Jen 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:
Before 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.
That’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 DeLaPuraVida.com, 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.”