Monday Top 5: Words/Phrases to know before going to Costa Rica

We know, we know. You’ve read every guidebook and brushed up on all your high school Spanish vocabulary. Buenos días. ¿Como estás? Me llamo…what more could you possibly need to know?

Although all of these phrases will certainly come in handy, you want to know which ones are more distinctly Costa Rican. You want to blend in with the locals, right? So, this week for our Top 5, we’re covering some words and phrases that will help you get along better on your study abroad trip to Costa Rica.

1 – Pura Vida

It would be impossible to do this post without including the two words that have become the tiny nation’s catchphrase. Pura vida literally means “pure life”, but it has also come to be a sunny feel-good expression the can be used as a greeting, goodbye, or the answer if someone asks you how you are doing. It is a synonym for “excellent” and has a very “hakuna matata” feel to it.

Example: “How are you?” Your response would be, “Pura Vida! [I am fantastic.]”

Pura Vida

2 – Ticos/as

Tico or Tica is the nickname for a person from Costa Rica. It can also be used to describe something pertaining to the country. The nickname originates from the fact that Costa Ricans often add tico/a as a suffix in order to create a diminutive. In other words, instead of saying blanquito (small, white), they might say blanquitico,  which means the same thing. The suffix does not only mean small, but also denotes affection and therefore describes the caring nature of the people.

3 – ¿Cómo amaneció?

In the United States it is common to ask someone how they slept as a form of greeting first thing in the morning. In Costa Rica, it would sound a little funny if you asked them, Como durmió? (“How did you sleep?”) Instead, Ticos will ask you, Cómo amaneció? which literally translated means, “How did you wake up?” Similar to the idea of waking up on the “wrong side of the bed” Ticos believe that it is how you wake up that affects your morning demeanor and not how you slept. Whether or not this is true, this is still the commonly accepted phrase and will get you major brownie points with your homestay family.


4 – Con Permiso

Here’s another really culturally relevant phrase. Costa Ricans are, as a general rule, extremely polite and proper in their speech. This phrase literally means “with your permission” and can be used as “excuse me”. This phrase is perfect when you are walking in a tight space and need for someone to move for you to get by. Want to start off on a good foot with your homestay family? It is Costa Rican custom to say con permiso whenever you are crossing the threshold of a house that is not yours or when you get up from the dinner table. Whip this phrase out on your first night at your homestay and you will be good to go! There is nothing a Costa Rican values more than basic good manners.

5 – Con mucho gusto instead of de nada

For those of you who took Spanish with a teacher from Mexico (or many other Spanish speaking countries), you probably learned that de nada, which literally means “it’s nothing,” was the way to say, “You’re welcome.” This is not the case in Costa Rica. No one is going to throw you out for saying de nada, but the most common phrase is con mucho gusto or mucho gusto. Translated it means “with much pleasure” similar to saying “my pleasure” in the U.S. Remember how Costa Ricans are generally polite? Here is another example of how that is reflected in their speech. Does “you’re welcome” work just fine? Yes! But doesn’t it feel just a bit better when it is someone’s pleasure to help you? We rest our case.

Beach Jump

One last thing: We know it’s just five words or phrases, but there’s one last little grammar tip to take into account about Costa Rican Spanish. In Costa Rica, it is much more common to use usted not when saying “you”.  In most countries, usted is only used in formal situations and not with close friends or peers. However, usted is the form most commonly used by Ticos regardless of whom they are talking. This is shifting a bit, but still holds true in most of the country. So, if a Tico is calling you usted, it’s not because they’re mad or trying to keep you at arm’s length, it’s just a cultural thing.

Well that’s it for this week’s Top 5! Hope you picked up some useful tips on Costa Rican Spanish.

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