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January 11th, 2007
I learn Spanish from the people around me. I quit lessons awhile ago because time went to the kids. But, I continued to learn so much in a day from the children and the people in my life.
There’s a list of words you must know, of course, before traveling. Water – agua; bathroom – baño; those two are a cinch. But consider learning this word too….toilet paper. I advise any traveler to learn the word. It’s not an easy one, in fact it’s two. And, it makes no sense – that is – until you know the story behind it (sorry, pun intended).
Paper towels for the kitchen are called papel de cocina – kitchen paper, which makes perfect sense. So, toilet paper would be called…..papel de baño. Wrong. Language makes sense until it doesn’t. Toilet paper is called papel higiénico. The second word means sanitary and is pronounced…ee hee-aan ee co (the first h is not spoken and don’t forget to emphasize that é)…not an easy word.
According to my sources (a very lovely bunch of Ticas), toilet paper – papel higiénico – was coined when the product came out. People used the daily news as the paper of the bathroom. Can you see where this gets a little sticky?
“Lots of people had a problem with the ink,” my nanny said, “You know….,” her voice trailed off. She squished up her nose and pointed to the seat of her pants. So, when toilet paper hit the markets, it was important to educate people – especially in the country – that they needed to use the sanitary, safe papel higiénico. Newspaper was only to be read in the bathroom!
While traveling around Costa Rica, bathrooms are much better than even five years ago. But, once in awhile, they’ll come up short. When you need to request toilet paper, you’ll probably get by with the term: papel de baño. Costa Ricans are really kind and forgiving when travelers and ex-pats mess up the Spanish. Charades help a lot. But who wants to mimic bathroom routines at the table in a restaurant. Come to think of it, you may want to throw some wet wipes in your bag, just in case.Filed under Costa Rica, Expatriate Life, Humor, Life in Costa Rica, Living in Costa Rica, Susan Lutz (Carmichael), Travel | Comments (3)