In Costa Rica, it is customary when arriving at a home to knock and say “upe” (pronounced oo-pay). What this announcement means is to politely ask for someone to come to the door or otherwise answer to your presence, though it doubles for some as there is an old story in Costa Rica culture that says it helps “purify” the house of anything evil.
But what, where and when did it come from? A lot of people are very unaware of the word’s history, and it’s an interesting one.
According to the historian Costantino Lacariz in his book “El Costarricense” the pronouncement comes from the Spanish Colonial period and has a religious background.
“Upe ” supposedly came from Nicoya, Guanacaste in the 1800s, where the locals would announce their presence by saying the words “Nuestra Señorita (Señora) la Virgen de Guadalupe.” This was of course shortened over time and eventually ended up with just the last part, “upe“. It was assumed that no evil person would say the supposed holy word before approaching someone’s home.
The greeting which is uttered at the doorstep of houses was very typical in Nicoya, who had dedicated it to the celebrations in honor of the Virgin of Guadalupe, their Patron Saint.
During your Costa Rica surf trip, you may notice a lot of homes don’t even have doorbells! Don’t worry though, this is where this expression comes into much use and is a pure Costa Rican tradition. Street vendors would also even shout “Upe, upe!” if they didn’t know the name of the occupants.
It can still be seen as a way of “blessing” one’s home these days so it is best to remember it for when you visit someone’s residence or store, a little manners and knowledge of Costa Rica slang never hurt!
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