Claims family patriarch never known during six month stay
ALAJUELA — A French exchange student is appealing the ruling of a Costa Rican judge to pay five months of back-rent to the Aguilar family, claiming she was a victim of “cultural trickery” and an incomprehensible Tiquismo.
Susanne LeBlanc, a sophomore from Bordeaux, lived with the Aguilar family in Alajuela while participating in a study abroad program at Adventas University in 2012. LeBlanc was instructed to pay monthly rent directly to the father of the family, which is where her trouble began, she said.
Like many Ticos, the Aguilar family refers to all males in their family, young and old, as papi. Though the five men in the Aguilar family vary in age and appearance, LeBlanc still found herself confused.
“My Spanish isn’t great, but I knew some fundamentals before coming,” she said. “As far as I knew, papi just meant one thing: Dad.”
LeBlanc doesn’t exactly remember who took the rent money on her first day in Costa Rica, though she said it was handed to an older looking man with a mustache. She soon learned that all the males in the home — Joselito, Josue, Juan and Chepe — wore facial hair and were between the ages of 39 and 22.
“When la señora said ‘oye papi’ to the tallest guy with the big cheverri, I assumed he was the Dad,” she said. “But then the twenty-something with the beard was papi, too. And so was his twin brother, the chubby one, the cousin and the neighbor. By the third month I had no idea who the Dad was and just handed money to whoever was referred to as papi that day.”
Another catalyst to the misunderstanding was the passivity and non-confrontational attitude of the Tico family. LeBlanc claims no one mentioned anything about the missing rent money, though she had a hunch something was up when the family stopped feeding her huevos every morning.
LeBlanc said she never imagined the situation would result in the family taking legal action against her.
“I was studying in my room one night and someone slid a court summons under the door,” she said. “When I asked why no one had mentioned the missing rent to me directly, la señora just said ‘no te preocupes’ and served me a bowl of olla de carne.”
LeBlanc, who swears she paid the $200 rent each month, insists she will not pay the $1,000 the Aguilars are requesting. Jose, the Aguilar father, said he believes his sons when they say they didn’t accept money from LeBlanc.
“I didn’t take any harina, papi,” Chepe said.
LeBlanc, who has since moved out of the Aguilar home, told El Pejibaye that she has some words of advice for future study abroad students.
“Always ask ‘Who’s your daddy?'” she said. “And say ‘Padre’, not ‘papi.'”