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15 Spanish Phrases You Must Know to Avoid Looking Stupid in Costa Rica

15 Spanish Phrases You Must Know to Avoid Looking Stupid in Costa Rica

How long has it been since you brushed up on your Spanish? Think your vocabulary is extensive enough to help you manage to get around in a Spanish-speaking country?

If you’re thinking of planning a trip to Costa Rica, or even becoming an expat and relocating there permanently, you’ve got your work cut out for you when it comes to learning the lingo.

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You may think you’re all set, because you have a working knowledge of Spanish.  But trust me, Costa Ricans, or (and here’s your first lesson) Ticos and Ticas as they’re called locally, have a language of their own. With a dialect as laid back as their lifestyle, Costa Rican speech is full of slang and idioms.

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Some are informal and used mostly by the younger generation. Others are commonly known and can even be used in formal conversation. Some words and phrases are unique to Costa Rica and have no real Spanish translation. Others have a connotation in Tico culture that means something completely different than their literal denotation. There are even a few that could get you in a whole heap of trouble if you use them in the wrong place at the wrong time.

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Here are 15 Tico words and phrases to know to help you avoid finding yourself in an awkward situation.

  • Pura vida – Literally translated as “pure life,” this phrase is the unofficial motto of Costa Rica. It can be used as a greeting, an acknowledgement, or just to reference anything that’s good. Example: Como estas? Pura vida! (How are you? Pure life.)
  • Mae – Originating from a word that means “dummy,” mae is a nickname you use for a pal or buddy, sort of like “dude.” Example: Mae vamos. (Dude, let’s go.)
  • Detras del palo – Literally translated, this means “behind the tree.” However, when someone says they’re detras del palo, it just means they’re unfamiliar with the topic or don’t know what you’re talking about. Another phrase with a similar meaning is “Miando fuera del tarro,” which literally translates as “taking a pee out of the can.”
  • Buena/mala nota – This translates to “good (or bad) grade,” and it’s used to indicate a job done well (or poorly) or to describe a person’s character. Example: Que mala nota! (What a terrible person!)
  • Rojos and tejas – “Rojos” literally means reds, and a “teja” is a tile.  But you’ll often hear these words used when describing the Costa Rican currency, colones. In that connotation, a “rojo” is the red bill that represents 1,000 colones ($2 US), and a “teja” refers to 100 colones. Una teja is actually 100 of anything, so if someone tells you to go “una teja” and turn left, that’s 100 meters or one block.
  • Harina – On that note, if someone asks you if you have any “harina” for payment, they’re not asking you to barter with a sack of flour (which is the literal meaning of the word). This is actually a slang word for money, sort of like calling it “dough.”
  • Deme un toque – If someone tells you this, understand that they aren’t asking to be caressed.  Even though it literally translates to “give me a touch,” what it really means is “give me a second.”
  • Cabra – If someone mentions they’re bringing their “cabra” to dinner, they probably don’t mean its literal translation, which is “goat.” Instead, “cabra” is the slang term ticos use for their girlfriends.
  • Pura paja – “Paja” is actually the word for “straw,” but this phrase doesn’t mean “pure straw” in Tico culture. It means “bull$#*!.”
  • Chunche – So you’ve had a blowout on some crappy Costa Rican backroad. Your buddy asks you to hand him that “chunche” and motions for the lug wrench. You hand it over, but then you’re confused when he once again motions and asks for another “chunche.” That’s because it doesn’t mean anything specific. It’s just a “thingamajig.”
  • Sodas – These establishments are all over Costa Rica, and they’re basically your typical small, mom-and-pop type restaurants that serve up local cuisine seriously cheap.
  • Pipa – This is something that’s okay to request from the bartender at your resort pool. He’ll hand you a cold, coconut drink. But it’s not a good thing to ask of the other kind of vendor who lurks in dark alleys. To him it’s a hash pipe.
  • Que pega – Literally translated as “what a stick,” this phrase is used to refer to someone or something that’s very annoying.
  • Lava huevos – Here’s another one that means nothing like it’s literal definition. Technically “wash the eggs,” this phrase refers to the act of sucking up to someone.
  • Que torta – This one means “what a patty” and is used to refer to someone who has royally screwed up or made a big mistake. It’s also often used to refer to an unplanned pregnancy.

So before you head to Costa Rica, make sure you brush up on these and other Costa Rican phrases. Don’t find yourself detras del palo!

