Monday, March 4, 2013

What does EBAIS mean?

EBAIS is a Costa Rican acronym for Equipo Básico de Atención Integral en Salud. I apologize if that's still gibberish to you. It's basically a rural clinic in Costa Rica that has basic outpatient healthcare services. They are run by the government as medical outposts for people who have a difficult time getting to a larger city for a full-on medical facility. Services that are even more "básicos" can be found in extremely rural, isolated areas where local clinics are makeshift facilities at the town hall (salón comunal) where a nurse may visit once every two weeks (or cada quince as they say in Costa Rica). 

Of course, in Costa Rica everyone is covered for healthcare services under their Social Security system, or Seguro Social as it's called. It's rather impressive that they can operate a nationalized healthcare system with the level of access that they offer. Even the most remote of areas will have basic services, and can travel to a larger town to be seen for more acute or complex matters. Still, private clinics and hospitals exist for those who are able and willing to pay. Some of the more upscale facilities will have more up-to-date equipment, but I don't care to make any blanket qualitative statements about the quality of care in private vs. public facilities. I simply can't make any judgement calls. 

Costa Ricans, who tend to be a rather proud lot, are especially proud of their Seguro Social. Its universal nature serves as a source of pride for Costa Rican nationals, many of whom are aware that even in the United States there is not such a system (at least not a universal one, as not everyone is covered under Medicare or Medicaid). 

***As a side note, the United States has, of course, passed the Affordable Care Act (ACA or "Obamacare"), which will cover everyone in some shape or form. Also, the ACA has some more proactive population health measures like the licensing of accountable care organizations (ACOs) that re-align incentives at the point of care and the administrative level to focus on quality improvements and cost reductions, respectively.***

Thursday, November 11, 2010

with much gusto

What's striking about the way Spanish speakers say "you're welcome" is how certain countries will almost exclusively use one phrase over all the others. In English we can respond to thanksgiving in all sorts of ways, both formally and informally. "No problem" or "forget about it" would be typical responses, even though they don't exactly mean "you're welcome". If you tally up all the acceptable responses that could be used all over the United States without confusion, you'd probably have dozens of them.

In Costa Rica, on the other hand, I have only heard "con mucho gusto" as a response to "gracias". It's essentially the Spanish equivalent of the English "it's my pleasure". Costa Ricans will certainly understand "de nada", "no hay de qué", and "no hay porqué", but they aren't likely to use them.

De nada is the most ubiquitous of all the aforementioned forms, probably because of its prominence in large countries like Mexico and Spain. "No hay porqué" is largely confined to Argentina (at least in my experience).

Saturday, October 30, 2010


Perhaps the most common Spanish word for pillow is almohada, but Costa Ricans tend to use cabecera for the pillow that you sleep on. This word should not be confused with cabezazo, which is a header (when you strike the soccer ball with your head).

A funny expression that I picked up in Costa Rica was planchar la oreja, or iron the ear, which one would say before going to bed.

Example: "Tengo sueño. Voy a planchar la oreja."

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Converting your laptop keyboard to Spanish

I just got a new Dell laptop and have been unimpressed by the lack of the numeric keyboard, which I could access on my old HP laptop by pressing the fn button. I figured it was time for me to change my keyboard settings to Spanish, instead of using the numeric keyboard and alt functions for Spanish characters. So far it has worked out well not having to deal with the several keystrokes necessary to toggle between different keyboard settings.

In Windows 7 I went to my Control Panel and clicked on "Clock, Language, and Region." From there click on "Change keyboards and other input methods." Then, a new window will pop up with the proper "Language and Keyboards" tab selected. Click on "Change Keyboards." From here you will be able to add a language if it isn't already installed. My laptop came with only English (US) installed. Click on "Add" to find your language. Once you've done that, click on "Apply." Then, click on the "Language Bar" tab to change where the language bar shows up. This bar will help you switch from English to Spanish and from Spanish to English.

Once you've switched to a Spanish keyboard, you can write 'ñ' by clicking on the ';' key. You can also type an accented vowel by typing ´ on your Spanish keyboard (shown as '[{' on your English keyboard) plus the desired vowel.

