The language of Costa Rica is Spanish, but many people can speak some English. There are some sayings which might leave you scratching your head. Whilst some have obvious meanings, others have simply been passed down and even those saying them are unclear about their meaning and origins.
We take a look at some of the common (and less common) sayings in Costa Rica so you don’t find yourself confused.
Con luz is what a Tico (the term for a Costa Rican person) might use to describe a pregnant woman. It means she’s ‘with light’. This has a very obvious rooting in the Catholic faith. At one point, Spain ruled over Costa Rica. It was part of its vast global empire. The Spanish brought Catholicism and it remains prominent today.
More and more Ticos are becoming indifferent towards religion, but they still say this. Children are revered and every young person matters here.
This is the expression you’ll hear the most. It’s the national motto of Costa Rica and often used as a greeting, or as a response to a greeting. It means ‘pure life’ and it harkens back to this country’s stance on the military and violence in general. Costa Ricans are peaceful people who don’t believe in war, which is they don’t have a regular standing army. Pure Vida is also used as a way to say goodbye.
In the UK it might be equivalent to ‘chill out’ or ‘relax’. Ticos tend to say it with a big smile on their faces.
Detras del Palo
This is one of the more unusual expressions in Costa Rica. Detras del palo means ‘behind the tree’. It’s used in conversation to convey that you have no idea what happened. The first image which springs to mind is someone slipped out of a party or a gathering to go to the bathroom behind a tree or in some bushes. They’ve now missed out on what happened.
Another similar expression is mianda fuera del tarro, or ‘taking a pea out of the can’. It seems to mean the same thing, but we can’t even begin to wonder where this originated.
Que pega means ‘what a stick’. It’s used to describe someone who’s annoying or boring. In English it’s the equivalent of the ‘stick in the mud’. Ticos are very relaxed and know the value of taking some time to relax on the beach or in their homes. Que pega is the exact opposite. It implies someone can’t relax or fit in with the group.
If they’re using this to describe you, it’s time to change your tune.
If you want to mock that kiss-ass colleague at work, you can say lava huevos, or ‘wash the eggs’. It basically means someone who is always sucking up to the boss and doing whatever they ask as a means to curry favour. We’ll let you work out which part of the human anatomy ‘eggs’ might be referring to!
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