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Last Updated on July 23, 2019

30 Books Everyone Should Read At Least Once In Their Lives

30 Books Everyone Should Read At Least Once In Their Lives

The greatest books are defined as classics for a reason. Written by the greatest literary minds of their time, they have universal themes, characters, experiences, emotions and perspectives that are still relevant today. Some of them are the very inspiration from which entire modern genres of literary fiction have sprung up from.

If you love reading, here’s a perfect reading list for you. Even if you aren’t so much into reading, here’re 10 reasons to love reading.

Everyone should read at least once for these 30 books — some are well known classics, others are modern giants.  All are well worth reading at least once in your life!

1. To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee

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    Published in 1960, this timeless classic explores human behaviour and the collective conscience of The Deep South in the early 20th century. Humour entwines the delicate strands of prejudice, hatred, hypocrisy, love and innocence to create one of the best novels ever written.

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    2. 1984, by George Orwell

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      Although 1984 has passed us by, George Orwell’s dystopian, totalitarian world of control, fear and lies has never been more relevant. Delve into the life of Winston Smith as he struggles with his developing human nature in a world where individuality, freewill and love are forbidden.

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      3. Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, by J.K. Rowling

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        I’m willing to bet you’ve heard of Harry Potter, but have you read the books? Join Harry Potter as he begins his journey into the world of magic, where he is the celebrated Boy Who Lived. Visit Hogwarts, meet your favourite characters and watch Harry grow into the one of the most famous literary characters in the world.

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        4. The Lord of the Rings, by J.R.R. Tolkien

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          Middle Earth is a wonderful, expansive fantasy world filled with turmoil, heroes, evil and innocence. Although our protagonist Frodo Baggins’ quest seems impossible to complete, this trilogy is a tale of triumph in the most impossible circumstances.

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          5. The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald

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            Published in 1925, Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby explores the decadence of the Jazz Age, and one man’s introduction into a world where even those with the most indulgent lives cannot earn love.

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            6. Pride and Prejudice, by Jane Austen

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              One of the most famous novels of all time, Pride And Prejudice details the courtship of two opposed characters in a world where manners and courtesy are of the utmost importance.

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              7. The Diary Of A Young Girl, by Anne Frank

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                Unforgettable and deeply influential, Anne Frank’s diary is a raw account of a young girl’s life as she hides from the Nazis. Despite her circumstances, Anne believes that people are still good at heart and that the world is full of beauty: she will change your life.

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                8. The Book Thief, by Markus Zusak

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                  Set in Germany during 1939, The Book Thief follows Liesel as she rescues books from the tyranny of Nazi rule. Meanwhile, her family has hidden a Jewish fighter in their basement and death looks down on the family, narrating our tale. Experience bravery that is rarely found in the world, and friendship that is formed in the most unlikely of situations.

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                  9. The Hobbit, by J.R.R. Tolkien

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                    Although the movies are inexplicably long, The Hobbit was originally written as a short children’s book. Meet your favourite characters for the first time as the unforgettable Bilbo Baggins traverses the harsh landscapes of Middle Earth to challenge a dragon.

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                    10. Little Women, by Louisa May Alcott

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                      Join four sisters, each with their own prominent personality, as they come of age in charming 19th Century New England. Experience their struggles and revel in their flaws, as these girls become strong women.

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                      11. Fahrenheit 451, by Ray Bradbury

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                        Books are forbidden, and it is our main character Guy Montag’s job to burn any books he comes across. Often compared to George Orwell’s 1984, Ray Bradbury’s dystopian world is an unsettling commentary on Western societies’ addiction and dependence on the media and conformity.

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                        12. Jane Eyre, by Charlotte Bronte

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                          Arguably one of the most influential fictional heroines of all time, Jane Eyre is a strong, unbroken women despite her troubled childhood and repressed Victorian society.
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                          13. Animal Farm, by George Orwell

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                            This famous 1945 satire, examines the realistic risks of revolution and the dynamics animals will inevitably give in to.

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                            14. Gone with the Wind, by Margaret Mitchell

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                              Set in The South during The Civil War, chances are if you love the movie you’ll love the book. Although the main character and the world she lives in is loathsome, readers’ opinions are twisted as this novel dishes out a fated justice when both Scarlett and The South lose their wars.

