One of Panamanian’s favorite things to do is take English words and change them a little bit so they sound slightly Spanish. Some examples of this are “wappin” (what’s happening) and “fokot” (fuck up). But one of the most omnipresent English terms that Panamanians have made their own is con fley (corn flakes) which actually refers to any kind of cereal (not just corn flakes).
If you want to trick Panamanians into thinking you are a local, you can try walking into a small grocery store and asking “do you have any con fley?” This is because Americans would never really ask “do you have any Corn Flakes” since its a cereal from the 1980s.
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One of the easiest ways to create a store that Panamanians will like is to put bird cages out front and just wait for the throngs of customers to come in. Large white bird cages are the most popular by far: these are ones that could probably hold a harpy eagle. There is, however a catch: no one actually buys bird cages in Panama. Panamanians just find comfort in looking at them when heading to Coronado.
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If you have been in Panama for more than 2 months and have not heard someone say, “hey, you should really get your teeth whitened by my friend, he’s a dentist,” then you probably have not been truly living.
The dentistry infatuation in Panama starts as children. An important part of Panamanian childhood is going to school in a dentist outfit. You may notice that a lot of Panamanians first study nursing but as you will find out, this is just a secret way to help them get to dentistry.
If you really want to make a splash at a Panamanian party, you can ask if anyone knows a good dentist. This is sooo good. It is like asking a Norwegian if they are familiar with smoked salmon. Because before you know it, you will have like 10 or 20 business cards of dentists in front of you. You may even have one of the party members themselves offering to inspect your mouth. The only thing more common is a friend who is a lawyer but at least you can trust the dentists.
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If you come to Panama, you will hear the word chombo said in a lot of scenarios. People use it in affectionate ways, they use it in condescending ways, and they even use it to describe hot sauce. But to help out the foreigner trying to assimilate to Panamanian culture, can someone help us understand exactly what the chombo means?
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Although there is a full Panamanian consensus on a lot of things, perhaps the most universal one is having the water shut off without notice. In most cultures, hearing your water will be disconnected for multiple days in a row is considered a disaster, a horror. How will I wash my hair? most people think. But when you hear it in Panama, it is not advised to get annoyed because you will appear out of place.
The first step is to go to the local chino and purchase as many bottles of water as you can until they run out (usually within 2 or 3 hours). The next thing to do is beckon a friend who lives near the Panama Canal Zone since their water almost never gets shut off. It is considered OK to ask this friend if you can come use their shower but only when the water is shut off in your neighborhood. Do not do this any other time of year or you will seem cholo. The third thing you must do to blend in when the water gets shut off in Panama is complain about it but never actually search for an answer.
If you want to accelerate your immersion process and make friends quickly, you can tell Panamanian acquaintances that the water shut down has to do with the new Metro (this because everyone likes the new Metro and thus, it’s no big deal). You can also say it has something to do with Bosco the Mayor. Since no one really likes him, you will find Panamanian unity in that point of view too.
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If you see a Panamanian woman and wonder what she likes to do in her spare time, the best thing you can do is ask her if she knows about any handbags for sale. It is a known fact that all Panamanian women, at some point in their life, have sold handbags or hair products out of their bedroom.
Many people associate selling handbags from your bedroom or trunk with stolen goods, but for Panamanians, it makes a statement that they are fashionable and they have access to a place like Miami and Las Vegas. It is also important that these “ventas” are “100% original” and “piezas unicas” so to distinguish the high class salesmen from the little illegal handbag shops in the ghetto.
One nice thing about selling handbags is that it allows Panamanians to take pictures of themselves in the mirror (with the merchandise) then upload the pictures to Facebook. However this industry might be dying a little bit with the Free Trade Agreement now in place.
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Panamanians aren’t much for change. But to combat, one of the easiest ways to create something new that Panamanians will like is to adorn it with some form of plantains. This usually applies to food, but sometimes, the mere comfort of having a pile of raw plantains around a room is enough too.
You see, Panamanians don’t generally like international cuisines, so it is a secret of the restauranteurs and mothers of Panamanian society, to always compliment their new creation with the plantain. Like the eskimos have various words for snow, Panamanians like their plantains as platanos, platanos of temptation, platanos in the shape of small baskets, tajadas, and even platanitos (chips). These are used to adorn pretty much any plate of international cuisine in Panama. For instance, you might get lasagna along with a salad (it is important that this salad is shredded lettuce and does not have any dressing) and a platano. As mentioned before on this site, pretty much any sushi roll with plantains is a winner.*
*If you want to befriend many Panamanians, when coming over for dinner parties, you should know the unwritten rule of BYOP.
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