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Posted by on Nov 11, 2013 in Costa Rica, Culture, Moving to Costa Rica, Tips, Uncategorized | 8 comments

UPE – A Blessing or A Curse

UPE – A Blessing or A Curse

At home in Dallas, if our doorbell rang and we were not expecting anyone, 9 times out of 10 the person ringing the doorbell was selling something; Girl scout cookies (quick fact: Girl Scouts earns $37 million in membership revenue fees, but over $714 million from cookie sales), cable services, selling signing a political petition or salvation, and 9 times out of 10 we would ignore the door; typically, regretting those few times we did open the door to our unknown caller.


Homes in Costa Rica are a little different. Doorbells are rare, if not non-existent, and many front yards are fenced in with a gate blocking the entrance to the house.  If the fence and gate are not enough to deter one from knocking on the door, then there is the dog or 4 that are ubiquitous in front of homes here. You would think that with all of these obstacles visitors are unwelcome in Costa Rican homes. This is very incorrect. In fact, Costa Rican homes are very welcoming – with the unexpected visitors being expected.  However, instead of knocking or ringing a doorbell, and because of the gate and dog(s), people routinely announce themselves by shouting a greeting. The greeting could be a simple HOLA (hello), or BUENAS (good day) or if it is someone who is selling something, UPE.

UPE, You Say

Upe is short for Guadalupe, more specifically, Our Lady of Guadalupe, or more specifically still, The Virgin of Guadalupe – an iconic representation of the Virgin Mary, and as such the greeting acts as a blessing on the house. If I didn’t know better, I would guess that Our Lady of Guadalupe was the patron saint of door to door sales people, as these are typically the people blessing your house by announcing themselves with “Upe”…”Uuu p  EEEE”.

our lady of guadalupe


According to that great bastion of information, Wikipedia the story of this saint is as follows:

“Official Catholic accounts state that on the morning of December 9, 1531 Juan Diego saw an apparition of a young girl at the Hill of Tepeyac, near Mexico City. Speaking to him in Nahuatl, the girl asked that a church be built at that site in her honor; from her words, Juan Diego recognized the girl as the Virgin Mary. Diego told his story to the Spanish Archbishop of Mexico City, Fray Juan de Zumárraga, who instructed him to return to Tepeyac Hill, and ask the “lady” for a miraculous sign to prove her identity. The first sign was the Virgin healing Juan’s uncle. The Virgin told Juan Diego to gather flowers from the top of Tepeyac Hill. Although December was very late in the growing season for flowers to bloom, Juan Diego found Castilian roses, not native to Mexico, on the normally barren hilltop. The Virgin arranged these in his peasant tilma cloak. When Juan Diego opened his cloak before Bishop Zumárraga on December 12, the flowers fell to the floor, and in their place on the fabric was the image of the Virgin of Guadalupe, miraculously imprinted there.”

 Hey, I just blessed your house, now buy my crap

Ok, that heading might be a little bit harsh, because unlike in the States (except for maybe the Girl Scout cookies), these sales people who are shouting UPE  in your front yard, are selling something you may very well want: Fresh milk, fresh eggs and vegetables and yes, sometimes, even cable services. So, it is up to you whether Upe is a Blessing or Curse.

Hasta Pronto,




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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:
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  1. Neighborhood friends say it too. So, it’s worth a sneaky peak out the window. 😉 Salesmen usually don’t leave until I exit and say no thank you, however… to which they respond with a rapid description of all the benefits of their products. It always helps to say that I already have some of what they’re selling. (Ya ten go).
    Also, twice per month (I think on Tuesdays), it is a person collecting recycling, which is a free pick up.

    • Very rarely, once that I can remember, have we had a neighborhood friend announce themselves with UPE. I know it is used that way as well, I guess we just don’t have that many friends. Although, I do think there are definite benefits to finding out who the UPE’er is, as it may be that elusive milk guy we have been searching high and low for.

  2. Hola gregg, we learn something new every day…………another great example of your acute powers of observation…….good job mi amigo……81 days PURA VIDA JB… the way how is the banana bread……jajaja

    • Thanks Jim! It’s the final count down…dodadodo..dodadododo – if you are not singing along by now, I guess that looks silly. The banana bread, as is everything Jen bakes, is/was yummy. I look forward to February.

  3. Interesting Greg. I’d never heard of that usage of upe. Nearly all our neighbors here in Matasanos say “upe” when they make their visits and they aren’t selling anything. So, perhaps there are regional differences in usage. I will ask my all-knowing Tico neighbor Luis about this cultural/linguistic artifact.

    • Very interesting. Yes, please comment on your findings. The first time I heard the expression was at the B and B Grecia in 2012 and the UPE’er was seeking hourly accommodations! All the other examples I have experienced, save one, have been someone selling something.

  4. I love upe! It was very commonly used by all visitors instead of a door knock in the rural area where I lived. But when I tried it in San José, all my friend’s neighbors laughed at me – apparently you didn’t use it in the big city. I never knew its origin, so thank you!

    • Thanks for the comments Alden. There definitely appears to be a regional difference in the words usage. At our home here in Grecia it is almost always a sales person and as Emily states below they are very persistent.


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