by Ivo Henfling
The first time I was standing in line in a hardware store in Escazu, the attendant asked me “Y vos macho, en que te puedo servir”? And you “Macho”, what can I do for you.
I didn’t realize I was being called blondy. (I was far from blond, I used to be brownhaired back then).I didn’t really pay attention but the next time I was in another store the attendant called the woman next to me “Negra” and the woman wasn’t black at all.
My Spanish was barely on survival mode and I didn’t have a clue. At the time I had a bilingual secretary, Sandra, and I asked her what this was all about. Before you know it, you will end up with a nickname in Costa Rica, called an “apodo” or “sobrenombre”, so start learning about the customs of your new homecountry.
The word “macho” in Spanish means stud, yes you’re reading it right. Nobody had ever called me stud before, even less a male attendant at the hardware store. But Macho does not mean only “manly”, it also is used for a blond male person or a white male person but it is not used as a derogatory word in Costa Rica.
Obviously the second option was the one used by the male attendant, I hope. The Costa Ricans use the name “Macha” for a white or blond woman or girl. I can assure you it is no meant as a nasty name, it is just like pal, sista, bro, dude or buddy. In the photo, you see well known soccer coach “Macho” Ramirez. He has light brown hair, not very usual for a Tico, the reason for the nickname.
The word “Negro” means black in Spanish but it doesn’t mean that the person being called “Negro” or “Negra” is a black person or African American. Those being called Negro (male) or Negra (female) have black hair or have a darker skin than the person who uses the word.
The names Macho, Macha, Negro and Negra are more used as a nickname instead of the regular name the person has. I know quite a few people who are called Macho or Macha by everyone around them and most of them don’t even know their real name. Gordo is used a lot for fat people and Flaco for a skinny person. For years, they used to call me Flaco (I was always skinny). But being called Gordo, even though you are fat, doesn’t mean they are being mean to you.
So if someone calls you Macho or Macha, Gordo or Flaca, you need to understand it is not derogatory at all. In the photo on the left, you see well known Channel 7 journalist “El Flaco” Edgar Silva.
The word “mae”, not to be mistaken with “maje”, is a word you will hear all day long anywhere in Costa Rica. Men as well as women use it when talking to each other, while younger people use it a lot. Mae means dude or friend. On another day, I will tell you all about the word maje.
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