How to Make Your Spanish More Costa Rican

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    Think you know Spanish? Think again! As soon as you land in San José, you will be bombarded with local words, phrases, and sayings that will leave your head spinning. What does it all mean? Check out this sampling of some Costa Rican Spanish terms that vary greatly from the standard Spanish you learned in school.

    Costa Rican Ways to Say You are Great


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    1. Even though this literally means “Pure life,” for Costa Ricans it indicates that you are doing fabulous.

    A: ¿Cómo le va?

    B: ¡Pura vida!

    A: How’s it going?

    B: I couldn’t be better!

    You can even say it in the form of a question:

    A: ¿Pura vida?

    B: ¡Pura vida!

    A: ¿Everything good?

    B: I’m great!

     Contodala pata

    This humorous Costa Rican phrase at face value means: “with all of my paw.” Sometimes Latins humorously attribute to themselves animalistic characteristics. For example, when they make a mistake, they will instinctively offer: “Metí la pata.” This literally indicates that they “stuck in their paw”. An English speaker would say: “I stuck my foot in my mouth.” On the other hand, a greeting between friends could possibly be:

    A: ¿Cómo le va?

    B: ¡Con toda la pata!

    A: How’s it going!

    B: I am doing great!

    Costa Rican Style Weather Talk

    1. Está cayendo pelo de gato.
      During a downpour, we Anglos might say that it is raining cats and dogs. In this case, Costa Ricans say that cat hair is falling when it is barely drizzling.

    No salgas ahora. Está cayendo pelo de gato.

    Don’t leave right now. It’s drizzling.


    In Spanish a balde is a bucket, so when the rain is coming down in buckets, use this phrase.

    ¡Qué baldazo!

    What a downpour!

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    The health crisis has wreaked havoc on our memory, leading us to lose our train of thought. Here are some real tico ways to express your frustration:

    1. ¡Lasacódel estadio!

    This saying word for word means that he hit it out of the stadium. In baseball, if you manage that feat, you’re a hero! But if you kick the ball out of the stadium in soccer, you’re an idiot! The objective is to score goals, not lose the ball. This clever metaphor means that one’s answers are out in left field.

    Cuando la profe preguntó a Ramón qué era la fotosíntesis, él dijo que no sabía nada de la fotografía. ¡La sacó del estadio!

    When the teacher asked Ramón what photosynthesis was, he said he didn’t know anything about photography. His mind was out to lunch!

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    1. Ya me cayó la peseta.

    This literally means that the quarter (coin) fell for you. What does that mean? Back in the day before cell phones, we used coins to make calls from public telephones. In Costa Rica the price of a call was 25 cents, known here as a peseta. When that peseta fell, you got a dial tone. In many places jukeboxes worked on a similar premise. So when the humor of a punchline finally reaches your brain, just exclaim:

    Ya me cayó la peseta.

    It finally dawned on me.

    1. Se me fue la pajarita.

    Literally, this means: The little birdie left me. Ever have an idea on the tip of your tongue and­—in an instant—it vanishes? If so, you will have no problem understanding this idiom.

    Se me fue la pajarita.

    It completely slipped my mind.

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    Keep Learning Costa Rican Spanish

    Learning the local lingo will definitely endear you to locals and lead to many meaningful conversations. So keep your ear to the ground for those native expressions that will make your Spanish much more Costa Rican! ¡Pura vida!

    Lee Jamison is the author of Costa Rican Spanish: Speak like a Native! and other country-specific titles. He operates the site


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