September 20, 2020

A birthday abroad: celebrating Costa Rica style

Above is the view Brianna sees on her way to the university each day. Below, she celebrates with her host family. (Photos courtesy of Brianna Gunter)

By Brianna Gunter
Foreign Correspondent

Imagine walking down the street and hearing: “How lovely to see the pieces of sky that are your eyes.” Sounds like a page out of the world’s corniest pick up line book, right? Here in Costa Rica, however, this isn’t a pick up line. What we have here is the piropo.

Some brief history: The piropo was born in the south of Spain very long ago and stems from a mix of things including love poetry. Although it resembles what we know as a pick up line, the piropo almost never results in a date (like the locals, I continue walking without response). While traditionally from a man to a woman, there are records of some women turning the tables in more recent years. Yes, people have done extensive research on the piropo, as it is a phenomenon that has become part of everyday life.

Unlike the aforementioned line (which I translated to the best of my ability from Spanish to English) most piropos are, shall we say, dirtier. No, I shouldn’t say most. But it is certainly not uncommon to hear at least one a day that has a sexual connotation. I have actually heard a few stories of past study abroad students who left because of the piropo, though this was likely one among other reasons.

Personally I’m used to it now and even find it funny. However, there was one awful one I heard while eating an ice cream cone in San José, the nearby capital. I won’t write it here, but I will say that it had to do with the way I was eating my ice cream!

The vast majority of piropos, however, are perfectly harmless and meant as compliments. They are also not too elaborate; Ojos lindos (lovely eyes), ¡Que bonita! (How pretty!). In fact, one of my professors told me a story about how one of her friends once got upset because she walked past a construction site and didn’t receive a single piropo. The poor woman had apparently just turned 40 and thought of it as a sign of old age.

Speaking of birthdays, just the other day I heard something along the lines of “Man, it must be my birthday if a beautiful present like you is coming my way.”

I’m sure at the time it was not this man’s birthday, but ironically, it was mine. Yes, I recently turned the big 2-1 here in the middle of Central America. While I did of course celebrate with a drink or two (actually it was two) later in the evening, what made my day really special was that I spent most of it with my host family.

I was born just a few minutes before my sister, and she was born a few minutes before my brother. Yep, I’m a triplet. My siblings go to different colleges (we’re big believers in individualism), and so I haven’t really seen them for the past couple birthdays we’ve had. My parents are fantastic people, but their schedules paired with mine have made it near impossible to spend some quality b-day time together.

Then, of course, there was last year when, due to a blizzard, I wouldn’t have seen anyone on my birthday had a few of my sorority sisters not bravely trekked over to visit. While I am still very grateful they did so, I think it still goes without saying that I was hoping things would be much more exciting this year.

Nevertheless, I was surprised to find that what I really enjoyed about this year was the “chillness” of it. My tico dad bought an awesome chocolate cake with strawberries, and my tica mom was sure to count out 21 birthday candles while her teenage daughter and son joked about how vieja (old) I was. I later went out with some friends to a movie and a bar.

So that pretty much sums up my 21st birthday. A lot of people think it’s a 24-hour party here in Costa Rica, and in some places it is (I went to the Caribbean last weekend), but overall, life is quite satisfyingly tame. Well, tame with a piropo here and there.

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