There is a guy I know, a US citizen–I will call him Victor- who has lived in Costa Rica for 12 years, yet is unable to say “I have lived in Costa Rica for twelve years’’ in Spanish. You may know the type. He gets by in public with a combination of broken Spanish, loud English, hand gestures and body language.
When that is not enough, he calls me. Which is how I found myself back in San Jose, a place I generally avoid except when exiting or entering the country. Victor was a city guy in the states and he wouldn’t think of living anywhere else. I took the bus to San Jose, an uber to his condo in Escazu (first walking a couple blocks away from the bus terminal so as not to attract the ire of the official red taxis),
The elevator was out of order, so I walked up the 5 flights of stairs to his condo. I arrived a bit sweaty, so Victor brought me a glass of water. It looked more like skim milk than water. They always say it is because there is air in the pipes; I always wonder- ‘if its air, why does it look more like chlorine gas?’
I asked the inevitable question– “Is this water safe to drink?” Victor answered, “Of course it’s safe to drink. Its city water.” I laughed, and then said to Victor,. “If I want to be assured of the cleanliness and good hygiene of something, putting the word ‘city’ in front of it ain’t gonna do the trick.
Nobody goes downtown to that narrow street where all the buses are parked and idling and takes a big hit of that city air, do they? Would you buy city drugs off a stranger in a bar? After doing the drugs, would you go have city sex with that woman you picked up off a street corner, the one whose voice got strangely deeper when it came time to pay?” Victor was not interested in my rant. He needed translation help.
That was the reason I was visiting him. He was building a house in a pricey development in Santa Ana, and had a meeting with his architect, who, Victor complained, couldn’t speak English nearly as well as a Tico professional should. I have given up trying to explain to my friend why it is incumbent on him, in a Spanish-speaking country, not to expect others to speak English.
He thinks they should meet him halfway. I can only imagine the incomprehensible conversations he must have when he is on his own in San Jose. I was with him once when we went to a bakery to look for a birthday cake. Victor walked confidently to the counter and asked “Tengas caca?” You just asked if they have poop, I informed him. He brushed me off–”They understand what I meant”. The counterwoman chuckled, but she did understand, unfortunately– I was hoping she would bring him the keys to the men’s room.
The meeting with the architect went smoothly, mainly because Victor kept his mouth shut and let me do the talking between the two. A bona fide professional translator would have charged Victor $200 or more for the services. I settled for a steak sandwich, 2 Heinekens, a gram of green smokeable and reimbursement of my bus and uber fares.