Teaching Spanish

I started teaching teaching Spanish on the west side of Chicago two weeks ago. While I am overwhelmed by the challenges of teaching 450 students from grades ranging from K to 8th and everything in between, I am excited to engage students in the Spanish language. The most difficult aspect of teaching, aside from general classroom management problems, will be the commitment to using the target language in the classroom. Yesterday my curriculum specialist warned me that students won't have the patience to sit through a class in which I'm speaking Spanish the entire time. While that's a possibility, I think it will depend entirely on my delivery.

If I can scaffold my lessons (provide adequate support for newly introduced material) so that what I'm presenting is given the proper context for understanding, students will soon catch up with the material and extract meaning from the spoken language. For example, since I am fortunate enough to have an LCD projector I can use images in a PowerPoint presentation to give context clues that--along with prior knowledge of Spanish and sense of cognates--will allow students to grasp new vocabulary AND interpret the meaning of complete sentences.

While I don't plan on building a Spanish curriculum that breaks any ground in language instruction, I would at least like to resist the temptation of teaching Spanish as a purely academic pursuit taught in English. Memorizing verb conjugations and whacking piñatas on Cinco de Mayo is one way of getting exposed to the Spanish language, but it's insufficient for true proficiency in the language. To speak a language you need to practice speaking the language in as natural of a setting as possible. That setting must be immersive!

I must admit that I have an intense fear of mediocrity. I don't want it for myself and I don't want it for my students. I feel that if I cave in and do what's most expedient for myself in the short term, I will give my students average instruction that will prevent them from closing the academic achievement gap with their peers in more affluent communities.

Sure, two Spanish classes per week won't turn low-performing students into high-performing ones, but it certainly wouldn't hurt. Put more convincingly, studies show that students with foreign language instruction perform better in literacy and math. This is more a stream of consciousness type of post, so I don't have the time or the will to back that up at this time, but let's just take it as a give for now (at least until I can write a more complete post about it later).

If I can help out my students' overall academic performance by teaching them the four main skills of listening, speaking, reading, and writing in Spanish, I am going to take advantage of that opportunity the best way I know how. I don't want to settle for the mindless regurgitation of vocabulary and verb forms, which won't be retained and won't be transferable to other realms of their academic and personal lives.

I'll spend my Labor Day weekend trying to improve my lesson plans for upcoming weeks. Maybe I will end up caving in and take it down a notch on my Spanish-to-English ratio in class, but I won't go down without a fight.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

"Pueblo pequeño, infierno grande"

"Small town, big hell", many people say in small towns in Costa Rica. While most Costa Ricans I know live in small towns on purpose, nearly all admit that the chisme--or gossip--can be relentless. I learned this firsthand. (Although, luckily, for nothing bad.) It was hard to do much of anything in my rural village of 250 people, or "in town" where about 6,000 people lived, without everyone knowing about it. It might sound pretty harmless, but if you are betting on spending a lifetime in one of these towns, the pressure to maintain healthy relationships and at least a guise of a respectable lifestyle (however your neighbors define it) can be a lot to handle. That's not to say that you have to be perfect, but any slip-up can be committed to public memory for a good part of your life. So, things you do--good, bad, and otherwise--tend to make their way back to you. It's a haunting concept for some, a kind of surveillance from which there is no escaping.

Anyway, small towns have a lot of the same problems as big cities--and verse visa--but only in a small town can a large percentage of the population be privy to your most intimate personal details (or at least have their own version of them). The end result is the perception that sometimes it is a "big hell". However, for most rural folk, these moments simply come with the territory of living in a pleasant, otherwise relaxing place.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Sorry, Dora, it ain't a "mochila"

On a few occasions I was subjected to episodes of "Dora la Explordora", which--unlike the English title--actually rhymes. I always preferred the name "Dora la Explotadora". Anyway, in one episode I recall an ingenious song with the following lyrics:

La mochila,
la mochila,
la mochila,
la mochila,
la mochila,
la mochila,
la mochila,
la mochila,
la mochila!

