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”.
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.
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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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