Strangers in a Strange Land

Below are our individual responses to the Daily Prompt at, that asks you to describe your favourite part about visiting a new place. Enjoy!

999675_10151658340114547_1179632592_nSwinging at the University of Costa Rica

By Christina

As a language student and a translator, I love learning new languages (and practicing ones I’ve already studied), analyzing translations and noticing how different cultures say the same thing. Inevitably when you travel you learn basic phrases to get you through interactions with cashiers and servers, but I love looking at the particularities of language.

In Costa Rica I’ve learned that regional expressions here are called “tiquismos” because the demonym for people from Costa Rica is Tico. One such tisquismo I’ve noticed is that the guys call each other “mae” (pronounced my): their version of “dude”. This confused the crap out of me for weeks since “mai” (pronounced my) in Italian means “never”.

“Casado” means married. But it also means a plate of food that usually includes rice, beans, meat, salad, vegetables, fried plantains and dessert that you can get cheaply at little restaurants called “sodas”.

I also learn things about my own language when I meet other travellers. Americans can instantly tell I’m Canadian when I pronounce house, out or about, even though I have no accent otherwise. They are also quite delighted when I end sentences with, “Eh?”. I also learned the way to say “puking” in British English is “chundering”. Lovely.

At museums, I ignore the artefacts and art and focus on the translations— editing the English and trying to remember certain Spanish words. I listen attentively when people are speaking Spanish around me so I can pick out words that I know and ask what other words mean.

Observing language is even more exciting when you can participate. I took a course on Québec French and all its particularities and was thrilled to find it helped me better understand my Francophone friends. Here in Costa Rica, I live with 8 people from France who love to laugh at my accent and tell me that Canadian French uses too many English words.

When I went to Italy, I was ecstatic to hear my cousins spouting phrases directly from my textbook and interested to hear their parents saying unintelligible things in the regional dialect, Sicilian. From what I could gather, Sicilian replaces i with u sometimes, doesn’t really have verb tenses, and sounds a lot less pretty than standard Italian.

For me this is the most interesting part about travelling because so much about a place’s culture is inherently linked to their language. All my life I’ve learned and studied the differences and similarities between languages, but experiencing and observing them is infinitely better.

1069363_10151762890241535_1480355619_nBeachside in Montezuma

By Lauren

One of my favourite parts about visiting a new place, city or country is the cultural differences. I’m obsessed with observing how a place differs from where I’m from. I am currently living in Costa Rica for three months and even though it sounds like I’m living in a tropical paradise, I’m living in the main city, which is a little gritty and chaotic. I commute to work every morning on a 40-minute train along with hundreds of other Costa Ricans, and work in a typical Costa Rican office. While I would love to ditch work and backpack around the country full-time (instead of just on weekends), in a way, this routine helps me experience the country and culture more thoroughly. I get to see regular people going about their daily life here and interact with more than just people in the tourism industry. We have somehow started to carve ourselves a little niche here. We live in a part of town that doesn’t see many tourists; the corner store clerks have all started to get to know us, and the coffee shop by my work even knows my regular order. Once people stop seeing you as a tourist, you can finally start to blend in with the day-to-day life and see what the country is really about.
I love finding out little cultural tidbits of information in a new city or country. For example, in Costa Rica it’s considered rude to slam car doors when you’re getting out. When we first got here, we had no idea and would nonchalantly slam taxi doors and new friends’ car doors. Finally a Tica friend broke it down to us and explained why everyone was so offended. We were surprised, because back in Canada you slam the door to make sure it shuts tight, or else it would be rude to walk off and leave your friend to deal with the half-closed door. Costa Ricans, or Ticos, are extremely polite and non-confrontational people and so when you’re doing something wrong, like casually slamming a door, it can be difficult to find out from them what it is you’re doing to cause offence.
Costa Ricans have their own set of slang that wouldn’t be understood in other Spanish-speaking countries. I had studied Spanish for over 4 years in school and still couldn’t understand a lot of what they were saying. At my internship, I was given a glossary of Tico slang words and phrases to translate into English. This was really cool, because all of a sudden so much of what they were saying suddenly made sense. Besides the obvious ‘¡Pura Vida mae!’, there’s ‘diay’ (well, what happened?), ‘un rojo’ (the red 1000 colones bill) and ‘¡que chiva!’ (how cool!). I still haven’t mastered how to subtly slip these into conversations and sound natural, but now I can at least pick them out and understand them!
Another Costa Rican habit is avid teeth brushing. For the first month or so at our internship, we would notice a lot of the people in the office head to the bathroom mid-afternoon with their toothbrush and toothpaste. We couldn’t figure out why everyone was doing it at the same time. Then an American student at the University of Costa Rica explained it to us: apparently a few years ago, there was a big health push by government and the focus was on cleaning your teeth after you ate so that people wouldn’t have to go to the dentist as much. So people really got into the habit of brushing their teeth after lunch, no matter where they were, whether at work or in the bathroom at Taco Bell.


7 responses to “Strangers in a Strange Land

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