Costa Ricans understand mochila as backpack, but I have most often heard the word salveque. While both words can be used interchangeably in Costa Rica, the most local word is salveque.

Here are some other local words that are used more often than their Spanish alternatives, most of which are more common in the Spanish-speaking world:

Costa Rican Word/Common Spanish Alternative/Translation

abanico/ ventilador/ fan (box or ceiling)
enojado/ enfadado (Spain)/ angry
birra/ cerveza/ beer
boñiga/ estiércol/ manure
bomba/ gasolinera/ gas station
cabecera/ almohada/ pillow
calzones (not the food)/ ropa interior/ underwear (bottoms)
carro/ coche, auto/ car
faja/ cinturón/ belt (clothing)
largo/ lejos/ far, far away
macho/ rubio/ blond
zancudo/ mosquito/ mosquito
olores/ especias/ spices
pajilla/ pajita/ drinking straw
queque/ torta, pastel/ cake
rabo/ cola/ tail of an animal
tiquete/ boleto/ ticket

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Water in Costa Rica

Agua, one of Costa Rica's most valuable assets, comes in many forms. Water falls from the sky, mixes with clay, springs from the ground, and falls from cliffs. Here is some of the most useful Costa Rican terminology related to water:


llovizna - drizzle or sprinkle

pelo de gato - very light rain

aguacero - torrential downpour

baldazo - literally a big bucket (a storm that's raining buckets)

barro - mud

tierra - soil, earth

arcilla - clay

Natural spring
naciente (f) - natural spring (a word that appears to be almost exclusive to Costa Rica)

manantial (m) - natural spring

catarata - waterfall (cascada is rarely used)

pozo - well

poza - deep swimming hole in a river

bomba - water pump for a well (among many other things, if you care to click on the link)

aguado - watery, dilute

echar agua - conceding position to an opponent to give the impression of weakness, sandbagging

aguadulce - popular drink made of hot water and brown sugar

aguachinarse - to lose one's crops due to excessive rain, to contract a fungal infection from excessive wetness

agua potable - potable water

acueducto - aqueduct, potable water project

agua del tubo - tap water (agua de la llave is more common in South America)

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

"Momses and Dadses"

In rural parts of Costa Rica, people often use a double plural form for certain nouns. That is, they attach an extra plural suffix to a noun where a plural suffix already exists.

To pluralize a word in Spanish you either add an '-s' or an '-es', an 'es' being necessary when the noun ends in a consonant. In Costa Rica I have heard the double plural for 'papases', with an '-s-es' ending.

In this context there is a possible reasonable explanation: If the regular plural form 'papás' refers to one set of parents, 'papases' could conceivably refer to a group of parents.

Regardless of the merits of this armchair etymology, the double plural appears to extend to other nouns whose last syllable is the tonic syllable. For example, I have heard 'mamases' and 'bebeses' (coming from 'bebé'), which contain the double plural, but cannot be rationalized as a group of plural elements.

Double plurals have arisen in other languages, but they usually occur when the former plural suffix becomes improductive. In Spanish, the '-s' and '-es' suffixes are entirely valid standing alone to pluralize their respective nouns, so I don't recommend using the double plural form. But it's sure fun to listen to :)

Monday, February 22, 2010

Word of the Day: Palenque

Palenque can mean any number of things in Spanish, from a fence post (or tethering post) to a cockfight. My first exposure to the word was when I was studying slavery in the New World, in which context it means a society of marooned (escaped) slaves.

In Costa Rica, however, palenque is almost exclusively reserved as a generic term for indigenous reservations.

In Costa Rica:

Palenque = reserva indígena

Wednesday, January 27, 2010


Costa Ricans will often use the word vergazo to mean a strong punch with a fist. This is a colloquial term you might hear in a rural cantina. Keep in mind that the word verga means 'dick'. So, this isn't exactly church language. (Of course, punching people isn't exactly church behavior either.)

Friday, January 22, 2010

Word of the Day: Tiquete

Tiquete is the most common Costa Rican word for ticket. Most people will understand the word boleto, especially in context, but whenever it's a question of a bus ticket or an plane ticket, you'll almost always hear tiquete.

