People who visit my adopted country, Costa Rica, might love many different things about it: its empty beaches, its lack of an army, the way its cold beer tastes with ice, salt and lime. What I love the most about this country is the way it talks. I love the poetry of its slang, so specific and complex that it can vary from one small neighborhood to the next, just like San José’s quirky microclimates. I love its endless repertoire of dichos, the folk sayings that are always at the ready on the tongues of my coworkers and friends to bemuse, reassure or instruct me. I love the way that anyone, from a taxi driver to a president, takes pride and pleasure in being the first to initiate a wide-eyed foreigner into a new turn of phrase, the way I imagine the French might unveil a cherished wine or an Italian her mother’s finest dish.
As my years in Costa Rica have ticked by and my initial infatuation with the country has been replaced by a more nuanced understanding of its considerable warts and flaws, this nation’s love for a good play on words has remained a bright spot on the darkest day. I might even say that the way Costa Rica talks – and thinks – has changed my life.
So in honor of my tenth anniversary in Costa Rica, in honor of the home country I miss, in honor of my little U.S.-Costa Rican daughter who will find her own ways to digest the strange soup of language and culture she’s being fed, it seemed natural to create for her a dictionary of sorts. Night after night in the deep quiet of a house where a toddler is finally sleeping, I wanted to record for her, like some entirely unglamorous and Nutella-fueled Scheherazade, the stories that have extended my brief stay in Costa Rica so far beyond its original date of execution – the reflections that, for me, go hand-in-hand with my favorite phrases and expressions.
The blog, originally entitled “The Dictionary of You,” spawned a column and then a book, “Love in Translation: Letters to My Costa Rican Daughter.” And as my daughter, now four, continues to explore the world, it’s still going strong.