San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Hotel Costa Rica: Pura vida, drinks on the house

From the print edition

As a hotel owner, you are entrenched firmly in the hospitality business, so it helps if one actually enjoys being hospitable – something we had not entirely taken into consideration, being somewhat private people. For some odd reason, I had pictured very civilized guests showing up at happy hour, ordering an expensive bottle of wine, insisting on carrying their own bags and disappearing until checkout the next morning, then paying cash, congratulating you on your fine establishment and leaving. The truth of the matter is, you have absolutely no control over who walks through your door.

Just as you are ready to go to bed, some drunk will stagger in, order one beer and want to talk, about himself, until 2 a.m.

Then there are the couples that choose your place to have a knockdown drag-out fight, all night long.

Or the couples that can’t get enough of each other, all night long. The old ladies who beg you to allow dogs just this one time because theirs is perfectly behaved, only to find out he does have one tiny flaw – barking all night.

You learn to spot them. The Gringos are prone to whine, about any little thing.

Him: “I’m sorry to bother you, but there’s a scorpion in our bed.”

You: “I’m sorry. I’ll send up my two best geckos.”

What you want to say: “Why you sniveling twit, this is the rain forest, you should have been here last week when the place was overrun by army ants, or the week before, killer bees, or snakes in the pool! Now shut up and go to bed!”

The Ticos, although not big whiners, will send in the cutest one in the family to rent a room for two – the cheapest room – then proceed to jam in anywhere from eight to 15 people, complete with hot plates, ice chests and air mattresses, then want to use your refrigerators to store their beer and food.

The Germans drink all night and sing loud patriotic songs.

The Latinos drink all night and want to dance.

The French drink all night and want to keep eating.

The North Americans like to drink half the night, then try to get some sleep, which doesn’t lend itself well to the other aforementioned activities. Because Costa Rica is such a worldly destination, biweekly you’ll host an alcohol-fueled international incident.

One night in particular comes to mind. My good friend and next-door neighbor, Hans, had dropped by for a beer, when an English couple came in for dinner. They introduced me to their guest, Peter, a Swiss German.

“Swiss German?” I foolishly intervened. “My buddy Hans over there is Swiss German, and he happens to be dining alone tonight. Perhaps he could join you?” 

Big mistake; never try to manipulate the crowd.

Hans and Peter hit it off. So much so that by the time dinner was served they were conversing only in German. The elderly English couple, foolishly trying to keep up with the Germans’ alcohol consumption, were getting extremely inebriated, and pissed. The woman in particular was getting more and more convinced that the Germans were talking, and laughing, about her, which, truth be told, they probably were.

She finally exploded. Leaping to her feet, wine glasses flying, she screamed: “YOU ARROGANT BASTARDS! You should speak English if you’re at our table!”

Two Swiss guys, ever taking the neutral route, stood and yelled, “They should speak whatever they want!”

A group of Canadians yelled, “It’s the Englishman’s table! Speak English!”

A group of French stood up. “You are all crazy! Let’s eat!”

A large and tipsy Tico at the bar stood and yelled, “You’re in Costa Rica! You should all speak Spanish!” 

That was it. Sides were taken, battle lines drawn, different nationalities picked allies and started shaking fists and shouting favored homespun curses, as everyone was on their feet now, armed to the teeth with my glass and silverware. Weapons of mass consumption.

I stood helpless, our beautiful hotel only months old and about to be destroyed by a drunken cultural dispute.

Suddenly the lights went out. Total chaos ensued in the pitch black, but only for a moment. Then, silence.

The lights came back, and there by the switch was my Tico chef, Danny.

¡Pura vida!” Danny yelled. “Drinks on the house!”

Everyone stood and stared at each other, all armed with butter knives and beer mugs. Then someone started to giggle.

The entire room burst into an international uproar of laughter. Grabbing their nearest former enemy and planting kisses on both cheeks, they put down the weapons, raised their glasses and screamed in unison: 


To be continued. Find previous chapters at U.S. writer and former humor columnist Steve Church owns El Castillo hotel and villa on Costa Rica’s southern Pacific coast (

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