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Posted by on Oct 28, 2013 in Costa Rica, Culture, Spanish, Tips, Uncategorized | 13 comments

Costa Rica’s Unmentionable Word

Costa Rica’s Unmentionable Word

Greg and JenJen and I have found a clever little diversion. When we shop at the Maxi Palí, a grocery store just outside of Grecia Centro, and we don’t time the bus arrival just right (the bus comes once an hour) we walk next door to the Bar New Yorker  for a beer or a bite to bide our time until la autobus arrives. It was here at the Bar New Yorker where I experienced first hand what many folks have warned me of ever since I moved here, that there is a word that is unmentionable in Costa Rica. Ticos will bend sentences any which way in order to avoid this unmentionable word.

Here’s the story:


Object Lesson

bavaria_premium_dunkelBefore ordering my drink, I looked at the menu to see if the bar sold Bavaria Dark and they did. Without many craft brew choices in Costa Rica, Bavaria Dark has become my go-to beer as it is less like water than the national beer, Imperial, and it is typically widely available.  When the waiter came around to take our order I ordered a “Bavaria Dark por favor”. “Gold or Light?”, came the response, the end of the sentence rising just slightly in pitch, indicating a question. Clearly the waiter did not understand what I wanted. I opened the menu again, confirmed that Bavaria Dark was indeed on it and repeated my order, this time pointing to the picture of the requested beer that was printed on the menu. Again, “Gold or Light?” I look over to Jen for help, but instead of help, I get a look. A look, that anyone else would mistake for a look of  pity, but to me screams, “GET THERE FASTER” and because I don’t, she tells me they don’t have Bavaria Dark then tells the waiter to bring me a Bavaria Gold. The waiter turns, with a smirk, and goes to place our order.

No, “No”

NoThat’s right, the unspeakable Spanish word in Costa Rica is “No” in any form. This idea, of not saying no, is foreign to us North Americans. We who pride ourselves on bluntness, directness and telling you what WE want, or don’t want.

The reason Ticos do not say the word “no” to you and me? So that we will not be disappointed. Ironic, right?



The subject of the unspeakable word and Tico culture has been covered through blogs and videos by expats who have been here much longer than me. Casey Bahr, who writes the excellent blog A Dull Roar, wrote Why it is awkward for Costa Ricans to say NO and gives a humorous story of trying to have some furniture made. Erin Morris, the author of, discusses various Ways to Say “NO”in Costa Rica. And in the video below, Lair Davis, discusses with Michael Alan from Travel Costa Rica Now, the intricacies of learning how to blend into the culture in Costa Rica.

Lair, who is a friend of ours, gave Jen and I an additional alternative to “No” one day at lunch. Someone came into the soda (small restaurant), where we were eating lunch, selling trinkets, and Lair looked at him and said, “Otro Dia” or in English, “Another Day”. “See there”, said Lair, “I just said no without saying no.”

Otro Dia,



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Greg Seymour is a quitter. At 41 Greg and his wife Jen quit their jobs, sold damn near everything they owned and became Intentionally Unemployed and retired early to Costa Rica.
In addition to writing on this blog, Greg has written for other online publications and has written two popular books about living in Costa Rica:
Greg Seymour Amazon Author Page

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  1. Nice story Greg. Love the part about Jen’s look. jaja.

    • Thanks Casey. One might think I exaggerate for effect, at least in this instance, I do not.

  2. Otro dia………………..I’ve heard about the no thing…………..very cool PURA VIDA JB

  3. It has been very difficult to find Bavaria Dark for the past couple months. I hear it is because they are relaunching the beer in December, and stopped distributing it for a while, so it’s always scarce or out.

    Which is really unfortunate, because as you’ve put so eloquently, it is the only domestic beer that doesn’t taste like water. In a country that goes to such lengths to avoid disappointing people, you’d think they could give us a decent beer when they avoid the two-letter word.

    (Oh, and sometimes they don’t understand you unless you order ‘Bavaria Negra.’)

    • Yeah, I think I might start brewing my own. There is a home brew store in or near Cartago.

      • Can’t wait to hear the home brew learning curve stories. I’m sure Jen and friends will have some more facial expressions for you!

        • Will share as I go Pat! Should be interesting.

  4. That’s just silly… I can see why it would be baffling to direct folks from the states.

    • Hi Joe,

      Silly, yes. However, I am finding it easy enough to get around – all part of the learning curve. Thanks for reading and commenting. I like your blog very much.

  5. Thanks for explaining that cultural difference. I’ve noticed the same tendency in parts of Asia. I wonder if the same phrase would work there….

    • Thanks for reading and commenting Linda. Good to connect with you. I do not know about Asia but it is very prevalent here and if you don’t know any better you might take it the wrong way.

  6. I think this is true in other parts of the world – the desire to please is very strong in some cultures!

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