In Costa Rica When Does Now Mean Now?

Glog jigsaw puzzle being put together
The puzzle of cultural differences
There are many cultural quirks in Costa Rica that, for lack of a better word, I'll label Tiquismos. Recently, I blundered upon a linguistic one. Specifically, it is the expression of "now" and its true meaning. If you have spent any time in Latin America, you know what I mean by "true meaning."

My first heavy exposure to on-the-ground Spanish was in México where I spent many months totally squandering my early 20s. The following table shows how the concept of "now" is expressed there:

Table of Mexican words for "now"
Mexican Spanish for "now"

You see in the table the translation of each expression along with the fuzzy cultural meaning. If you were to ask when something was to be done of a Mexican, you would likely here all three of these expression in succession throughout the day. Hey, a lot could have changed since I was in México last, 30+ years ago, but I think still, fundamentally, our Mexican neighbors (outside D.F. anyway) are not in a big hurry to do anything.

I have been happily going through life here in Costa Rica the last few years using these Mexican expression for "now." That is, until my polite neighbor and friend Luis finally took the time to clue me in. Here in Costa Rica, the same expressions are turned on their heads (patos arriba as they would say). Notice how the 3x3 table above turns into a 2x2 table when speaking Costa Rican Spanish.

Costa Rican Spanish terms for "now"
Costa Rican Spanish for "now"

The third row goes away because ahora, in Tico, is equivalent to Mexico's "ahorrita mismo." The latter phrase could have no meaning in Costa Rican Spanish. It would be confusing as hell to express: "really really some indefinite time in the future." 

The disappearance of the third column - and other Costa Rican expats are free to disagree - is based on my experience that when Ticos say now they mean now. Not with quite the same obsessive urgency as we Protestant-bred Type A personalities would use it in the States, but for the most part they are a punctual people. Of course, there are individual exceptions everywhere in the world.

If Ticos can't do something ahorrita or ahora, they usually tell you so that you don't get false expectations. That wouldn't be polite and respectful. This Costa Rican tendency to not disappoint is the basis for another Tiquismo, which I write about in another post.

That's all ... for now.


  1. Thanks for the post! Ah, yes. Time is elusive in Costa Rica. In our new book "Radical Sabbatical" we take a rather humorous approach at teaching the difference between "ocho dias," "quince dias," and "veintidos dias." This was a concept that completely eluded me until it was explained to me by our Costa Rican cab driver in San Jose. Too long to cover here, but a funny concept to North Americans.

    1. One, two, and three weeks, respectively. They simply count the current day in the calculation.


Thanks so much for your comment! - Casey