C is for calenton de cabeza.

Costarican idioms from A to Z (loosely interpreted)

The verb calentar means “to heat,” so this expression means “to get angry” (hot headed).

Do I have a problem with this?


This has probably been my single highest hurdle living in Costa Rica. When I first arrived twenty years ago (can it have been that long?) any little thing would have me venting my spleen. Their insane driving habits, long lines in banks, multiple locations where we had to pay bills, nothing I wanted in grocery stores, no Internet, no PHONE, all had me in a constant tizzy.

Poooor Sarita.

“Why can’t they do things in an orderly manner?” I bitched to my long-suffering partner.

His response, “If you want it done like they do it in the USA, why don’t you go home?”  That always shut me up, because what I really I wanted was to be with him.

A couple of things changed the way I approached all these brain-combusting situations. One was a comment by my Australian son-in-law. He said once in casual conversation—and he is right—  “The First World is an anomaly; the way things happen in the rest of the world is the norm.” Well. I had to think about that.

Why should there be staid and starchy traffic patterns? Why did I assume there should be quick and efficient access to a teller? In almost all non-westernized countries there is a general chaos (loose anarchy?) and what I have come to call “informal payments.” But there is also also personal freedom of a kind I was unaccustomed to in the USA. No police will stop you when you are trying to kill yourself on a motorcycle without a helmet, there are no federal safety regulations (to speak of), and if you stand under a guy on a ladder and he drops a hammer and it hits you on the head, well… you have the fault. People in the Third World assume you have common sense and will take care of yourself.

The other thing that happened to change my outlook relates to yesterday’s post: the propensity of Costaricans to pick a legal fight. Once involved in one of those, all other irritants seem minor by comparision.I have learned to pick my battles.

Now, I always take a book to the bank and can sit for long periods of time until they are ready to wait on me (love my Kindle). The Internet has cleared up my time paying bills, so those multiple locations and days to pay bills are no longer and issue (that really was annoying, I have to admit). There are now often more choices in our grocery stores on this Caribbean coast than in San José, and I have an iPhone (I believe everyone is calmer when operating an iPhone).

There are still irritating things that happen, but just drop by the Department of Motor Vehicles in almost any state in America and it will prove that Costa Rica is not unique in exasperating chores.

So (mostly) I don’t sweat the small stuff, even when all of it piled together could create a bonfire for the brain.

And I remeber to breathe.


Published by SC Morgan

I grew up in Oregon and learned not everything is black and white. Now I live in the jungles of Costa Rica where the shades of gray cover the full spectrum. I shoot my mouth off on my blog, social media sites, and sometimes I get published. You can find my blog here: https://scmorgancom.wordpress.com/

10 thoughts on “C is for calenton de cabeza.

  1. Yes! Totally relate! Us ‘first worlders’ have a real sense of entitlement and going to a ‘Third World’ country really helps one to have a ‘take one day at a time’ attitude.
    Even living in Greece has taught me this.

    Good luck with the challenge – from fellow A-Zer http://www.leavingcairo.blogspot.com


  2. Oh my. I’m afraid there’s no way I could live there. I’m hotheaded here! 🙂 I love the line about people in the Third World believing we have common sense. Maybe so there, but not here! In SC there are common sense lacking folks all over the place!!!


  3. I am truly enjoying these glimpses of life in Costa Rica. I know I would be in a tailspin over certain things like waiting at the bank (I buy everything with my debit card and rarely carry cash) or that I couldn’t find certain ingredients at the store, but it still seems like an idyllic life, but I guess some would say the same thing about living on Shelter Island, where patience is forced upon you daily.


  4. I am enjoying your posts and am especially thrilled at learning a new Spanish word each day. After 25 years you must speak like a native. Looking forward to letter D. Manzanita


  5. The first time I bought a dozen eggs from the corner store in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, the shopkeeper very slowly placed the eggs into a bag one at a time. Just as slowly I realized each egg represented considerable income. If she dropped an egg, that income would be lost. I learned to buy eggs 2 or 3 at a time. I’m really enjoying your posts for your insights into Costa Rican culture and Spanish. The mangos are still calling me!


  6. Hi, everyone and thanks for the visit. My Internet went out yesterday afternoon in a heavy rainstorm, just one more calenton de cabeza. 😉 But I’m back this morning, por dicha.


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