Note: In Costa Rica people will also use the term pasaje, which means 'passage' and can be used interchangeably with tiquete in most cases. One exception would be when you're referring directly to the physical ticket itself, in which case tiquete would be most appropriate.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Va a llover, it's raining

Often when it rained in the rural area where I lived, someone would say "va a llover". It doesn't take much knowledge of Spanish to recognize this as a future tense. So, why would people say that it's going to rain right when it starts raining? It's anyone's guess, but here's mine:

This phrase is likely a projection of continued rain throughout the day. If it starts raining, and the outlook for the foreseeable hours in the day look grim, people will predict a considerable amount of rainfall, using only a three-word prhase.

I can respect this type of communication. People tend to shorten language when they're among people of similar background. Heck, why not use a few words when that's all you need to get your point across? With that said, I went through several months of frustration because of my relative lack of local understanding. For example, people would always tell me that I need to go para arriba [parriba] or para abajo [pabajo] to go where I needed to go. To me, up or down didn't mean much because I was unfamiliar with the relative altitudes of different villages. What seemed obvious to all the locals was a great mystery to me.

But with time I learned the subtleties of language in my rural corner of Costa Rica. Eventually, instead of saying that the rain will probably last till tomorrow morning, I learned to kick back and say "va a llover". And it felt good.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Word of the Day: Estudiar

It's been a while since I've posted here. I suppose I should make things clear; I don't have time to post a new word every day, but I will do so as much as possible. It will probably end up being two or three times per week. So, here we go...

, of course, means 'to study', but Costa Ricans will also use the word to mean 'to read'. When I got to the country and had stretches of time with little to do but to read, people would often apologize that they didn't mean to interrupt me while I was "studying". I would often respond, "I'm only reading". This seemed to confuse them. Before long I accepted that reading and studying are one and the same to many Costa Ricans. Since I was living in mostly rural areas, most people I knew read only when they had to.

My theory is that this correlation between academic work and reading was so strong that people started melding the two activities together in language. I haven't tested this conjecture scientifically, but it seems the most plausible to me. Does anyone have more intimate knowledge of this usage?

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Word of the Day: Millonario

You probably won't hear this while you're traveling in Costa Rica, but Costa Ricans will use the word millonario all the time in reference to rich people.

While it's easy to just say that millonario is 'millionaire', doing so would be highly inaccurate. In Costa Rica a US dollar is worth about 500 colones. Consequently, you'd only need about $2,000 in local currency to be a millionaire in the most simplistic literal sense of the word. By such a measure, nearly anyone who owns a home would be a millonario. This is obviously not what is meant by millonario.

At the same time, neither do you need to have a million dollars to be considered millonario. A cool million is something that most ticos can't even imagine. To live the lifestyle of the vast majority of Costa Ricans, one wouldn't need that much money in an entire lifetime, much less have that in net worth at a given time.

To make a long story short, millonario is simply a symbolic term for an extremely rich person, someone with many millions of colones in the bank.

Let me know in the comments if you have any questions.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Word of the Day: Olla de Carne

Olla de carne, literally a 'pot of meat', is a Costa Rican stew made with beef and vegetables. The vegetables are primarily starchy tubers like yuca (yucca), tiquisque, malanga, as well as a light and watery vegetable called chayote.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Funny Shirts in Costa Rica

I would make this blog about funny t-shirts in Costa Rica if I had the temerity to snap photos of strangers in the street. Costa Ricans often wear t-shirts with English writing on them, ones they purchase from the local Ropa Americana store (which is a store that carries second-hand clothes from the United States). Often the locals don't understand what's on the t-shirts. Case in point, I saw an older (white) man strolling down a main walkway in San José donning a shirt that read:

"Look out: Here comes one pissed off black woman"

You might not find gems like this every day in Costa Rica, but the prevalence of North American clothing mixed with the subtleties of a foreign language make situations like these all but inevitable. If you spend enough time in Costa Rica, you're bound to get a few chuckles here and there from ironic clothing.