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                              15. The Catcher in the Rye, by J.D. Salinger

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                                Starring the original cynical adolescent, The Catcher In The Rye explores the challenges and isolation of adolescence. Decipher your own message as you follow sixteen-year-old Holden Caulfield, in this novel that has split audiences for decades.

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                                16. Charlotte’s Web, by E.B. White

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                                  Team up with Charlotte, a loving and generous spider, and Fern, a farmers daughter as they try to save Wilbur the piglet from becoming breakfast. Charlotte’s Web is a compelling reminder to bask in the simplistic wonders of everyday life, and to be kind to all living creatures.

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                                  17. The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, by C.S. Lewis

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                                    Another renowned fantasy world, Narnia is the home of hundreds of magnificent creatures each with their own origins, morals and ideals. Let you imagination run wild as you enter the wardrobe and meet some of the most famous literary characters in history.

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                                    18. The Grapes of Wrath, by John Steinbeck

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                                      Published in 1939, this novel set during The Great Depression follows one Oklahoma family as they are forced to travel to California. Experience America in a tale where it’s people are divided into the haves and have-nots, the powerful and the powerless.

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                                      19. Lord of the Flies, by William Golding

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                                        This classic novel follows the lives of boys marooned on an island as they regress into savages; and their beautiful, enjoyable island existence collapses into a primitive and cruel nightmare.

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                                        20. The Kite Runner, by Khaled Hosseini

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                                          A story of true friendship, The Kite Runner follows Amir as he tries to find the only true friend he’s ever had – despite abandoning him due to ethnic and religious differences that were prominent in Kabul, Afghanistan.

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                                          21. Of Mice and Men, by John Steinbeck

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                                            Of Mice And Men is a complex story of a friendship between two migrant workers: George Milton and Lennie Small, in California. Watch their friendship develop as the pair work towards their modest dreams of owning their own land and pets.

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                                            22. A Tale of Two Cities, by Charles Dickens

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                                              Following eighteen years as a political prisoner, Dr Manette is released and returns to England with his daughter Lucie. There, two very different men fall in love with Lucie and become entwined in a tale of love and sacrifice.

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                                              23. Romeo and Juliet, by William Shakespeare

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                                                Perhaps the most famous love story ever written, Romeo and Juliet is an epic tragedy that explores the euphoria of desire and the tragedy of revenge.

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                                                24. The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, by Douglas Adams

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                                                  Grab a towel and accompany human Arthur Dent on a fantastic adventure across the galaxy. Learn not to take the universe so seriously and forget any meaning you’ve applied to anything in your life, because we all know the real meaning of life is 42.

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                                                  25. Wuthering Heights, by Emily Bronte

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                                                    Published in 1847, this passionate and harrowing story of love, rivalry and revenge follows Catherine Earnshaw and her father’s adopted foundling Heathcliff as they grow into very different adults.

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                                                    26. The Color Purple, by Alice Walker

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                                                      Winner of multiple awards, The Color Purple is a devastating tale that tackles the lives of colored women in 1930s USA. Censored and challenged, the harsh reality displayed in The Color Purple will leave you shaken.

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                                                      27. Alice in Wonderland, by Lewis Carroll

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                                                        Bizarre and curious, Alice In Wonderland explores the potential of imagination and the reality of fiction. If you’re a fan of escaping the real world, this is definitely the book for you.

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                                                        28. Frankenstein, by Mary Shelley

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                                                          A combination of gothic thriller, cautionary tale and romance novel, Frankenstein is a story like no other. Written by Mary Shelley when she was just eighteen, Frankenstein prompts readers to ask themselves some truly shattering questions: what makes us human? What do we owe to one another as living creatures? How far can science push the boundaries of nature?

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                                                          29. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, by Mark Twain

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                                                            Often titled The Great American Novel, The Adventures Of Huckleberry Finn is a deep and complex tale of friendship, adolescence and shifting societal norms.

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                                                            30. Slaughterhouse-Five, by Kurt Vonnegut

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                                                              Although Vonnegut himself admits there are few characters or confrontations in this book, the impact of his novel is undeniable.

                                                              We travel through life with our protagonist Billy Pilgrim as he experiences World War II from a rather unique perspective – that is, he’s been abducted from his home planet of Tralfamadore. Rich and deeply funny, this tale aims to discourage us from war and murder that the authorities force the public into.

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                                                              Featured photo credit: Prasanna Kumar via unsplash.com

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