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Everybody who moves to Costa Rica wants to live the Pura Vida lifestyle. This expression is the national motto and it became world-famous after goalkeeper Keylor Navas started using it in all his TV interviews. But what does it mean?
Basically, Pura Vida means “pure life” or enjoying life no matter what happens. It’s an expression of happiness and the satisfaction of living life to the max.
When visiting the country for the first time you’ll start hearing the expression “Pura Vida” everywhere. It is part of life in this incredible country. But what does it mean?
Costa Ricans use the two words “Pura Vida” mostly as a greeting. Like “hi, how are you”. And the response to that could also be Pura Vida, which would be “I’m great, I’m cool”. So by both persons saying Pura Vida to each other, they’ll have completed the greeting. This could be a greeting between two people who don’t know each other and are just passing each other in a bar or on the street, or when being introduced to each other formally by a third person.
Tuanis is a slang word for Pura Vida, learn more about pachuco.
Ways of using Pura Vida
There are many ways of using Pura Vida, besides its use as a greeting:
- In traffic, when thanking another driver for space: gracias, Pura Vida
- When clothing fits well and you like it: beautiful, Pura Vida
- The food is great here, it’s delicious, Pura Vida
- I’m so happy today, Pura Vida
- I like today’s class a lot, Pura Vida
and so on.
Wikipedia has a pretty decent explanation of the meaning, although I agree only partially:
“Pura Vida” literally means “Pura” = pure and “Vida” = life, but “Pure life” in Spanish would be “Vida Pura” instead, so the real meaning is closer to “plenty of life”, “full of life”, “this is living!”, “going great”, “real living”, or “cool!” It can be used both as a greeting and a farewell, to express satisfaction, to politely express indifference when describing something  or even to say “thank you”.
A Free Ride
In my opinion, the “Pura Vida” lifestyle has a lot to do with the easy ways the “Ticos” are used to. This is mainly because they have not had the wars the neighboring countries have gone through. The fact that the “Ticos” have never suffered these wars as their neighbors did, makes them much easier going than their neighbors. The country has always been lucky enough to get a free ride, one way or another. Here are three examples of the results of a Pura Vida lifestyle:
The U.S. government provided slightly more than $1.7 billion in direct bilateral aid to Costa Rica over the fifty-year period 1946-95. much of that was during the Nicaraguan revolution in the 80s, to keep the communists away from the US. I don’t think anybody remembers what happened to all those millions. The former U.S. Agency for International Development building is now the National Technology Center CeNAT and all those gifts are Pura Vida, right?
For years, the Costa Ricans have been friendly with the Taiwanese. To gain the Costa Rican vote in the UN to get Taiwan elected, they have received many large gifts like the “Puente de la Amistad”. This is a large bridge finished in 2003, spanning the Tempisque River in Guanacaste. Now, though the structure of the bridge is still intact, many of the movable pieces are already lost, stolen, fallen, and disappeared, as shown in this picture from the La Nacion newspaper. Pura Vida!
In 2007, President Oscar Arias broke ties with Taiwan and started diplomatic ties with China. China gave Costa Rica a new National Stadium as a thank-you gift. The new stadium was inaugurated on Saturday, the 26th of March 2011. On the 29th of March 2011, Mr. Chen Changzi, Vice President of the National Assembly of China, promised the government an additional sum of $400 M of free aid. Pura Vida!
The Easy Way
That said, you can live the easy way and enjoy life as much as the Ticos do. Maybe it’s now your turn for a Pura Vida lifestyle. That depends on you. But to be able to achieve that, you have to make the decision of moving here, adjust to the way things are done here, and you’ll be able to say Pura Vida to everyone you meet.
Pura Vida also has its negative side. It’s a great excuse for the Pura Vida lovers to not take the responsibility for their behavior. Some people think the Pura Vida lifestyle gives them the right to do what they want, without taking into account the people around them. Tico Time is a good example of that, which gives some people the excuse to arrive late at an appointment (in their opinion).
Sum It Up
Let me sum up some of the meanings of what “Pura Vida” really means in my opinion:
- Live the day, take it as it comes, and don’t think about what can happen tomorrow.
- Let’s worry about my problems another day, I’m too busy enjoying life now.
- Let’s not take any responsibility for anything; it might be a problem later on.
- Volunteering creates a responsibility, which means the possibility of making a mistake, which might put me in the wrong spot. (like being in the army, right?)
- Don’t worry about showing up too late at an appointment, tomorrow is another day.
- Not showing up at all at an appointment is not a problem either, we’ll just ask for another appointment.
- Don’t ask me, ask him. I didn’t do it.
- I didn’t break it, it just fell.
- Why do you get mad at me, what’s the rush, this is Costa Rica.
- I know, I promised, but I couldn’t make that deadline.
Nothing is perfect in life. Paradise is created by yourself, and only by yourself. It can be hard work to create it, and that depends a lot on your personality. Receiving sunshine every day and being surrounded by beautiful nature of course helps. It is important to surround yourself with positive people, others who enjoy the Pura Vida lifestyle.
It is not necessary to go native to leave your principles behind. It’s the ability to accept someone else’s lifestyle, the ability to adjust to another culture, and another language. You will need to learn to accept those things when moving here. If you are not, stay where you are, and only visit for a nice vacation, but don’t move here.