It's quite common to see people wearing old sports t-shirts and jerseys for teams that are explicitly for the opposite sex of the person wearing it. You might also see someone wearing a humorous t-shirt that says, "Smooth Operator" or "Why am I so thirsty if I drank so much last night"? In most of these occasions when I have known the person wearing the t-shirt, the t-shirt owner did not fully understand the message and, in many cases, would not have purchased the t-shirt having known what it meant.

If you have any ironic t-shirt stories from Costa Rica or elsewhere, please share in the comments.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Word of the Day: Filo

Filo means the edge of a blade in Spanish, but in Costa Rica it is also slang for 'hunger'.

Ex: ¿Tiene (Ud.) mucho filo?

Translation: Are you really hungry?

Friday, July 17, 2009

Word of the Day: Soda

It's not quite what you expect. Soda is Costa Rican for diner. Sodas in Costa Rica won't give you a menu because the fare is pretty standard from one place to the next. Most places will send a waitress (salonera) to your table and ask you to simply come up with your order on your own.

Most people will order a "casado", which is a fixed plate that consists of rice, beans, a few sides, some plantains (green or ripe), and your choice of meat.

The sides can consist of a chopped up casserole dish called "picadillo" or an "ensalada rusa" (Russian salad), which consists of chopped up beets and hard-boiled eggs in a creamy sauce.

The meat choices can include the following:

  • Carne en salsa (literally "meat in sauce", kind of like a thick stew or a pot roast)
  • Pollo en salsa (usually a single piece of chicken cooked in a light chicken gravy)
  • Pollo frito (a piece of fried chicken)
  • Pescado (fish, most often fried)
  • Chuleta (pork chop)

When ordering a casado you only need to say "un casado con ______", with the blank filled by one of the aforementioned meats. "Un casado con chuleta", for example, would be what you order if you want the fixed meal with a pork chop. You can also order a "un casado vegetariano", which will most likely be the typical base-case casado with just more of everything, but no meat of course.

You can also order items a la carte. The only difficulty is that you have to spell everything out for the waitress. (As a side note, yes, most soda waitstaff is female.) For example, you could say:

"Regáleme arroz, frijoles, pollo en salsa, unos maduros, ensalada rusa y un huevo frito"

Translation: "Gift me rice, beans, chicken in sauce, some ripe plantains, Russian salad, and a fried egg"

(Please note that "regalar", which literally means "to gift", is the most common way to ask for something in Costa Rican culture, even when you intend to pay for something.)

When you're ordering a drink, you're expected to order a soft drink, coffee (if it's breakfast time), or one of their "natural" drinks called "frescos naturales". The frescos are a mixture of some natural source of flavor--usually fruit--mixed with water and sugar. You might be overwhelmed by all of your choices. Among those choices will be some of the following:

  • Fresco de piña (pineapple)
  • " " zanahoria (carrot)
  • " " chan (the seed of the chan fruit)
  • " " linaza (linseed)
  • " " mango (mango)
  • " " avena (oatmeal)
  • " " mora (blackberry)
  • " " maracuyá (passion fruit)
  • " " carambola (starfruit)
  • pinolillo (finely ground roasted corn and cacao)

This should be enough for you to survive your first trip to a Costa Rican soda. However, please note that your experience on the Caribbean side might be different. While the process might be quite similar, the actual food will likely be much different, but that can be the topic for another blog post.

Happy eating :)

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Word of the Day: Dialecto

Dialecto is 'dialect' in Spanish, but in the rural areas of Costa Rica you might hear people referring to dialect as a language completely different from Spanish. In my area of Guatuso, people would often explain to me that the indigenous Maleku Indians spoke a "dialect". The textbook understanding of the word would make it seem as if Maleku were a dialect of Spanish. What they mean to say is that it isn't Spanish at all. (A more pessimistic view may have the locals interpreting the Maleku language as somehow undeserving of the language status, which could be accurate for some.) It threw me off a bit the first time I heard someone say it, but I learn to tune it out when people continued to say use dialecto in this way.