Do You Know Why the Ticos Say “UPEEE”?

The Story behind This Popular Interjection

Our ancestors, those of colonial Costa Rica, were very influenced by religious devotion and characterized by remarkable courtesy and good manners. They also had the habit that when they came to visit a house, they usually said:

-The Virgin Mary!

-Conceived without sin! Who is it?

-Fulana de Tal. How are you?

-Uh! Doña Fulana, very well. Come on in.

And in that way, the visit began. It used to be followed by a pleasant gathering accompanied by a “warm” and a “filled ” ones; that is, a hot chocolate and an omelet with cheese. This form of greeting and announcing in the houses was typical of the Central Valley, in the provinces of San José, Alajuela, Cartago, and Heredia.

Warm chocolate and sweet biscuits

In Nicoya, long before we were annexed, during the feasts of the Virgin of Guadalupe, patron saint of the Nicoyans, the guards went from house to house requesting the usual contribution so that “the celebration” for her little patron was a success. To each house they came, they also said -with a strong tone, so that its owners could hear them to the back of the house- the following sentence:

A little help for our Patron, the Lady of Guadaluuuuupeeeee!

And immediately afterward, those from the house came out with some offering; whether it was a hen, a pig, sweet tapas, some corn, and the wealthiest ones, even a heifer or “some reals” for the Nicoyan fiestas. Of course, when the people of the house were in the kitchen or doing some chore in the backyard, the only thing they could hear was “Uuuupeeee”.

Over time, and to make our story shorter, co-workers started shortening the phrase, so they synthesized it as follows:

A little help for the Lady of Guadaluuuuupeeeee!

A little help for Guadaluuuuupeeeee!


Until finally, it ended in the well-known “Upe” we use these days. This interjection was so practical and pleasing to their ears, that the Nicoyanos adopted it not only for the Guadalupan fiestas but for any time to be announced in the houses.

Then, the Independence of Central America came in 1821 and, 3 years later, in 1824, the Nicoyan Party, voluntarily annexed us to the Costa Rican territory.

This gave way to the “Gamonales” and other members of the coffee oligarchy of the Central Valley, to bring homework to Nicoyan women, who were famous not only for their bravery in domestic trades but -above all- for their excellent spoon skills in the kitchen.

Representations of workers in a coffee plantation

The ladies of the houses sent their employees Nicoyan employees to do errands to the pulperías, or to take a message to some neighbor. That is why when they arrived at the entrusted place, they announced themselves with their characteristic “Upe”.

This expression caused grace among the people of the Central Valley; they found it more practical than the old “Ave María Purísima!”. In addition, it maintained the religious connotation, for which it had a very good reception among “Los Cartagos”.

Over the years, the term was disseminated throughout the rest of the country. Since then, all Ticos have the habit of saying “Upe!” every time we arrive somewhere, and we need to announce ourselves.

SOURCEVinicio Piedra Quesada
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