This post was originally written about three months into my study abroad in Costa Rica in 2010. My Spanish has improved significantly since then, and so I’ve taken out a couple things that seem like my original understanding of them may have been dubious, or if I don’t actually remember hearing them much in real life. I’ve also taken out a couple things that were definitely correct Spanish, but are actually not Costa Rica-specific at all–they were just new to me! So I’ll leave you with this list that to my memory, seems mostly accurate, however I would love for an actual Costa Rican to tell me if half of this is actually laughably incorrect.
A Sampling of Costa Rican Spanish
Mae: probably one of the most used—“dude”. In conversations between most guys (and some girls) between the ages of 13 and 60, they use this word 1-2 times in every sentence.
Mop: Also means dude.
¿Qué me dice, mae? = What’s up man? [I know this one’s legit because I still have the tshirt I bought with this slogan on it]
Vara: joke, or problem. Ex: “Es vara!” (“I’m kidding, it’s just a joke!”); “¿Qué es la vara?” (“What’s the joke? What are you guys laughing about?”)
Chante*: house (as in “my place”)
Tapis*: Can mean drunk, or a drink (“Solo quiero un tapis más”)
Sarpe*: The last drink of the night.
–> *Hear all three of these in action in this popular song from the Costa Rican version of T-Paine.
Tuanis / chiva: Cool (“Que chiva!” “Super tuanis mae!”)
Que dicha!: one of the most used phrases; means “How lucky! / How great!” Used basically the same as “Gracias a Dios” (-Como estás? –Bien, por dicha)
¡Al Chile! – this one confused me at first, because it has nothing to do with the country of Chile. It means “seriously?” or “I’m serious!” (“de véras” / “en serio”). The first night I hung out with a bunch of Tico kids and heard them using this phrase I was beyond confused. I couldn’t figure out who exactly was going to Chile and why they wouldn’t stop bringing it up in EVERY conversation. [Later I have learned that this is not CR-specific (I’ve heard Mexicans using it too), but it’s such a strange phrase I figured it still deserved some coverage]
Olaffo – like a personal-sized pitcher of beer (1 liter). Commonly found on la Calle de la Amargura (Street of Bitterness—not as bad as it sounds!), a street of bars near the U of Costa Rica in San Pedro, especially at Caccio’s (“home of the olaffo”), our usual Thursday night hangout. You can get the beer flavored too—in lime, grape, orange or cherry. Yeah it’s about as good as it sounds.
Rajado – bueno (good, or cool)
¡Diay! – An exclamation, that can be used to mean “of course” (¡Diay, sí!) or just as a kind of interjection like “hey” (Diay, ¿como estás?!)
Macha/machita – means “rubia” or “white girl.” Needless to say, I hear this one a lot. Mostly accompanied by whistles or hisses.
And of course, ¡PURA VIDA! – Of course no list of Costa Rican Spanish would be complete without it. This literally means “pure life,” but in reality it has a significance far beyond that. It is used all the time in everyday speech, to say hello, goodbye, sure, that’s okay, what’s up, I’m good/great/been better, that’s the way it goes…practically everything! It is also used as an adjective, to describe something as being good, cool, chill, or very “Tico”—or some combination of the above. For example, at a Thanksgiving dinner that several of us students put together for our families, we went around and said what we were thankful for, and one of the mothers said she was thankful that they had been blessed with such wonderful students this semester, who were so kind, thoughtful and fun, and so pura vida! In this case I guess the best way to translate it would be to say “good people.” If someone is referring to another Tico, though, and says they are very pura vida, it could also mean that they’re very Costa Rican; Ticos identify very strongly with the phrase as a part of their national heritage and pride, and it’s not used anywhere else in Latin America (at least in the same sense as it’s used here). My sixth grade students today got a huge kick out of hearing me respond to their questions that I had loved Costa Rica so far and that the country was muy pura vida!