Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Inside-Out

In rural Costa Rica the words 'inside' and 'outside' provide just one example of a set of vague directional references that locals will employ to confuse the hell out of you.

Adentro, to a Costa Rican living in a rural area, is a directional reference meaning "further into the country (boondocks)".

Afuera, as you may expect, means "toward the city". ("Cities" in Costa Rica are often of quite modest size.)

When city folk comes to the Costa Rican countryside, they often get confused by these references. I was witness to a conversation a Costa Rican had with a city-dwelling American when this issue caused major confusion. The rural Costa Rican asked the American (U.S.) "do you like living afuera"? The American then went on to explaining that, no, he prefers the city. The Costa Rican stopped listening at some point (as he normally does) and ended the conversation thinking that the guy actually preferred living in a rural setting. When I brought this up later on, he became defensive, assuring me that the guy didn't like living "afuera".

If you've ever tried confrontation with a Costa Rican, you'll know that it's a futile endeavor. The culture has a high level of avoidance and a distaste for 'necios' who challenge other people. As a result, I didn't try convincing this guy of the cultural divide that the conversation exemplified.

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Other confusing directional references include arriba and abajo. the rural Costa Rican has a surprisingly detailed picture of his area's topography in his head. He'll tell you, "voy pa' bajo", which means nothing to a city slicker. What he'll probably tell you, though, if you care to ask the right questions, is that the town that neighbors him to the south is at about 20 vertical meters below his own. I always wonder: "Couldn't he just tell me the name of the town"?!!? This wondering often gets you nowhere.

Also, Costa Ricans offer gestures to replace descriptive directional cues. Costa Ricans will point at things, whether near or far, with their lips. They press them together and stick them out, as if to make a duckbill, and nod their head in a slight upward motion in the indicated direction.

***Please note that this lip pointing is also a popular way for a Costa Rican man to point out an attractive woman to another dude***

3 comments:

Memo said...

And I thought only Colombians did this . . .

Memo said...

I was referring to the lip pointing thing . . .

Thomas Carmona said...

Apparently Costa Ricans and Colombians share more than they care to admit...