If you are learning Spanish, get used to this. What the Anglo-Saxon says in two syllables, the Spanish say in five. At least five. Like:

  • Lawnmower = la máquina para cortar zacate eléctrica
    la MA-kee-na PAR-ah core-TAR sza-KAH-tay a-LAKE-tree-kah = the machine for to cut grass electrically
  • My sister’s house = la casa de mi hermana
    la KA-sa day me air-MAHN-ah = the house of my sister
  • My friend’s sister’s house = la casa de la hermana de mi amiga
    la KA-sa day la air-MAHN-ah day me ah-ME-gah = the house of the sister of my friend
  • Probably = probablemente


  • Unfortunately = desafortunadamente
    I underlined the secondary accented syllable to help you find the rhythm.

Wait till Hal gets to teaching the word "rhythm" to his native speakers of Spanish. Sheesh.

When you compare the languages, cultural differences are laid bare. Where Anglo-Saxon is punchy, hard-edged, confrontational, Spanish is poetic, formal, kinder. Even "iJodete!" [HO-day-tay] lacks the punch of "Fuck you!" "iCállate!" [KAH-jah-tay] is no "Shut up!"

To be most polite is to be most indirect. When I want the maid to wash the dishes, I say, "Hay platos para lavar." [aye PLAH-toce PAR-ah la-VAR] "There are plates to wash," instead of "Will you wash the plates?" Who is to do the plate-washing is assumed; no need to point a finger.

And you don’t assign blame here, which is actually lovely in the spoken word. When you come home and the maid has broken all your plates instead of washing them, she says, "Los platos se rompiéron." [los PLAH-toce say rome-pee-AIR-own] "The plates broke," instead of "I broke the plates." How can you be mad when the plates apparently broke themselves?

Norteamericanos, in particular and as opposed to other gringos like Canadians or the terribly formal Brits, are "git ‘er done" types, whereas ticos are "let’s mosey around the topic of what needs to be done and when." Actually, at least in Costa Rica, forget discussing when. That will be addressed another day in another conversation.

Obviously, this can be very frustrating for norteamericanos. But, once you accept the tico timeframe – or lack thereof – it is one of the nicest things about living here. Unless you are at a stoplight, NO ONE is in a hurry. And NO ONE is on time. If you are a multi-Costa-Rican-blog reader, you will read this over and over again. Birthday parties that start hours after the stated start time. Guests invited for dinner at 6 on Monday show up at 9 on Wednesday. Tico time in a nutshell.

And so it is with the language. Formal, multi-syllabic, time-consuming in the most poetic way. When I can understand it and reply correctly, it is so satisfying. Tranquilo! [tran-KEE-lo, relax] I’m getting there.

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