How do you say no in Costa Rica? Well, it’s not “no” because that is considered outright rude. Instead of saying “no,” you have to get creative and come up with different excuses to get out of the situation. I like to think of it as a game.

costa rica language, yes = no

“Yes,” also known as “No” in Costa Rica

1. Passing the Buck

With this method, you say “no” by referring the question to someone else. It’s the easiest way to say “no,” but if you are on the receiving end, this method can get pretty tricky and waste a ton of your time depending on how far you take it.

Take for example my recent adventure in which I snuck on to the tennis court at a country club. A week before I snuck in, the swimming instructor told me that I could probably use the courts without joining and that I needed to talk with the tennis instructor to set something up.

If I had asked the tennis instructor for permission, he probably would have told me “Yes, you can use the courts when they are available,” which means “No.” If I had taken it a step further and called to use the courts, I bet one of these three things would have happened: 1. The secretary would not know who I was and therefore would not have allowed me to schedule the court. 2. The secretary would definitely know who I was and the courts would always be busy. 3. The secretary would schedule a court for me and when I showed up, she would ask for my membership card or number. Game over.

2. Misinformation

With this method, you just flat out lie. I most often see this when asking for directions.

“Excuse me, do you know where the ICE office is?”

“Yes! It’s 500 meters south and 200 meters west.” Translation: “no.”

The only way to figure out if the person really knows the directions or not is to follow the directions and see where they take you. Because of this, I have a little rule in which I ask three people for the directions before I follow them. If all three say the same thing, then I know they are correct.

costa rica directions

“Excuse me Mr. Cowboy Sir, Do you know how to get to the ICE office?” “Yes. It’s over there.”

I’ve also seen this method used in the workplace.

“Are we getting paid on Friday?”


… on Friday, “Where are the paychecks?”

“Oh they are not here because there is traffic,” which brings me to the third method:

3. Making Excuses

Traffic is the #1 excuse for all things and people being late or absent. Late for work? Traffic. Late for school? Traffic. Turning in a project late? Traffic. No food in the cafeteria? Traffic. Not going to a friend’s party? Traffic.

“I’m sick” or “someone in my family is sick (or dying)” is another popular excuse.

I actually use this method all the time at intersections. There is always someone trying to sell something and they will get upset or persist… or both, if I say “No.” Solution – make an excuse.

“I’m sorry, I don’t have any cash.”

“I already have sunglasses.”

“Ohhh I’m sorry, I just bought one of those coloring books this morning at another intersection.”

costa rica sunglasses at intersection

“I’m sorry. I already have every color in my collection!”

I’m a direct person and really appreciate other people being direct. So how do I deal with everyone being so indirect all the time? I focus on the positivity of almost never having to hear the word “No.” It’s nice. I also get some great laughs at some of the amazingly creative ways people have come up with for saying “no!”

That being said, I still hear “no,” usually in downtown San José. Which is also where the intersection salesmen sometimes get aggressive and call BS on my excuses not to buy their stuff.

How about you? What has your experience been? Have you heard any other methods for saying “no” in Costa Rica?