The other day Victor was walking past our drive when I pulled out to go get our helper. “Buenos días,” we said. “Want a ride?” I asked. “So Victor,” I said making small talk, “Who is your best friend around here?”

“It’s everybody in mi escuela,” he said with an enthusiastic and ordained answer.  “Well,” I pressed, ”Isn’t there just one who is a little more ‘best’ than the others?”  “Well,” he hesitated then said quietly, “Por verdad es Francisco.” 

 Vivencia isn’t in the first two printings (’84 & ’94), of our dictionary, but it is frequently used in Costa Rica. It finally made it into the 2nd edition (2008).  I had come across it in a book of personal anecdotes that I’m reading to try to upgrade my Spanish.  The author, who is a participant in the '48 Civil War and later a politician of some standing, finds a use for it in nearly every chapter.  I asked Janet’s Tica yoga ladies what they thought it meant. Roughly summed, they said that it meant your experience of family, neighbors, the government, life – everything in short.  I have tentatively given it the meaning of something between one’s experience of “culture” and “lifestyle” from the author’s use and the ladies’ description; the current edition of the dictionary calls it simply, “personal experience.”


I’ve developed enthusiasm for the word vivencia since I discovered its only recent inclusion in the dictionary.  I’m not pointing out a flaw in the system or anything. It’s just interesting how language evolves and I have long been fascinated by this sort of thing since I read Mencken’s history of the English language. He pointed out how the language split when France beat England (1-0) at Hastings. “Cow” remained cow to the people who tended them in the fields but became bouef to the people who were served them at the table. Since bouef eventually became a four-letter word, beef, I’m saying that the Angles and the Saxons actually won the war.  You see where I’m going with this.  But, I digress.

The author of the anecdotes is almost a neighbor as he owns a finca in Paso Agres de Turrubares – our canton, about twenty minutes from our finca.  Like many personal reminisces, this one also regrets the loss of the vivencia of his youth, a time when the camposina had dignity even though she would have to pick coffee de pata en suelo – in bare feet. Nowadays (1999), he says they wear silk stockings, high heels and are very concerned about a rostro celestial and a cuerpo de tentación – a heavenly (made-up) face, and a tempting body. When I raised this discussion with our electrician (a thirty-something), told me that for his first fifteen years his family lived on the ridge above Barbacoas without electricity.   Living as we do in very rural Costa Rica, we can witness the remnants of this earlier life and the emerging changes, the happy and the unhappy aspects of both.

 The day is coming when Victor or his younger siblings will not realize that it is “only right,” with humildad, that they should acknowledge that each classmate is as close as the others.  Media has taken the countryside, and with that comes the urge to live like those that they see there. Victor will be frustrated if he should want to live like his father. the vivencia of a prideful peon-- but he probably won’t want to. Like the USA, this government is encouraging consumption for purposes of stimulating the economy pursuant to the Free Trade Agreements (US, China, Europe), and of becoming a full participant in the global economy. The Agreements, assistance from the World Bank and the IMF, brook precious little of the protectionism that insulated the culture and the vivencia of the people living in it.  Crassly put perhaps, the replacement ethic seems to be: “If you are not spending, what good are you to the rest of us?” Apparently no nation has learned to fully engage capitalism while preserving the core values of what made them unique before.  With some attention to the subject, this country could be the first.