the server did exactly what was asked of him. My, my, my didn’t J-M look suddenly very attractive! I told J-M that he could practice his Spanish on me anytime…
So now, when J-M says to me, “Cuenta por favor? Acepta tarjeta de crédito?” I don’t mind a bit that he’s asking me for the bill and whether I accept credit cards.
“Si, estoy contenta.”