Every country in the world has its own sayings and expressions. I am biased, but I believe that Costa Rica’s are among the most colorful, numerous and hilarious – and I think it is safe to say that Costa Ricans are much more conscious of, and proud to share, their sayings than many other peoples in the world. It will probably be a source of lifelong frustration to me that when I use them in conversation with people who don’t know me well, I will always be met with surprised laughter. I said in a meeting recently that I was “detrás del palo” (behind the tree/branch, which in the United States we would translate as being out of the loop) and triggered a flurry of amused chuckles.
I have learned most of my favorite phrases from my husband and friends, although I am indebted to Carlos Arauz’s “Dichos y refranes costarricenses – Frases y expresiones de nuestra habla popular” (2010), which I bought from the author at a book fair a few years back and found to be fascinating.
Some of the phrases I’ll present here are not specific to Costa Rica, though I hope to include here plenty of words and phrases from Costa Rican pachuco (slang of a complexity I think is comparable to rhyming Cockney), as well as popular expressions. Since Costa Rica is the only Spanish-speaking country in which I’ve ever lived for an extended period of time, I do not always know the difference, so I apologize for the hodgepodge. I also offer my apologies for any misinterpretations or errors I might make as a non-native speaker presenting, explaining and translating these expressions. After all, aunque el mono se vista de seda, mono se queda: even a monkey dressed in silk is still a monkey, and a gringa a gringa now matter how many chicharrones she’s eaten. (A lot, by the way.)