Tico talk

Liberia Travel Blog

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Here are a few interesting little tidbits I've learned about Tico-talk...

The other day, as I wrote earlier, Noemy's neighbor brought over Caribbean food for lunch, complete with rice and beans, chicken in a spicy sauce, a macaroni salad, and maduros (fried plantains). As we ate happily, Noemy kept saying "que buena la negrita, me alegro con la negrita" (What a nice job the little black woman did). In English, of course, that's offensive. I think that's because we pretend to be color-blind and ignore the subject of race as much as possible. But I wasn't sure if Noemy's remarks were, in fact, racist, or if her words carried a kinder connotation.

So later that night, when I went out with some students and friends, I heard it again. Someone was talking about a friend of his who happened to be dark-skinned, whom he referred to as "el negro." I had to ask. Is that a derogatory joke between friends or is it a term of endearment? They assured me that in Spanish, when someone refers to another person by the color of their skin, it is a kind nickname. In addition, I've been called "machita" by countless taxi drivers and men on the street, and had to wonder what it meant. I knew, of course, it was some kind of comment toward my looks, but I didn't know exactly what, so I asked a friend, who explained that it was a synonym for "rubia." Blondie (or perhaps even "whitey;" I'm not really sure). I've never considered myself a blonde, but compared to most people here, I am much lighter, hence warranting the nickname "machita."

Instead of pretending to ignore people's races or colors, they embrace it. This is true about most non-Americans, I feel. I've found them to be much more blunt about subjects like weight and appearances. This is not to say that ticos are completely color-blind (as is made clear by their jokes and sentiments toward Nicaraguans, or Nicas), but rather, that they may refer to someone as "blondie/whitey," or "the little black woman" or even "blackie" and it's a term of endearment. I don't, however, envision "blackie" becoming a term of endearment in the English language anytime soon...

I've also learned a lot of new idioms and slang terms from my students in the past week. In class this week, our unit was about culture shock, traveling abroad and learning new customs in different countries. Since the grammar wasn't too hard, I decided to let the students go on a tangent about Costa Rican customs. That way, I'd learn a lot, and they would get a lot of "talk time" in class. And I was right- it's fun to learn what students' hot topics are and get them talking up a storm. Normally, I never allow them to speak Spanish in class, but since this unit was about their culture, they had to throw in a few native words here and there. I learned that "paracaída" (parachute) is a term they use to describe someone who shows up to an event uninvited (a party crasher). And that on your birthday, people are supposed to crack an egg on your head. And that no one wears their seat belt here (but that I've learned when riding in friends' cars or in taxis... but don't worry, I still wear mine, even though when I put it on, it's like yelling, "Hey! I'm a gringa!"). And that in general, a lot of their customs (greeting people, going on dates, etc.) are more similar to U.S. customs than some other countries.

Another student sent me a text message with a bunch of Spanish idioms comically translated into English. I learned that "ser una mosquita muerta" (literally, to be a dead mosquito) means to think you're "hot shit." And "montarse en la arepa voladora" (literally, to ride the flying pancake) means to be a mooch. Love it.

Now I know what my teachers meant when they've said that they've learned more from their students than their students have from them.
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