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Dining Etiquette in Costa Rica

Now that you’ve settled into your hotel, you’re bound to be hungry! In order to make your dining experience as enjoyable as possible, it’s important to know a little bit about what’s expected of you as a patron. Luckily, most menus are given in both English and Spanish so you will have no trouble figuring out what to order. It’s how to order that gets a little tricky.

1) When ordering your selection, it is polite to use the phrase por favor, regalame __________, which translates to please give me the gift of __________ and demonstrates excellent manners. Regalame is pronounced ray-GALL-uh-may. The waiter will most likely respond with con mucho gusto, meaning with much pleasure. If you’re having trouble recalling that phrase, then try to at least use the phrase por favor, which means please.

2) If you’re a hot sauce fanatic like I am, be careful! Yes, their “salsa picante” does translate to “hot sauce,” but is a whole different beast in itself. If you’re craving wing sauce, ask for “salsa de buffalo”–buffalo pronounced as BOOF-a-low. Try not to laugh while requesting some!

3) If you’ve ordered a beer, they will bring you a bottle accompanied with a frosted mug. No, you don’t have to drink your beer out of the glass, but will you look a bit barbaric? Probably. So dump it in and chug away! (P.S. Imperial and Pilsen are the national beers. Imperial tastes similar to a lite beer, and Pilsen more like a dark beer but both equally tasty.)

4) Standard condiments are ketchup and mayonnaise, not ketchup and mustard. So if you’ve ordered a burger, it will most likely come dressed with ketchup and mayo. Be sure to speak up if you’d like it prepared differently!

5) Speaking of condiments, salt doesn’t pour out of the salt shakers very well, thanks to that rain forest humidity! If you’re having trouble, don’t hesitate to ask for a new one.

6) If you’re going all out with the whole Latino vibe and decide to order tacos, burritos, quesadillas, etc . . . just remember that the sour cream, or “natilla,” is not the same as you may be used to. It is a bit thinner with a slightly weaker flavor. No need to complain to your waiter; this is how all of the sour cream is in Costa Rica. Even at upscale, americanized establishments. So embrace it!

7) If you finished your meal ages ago and you’re still wondering why the waiter/waitress hasn’t brought you your check, it’s because doing so is considered impolite. To Costa Ricans, bringing a check without having instructions to do so would imply that they are wishing you to leave. They wouldn’t dream of it.

8) So then, in order to request the check we come full circle back to your favorite phrase: <emphasis>regalame! Regalame la cuenta, por favor</emphasis> would be the ideal way to do so. Or simply <emphasis>la cuenta, por favor</emphasis>. Like many non-native speakers, be careful not to make the mistake of con- fusing the Spanish word <emphasis>cuenta</emphasis>, which means check, for <emphasis>cuento</emphasis> which means story!

9) Keep in mind that the tip is included, but an additional tip may be left if you were impressed with your service. Although to us it may seem rude to leave coins, a 500 colon coin will do the trick or a 1,000 bill if you’re feeling generous.

Excerpted and adapted from the ebook “Become a Costa Rican in 30 Minutes Flat” by Ashley Ambirge.

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