Pura Vida

SB is from Costa Rica, a small country with a rich, proud culture. They have a phrase in Costa Rica that S says all the time: Pura Vida. It means “Pure Life,” and it is somewhat of a motto for the country. S explains how everyone is always saying Pura Vida. “Their all-time favorite phrase is ‘Pura Vida,’ ” she says. “It is a way of reminding others that life is unrepeatable and that maybe, just maybe someone’s problems or current situation are not as bad as it seems. If everyone lives in a ‘pura vida lifestyle’ it means that there is cooperations and support from the people around you.”

Pura Vida is a phrase of goodwill. It captures the spirit of the country, which is consistently ranked as one of the happiest nations in the world. “Costa Ricans strive to live life to the fullest,” S says. This can clearly be seen in their favorite phrase.

I think it is interesting how an entire country has a single phrase that unifies the people through a common way of life. As S explains, people say the words daily; it is more than just a motto. “Pura vida has complete a wide range of meanings,” she tells me, “and can be used at anytime to replace simple words like ‘Hello’, ‘bye’, ‘thank you’, ‘all good’, ‘you ok’ and many more.” Like any folk speech, it means much more than just the literal words. The significance is in how people use the phrase. Since it is really only a Costa Rican slang, the people are proud of their phrase. Saying it identifies one as a real Costa Rican, or tico, as they call themselves.

Because of this, “Pura Vida” has been bastardized a bit by tourism. It is on everything in Costa Rica, from stickers to shirts to posters. Tourists come to the little country expecting to see the “Pura Vida life.” The nation certainly uses the phrase as a marketing tool, which could make one question the authenticity of continued use of the phrase. I asked S about this inconsistency between the meaning of the phrase and its capitalistic use in tourism. She said that while Costa Rica certainly sells the phrase, “It is still an important part of the local culture. And it means so much more to us than people see in all the tourism stuff. Pura Vida really is the most important thing we say. It is something I live by every day.” This is the power of folk speech. It can define an entire nation of people.