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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 February 11, 2021

Easily Misunderstood by Others? 6 Barriers You Should Overcome to Make Communication Less Frustrating

Easily Misunderstood by Others? 6 Barriers You Should Overcome to Make Communication Less Frustrating

How often have you said something simple, only to have the person who you said this to misunderstand it or twist the meaning completely around? Nodding your head in affirmative? Then this means that you are being unclear in your communication.

Communication should be simple, right? It’s all about two people or more talking and explaining something to the other. The problem lies in the talking itself, somehow we end up being unclear, and our words, attitude or even the way of talking becomes a barrier in communication, most of the times unknowingly. We give you six common barriers to communication, and how to get past them; for you to actually say what you mean, and or the other person to understand it as well…

The 6 Walls You Need to Break Down to Make Communication Effective

Think about it this way, a simple phrase like “what do you mean” can be said in many different ways and each different way would end up “communicating” something else entirely. Scream it at the other person, and the perception would be anger. Whisper this is someone’s ear and others may take it as if you were plotting something. Say it in another language, and no one gets what you mean at all, if they don’t speak it… This is what we mean when we say that talking or saying something that’s clear in your head, many not mean that you have successfully communicated it across to your intended audience – thus what you say and how, where and why you said it – at times become barriers to communication.[1]

Perceptual Barrier

The moment you say something in a confrontational, sarcastic, angry or emotional tone, you have set up perceptual barriers to communication. The other person or people to whom you are trying to communicate your point get the message that you are disinterested in what you are saying and sort of turn a deaf ear. In effect, you are yelling your point across to person who might as well be deaf![2]

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The problem: When you have a tone that’s not particularly positive, a body language that denotes your own disinterest in the situation and let your own stereotypes and misgivings enter the conversation via the way you talk and gesture, the other person perceives what you saying an entirely different manner than say if you said the same while smiling and catching their gaze.

The solution: Start the conversation on a positive note, and don’t let what you think color your tone, gestures of body language. Maintain eye contact with your audience, and smile openly and wholeheartedly…

Attitudinal Barrier

Some people, if you would excuse the language, are simply badass and in general are unable to form relationships or even a common point of communication with others, due to their habit of thinking to highly or too lowly of them. They basically have an attitude problem – since they hold themselves in high esteem, they are unable to form genuine lines of communication with anyone. The same is true if they think too little of themselves as well.[3]

The problem: If anyone at work, or even in your family, tends to roam around with a superior air – anything they say is likely to be taken by you and the others with a pinch, or even a bag of salt. Simply because whenever they talk, the first thing to come out of it is their condescending attitude. And in case there’s someone with an inferiority complex, their incessant self-pity forms barriers to communication.

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The solution: Use simple words and an encouraging smile to communicate effectively – and stick to constructive criticism, and not criticism because you are a perfectionist. If you see someone doing a good job, let them know, and disregard the thought that you could have done it better. It’s their job so measure them by industry standards and not your own.

Language Barrier

This is perhaps the commonest and the most inadvertent of barriers to communication. Using big words, too much of technical jargon or even using just the wrong language at the incorrect or inopportune time can lead to a loss or misinterpretation of communication. It may have sounded right in your head and to your ears as well, but if sounded gobbledygook to the others, the purpose is lost.

The problem: Say you are trying to explain a process to the newbies and end up using every technical word and industry jargon that you knew – your communication has failed if the newbie understood zilch. You have to, without sounding patronizing, explain things to someone in the simplest language they understand instead of the most complex that you do.

The solution: Simplify things for the other person to understand you, and understand it well. Think about it this way: if you are trying to explain something scientific to a child, you tone it down to their thinking capacity, without “dumbing” anything down in the process.[4]

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Emotional Barrier

Sometimes, we hesitate in opening our mouths, for fear of putting our foot in it! Other times, our emotional state is so fragile that we keep it and our lips zipped tightly together lest we explode. This is the time that our emotions become barriers to communication.[5]

The problem: Say you had a fight at home and are on a slow boil, muttering, in your head, about the injustice of it all. At this time, you have to give someone a dressing down over their work performance. You are likely to transfer at least part of your angst to the conversation then, and talk about unfairness in general, leaving the other person stymied about what you actually meant!

The solution: Remove your emotions and feelings to a personal space, and talk to the other person as you normally would. Treat any phobias or fears that you have and nip them in the bud so that they don’t become a problem. And remember, no one is perfect.

Cultural Barrier

Sometimes, being in an ever-shrinking world means that inadvertently, rules can make cultures clash and cultural clashes can turn into barriers to communication. The idea is to make your point across without hurting anyone’s cultural or religious sentiments.

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The problem: There are so many ways culture clashes can happen during communication and with cultural clashes; it’s not always about ethnicity. A non-smoker may have problems with smokers taking breaks; an older boss may have issues with younger staff using the Internet too much.

The solution: Communicate only what is necessary to get the point across – and eave your personal sentiments or feelings out of it. Try to be accommodative of the other’s viewpoint, and in case you still need to work it out, do it one to one, to avoid making a spectacle of the other person’s beliefs.[6]

Gender Barrier

Finally, it’s about Men from Mars and Women from Venus. Sometimes, men don’t understand women and women don’t get men – and this gender gap throws barriers in communication. Women tend to take conflict to their graves, literally, while men can move on instantly. Women rely on intuition, men on logic – so inherently, gender becomes a big block in successful communication.[7]

The problem: A male boss may inadvertently rub his female subordinates the wrong way with anti-feminism innuendoes, or even have problems with women taking too many family leaves. Similarly, women sometimes let their emotions get the better of them, something a male audience can’t relate to.

The solution: Talk to people like people – don’t think or classify them into genders and then talk accordingly. Don’t make comments or innuendos that are gender biased – you don’t have to come across as an MCP or as a bra-burning feminist either. Keep gender out of it.

And remember, the key to successful communication is simply being open, making eye contact and smiling intermittently. The battle is usually half won when you say what you mean in simple, straightforward words and keep your emotions out of it.

Reference

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