If you think you know Panama, then use the comment form below to submit your best Thing Panamanians Like. On April 1st, I will select the best entry and that person will get to run this blog. They will become Panamaniac: Like a torch that is passed down from generation to generation helping foreigners assimilate in Panama. I am running out of ideas and my post is up in March. Be sure to use your proper email address and remember Panama is in the eye of the beholder.
Archive for February, 2011
Panamanians hate caving in when selling something, but if they have to, they will offer a bad discount. Accepting and/or using a bad discount is a very time and cost efficient way to gain a Panamanians trust. Most every Panamanian you meet sees bad discounts every day via email. An example of this would be a new artist offering beautiful paintings like these ones for $1300 each.
A great time of year to take advantage of bad discounts is Panama Restaurant Week. This is a week in which many Panama restaurants unite and offer special set menus that are usually very expensive and basic. Sometimes, it is cheaper and better quality to order all the items individually, but Panamanians buy it because they enjoy bad discounts. Some other examples include Copa Airlines “Irresistible Offers” page which offers expensive flights to nearby destinations and Power Club which offers monthly gym memberships for ONLY $100!!!
All Panamanians that want to offer bad discounts congregate on Panama’s classified website pages where you can find expensive cell phones, modern architecture condos, and even ugly furniture on sale for lots of money.
In most situations, Panamanians are comfortable only around people from their own neighborhood. Panamanians from Chorrera don’t generally associate with Panamanians from Punta Pacifica who don’t generally associate with Panamanians from San Miguelito and so forth (unless it is a work relationship of course). However, there is an entirely separate breed of Panamanians who don’t care where you live as long as you race cayucos.
Cayucos are the long skinny canoes that Panamanians row for sport on Lake Gatun. It is here you will hear a lot of ‘ahuevaos‘ and it is here you will see a lot of Crocs. The cayuco past time culminates each year with the “Cayuco Races” at the Panama Canal, a contest that requires you to have a Toyota Prado in order to enter. Also recommended, but not required, is the ownership of high-performance exercise gear.
If you ever have the opportunity to be in the same room as a cayuco racer, be sure to leverage the situation: ask them about the race and how difficult the sport is. This is sure to launch them into a rant about camaraderie and “how anyone can do it” and “how good it feels to be so close to nature.” Next to New York, discussing cayucos is a top Panamanian priority. Being aware of this can be very valuable in your efforts to gain the trust of Panamanian friends and co-workers.
Panamanians need beer to survive and the way they ask for their pintas is almost as important as how often they consume them. In modern Panamanian culture, clarifying your beer order with the words “bien fria” is a way of telling the bartender that you are a local and that he should not try any funny stuff. In case you didn’t know, bien fria means “very cold” in Spanish.
Even though it is not typical for anyone to serve warm beer, many Panamanians consider asking for “cerveza bien fria” to be proper etiquette. Sometimes, if it is extra hot outside, the cerveza bien fria can be upgraded to a “cerveza bien bien fria” or “la cerveza mas fria que tiene.” If the Panamanian is really feeling good, he/she may also ask for a glass of ice with the beer. In the instance that no beers are bien fria, it is acceptable to turn down the beer and ask for soda or water or to preempt this with “if you don’t have any really cold beers, I don’t want anything at all.”
To profit from the Panamanian love for cerveza bien fria, many restaurants will advertise combinations such as ceviche con cerveza bien fria or pescado frito con cerveza bien fria. TV or radio spots for Panama or Balboa or Atlas beer always feature the phrase “bien fria” and the azafatas (translation: saleswoman in plastic/latex bathing suit) love to use “bien fria” in their pitch. Ordering a cerveza bien fria in Panama, you can’t go wrong.
If you are planning on buying or renting real estate in Panama, you will be well suited to know that Panamanians like maid’s quarters a lot. Almost any modern architecture building (and actually any building dating back the past 20 years) will have maid’s quarters, which on the floor plans is a corner room that you may have mistaken for a closet. This is intended to be the place where the maid sleeps and this is made clear by the fact that the washing machine, dryer and sinks are all there too.
Panamanians like maids in general and even the poorest Panamanian like to allocate some money to have someone come in and clean their house. At the beach, rich Panamanians have maid’s quarters that are whole complexes separate from the main beach house. The most typical maid’s quarter though is just a small room with a twin-sized bed and a water heater.
You can tell if a Panamanian apartment is occupied by a foreigner because the foreigners like to convert this tiny maid’s quarters into an extra bedroom. The maid’s quarter always has Jalousie windows instead of full glass sliding windows, but foreigners overlook this and say that “the same space in New York City could cost over $1,000.”
A common characteristic of Panamanians is their love for chinos which is the shortened word for the Chinese-owned convenient stores that are on just about every block in Panama. Chinos are popular because they offer a wide selection of food and home products that come individually wrapped. Things like $0.40 bags of potato chips and small one-portion boxes of cereal.
Realizing this, chinos in Panama sell individually wrapped versions of just about everything. It is known as “la teoría del tamale” or the theory of the tamale (which is a traditional dish cooked and sold in its own banana leaf package). This can include an individually wrapped sausage, an individually wrapped square of American cheese, an individually wrapped tablespoon-sized portion of butter, individually wrapped phone cards, individual cigarettes (exception: not wrapped in plastic)…etc. Basically, if a food item can be individually wrapped in plastic and sold piecemeal, Panamanians will like it.
The two most interesting individually plastic wrapped foods that Panamanians like are 1) the portion of vegetable oil which comes in an airtight bubble of plastic and 2) the Halls cough drop. The Halls cough drop might not sound unusual because everyone gets a cough now and then. But Panamanians buy individual Halls cough drops all the time as candy which is cool.
In putting together a list of places Panamanians like, we must include the Amador Causeway because it is scenic, it rents tandem bicycles (another thing Panamanians like), and it is home to Figali Convention Center. The Causeway is also home to Bennigan’s, so if you have never been there, you can understand the allure.
But similar to a number of other English words in Panama, Panamanians will only talk about the Causeway if they are permitted to call it the Coastway. There is not much reason behind this other than the fact that Panamanians like to put their own touch on a number of English words such as mang (man), pritty (pretty), guinchiguiper (windshield wiper). What is good about Coastway is that it is actually a feasible word. If you are trying to make friends with Panamanians, try suggesting drinks on Coastway using Facebook. People will see that you’re not just a foreigner but a savvy local and they will take you up on the idea — especially if you offer to pay.
As mentioned earlier, Panamanians are very patient people, but not everyone knows that they really like waiting in lines. It can be easy to get angry at Panamanians for long lines and suggest a more efficient alternative but remember, waiting in lines is hardwired into the culture and there is nothing anyone can or will do about it.
One of the most common situations is at a store when there are many people waiting for assistance yet there is only one clerk. Do not suggest to a store manager that they hire additional employees because this will not make any sense to them. A great thing you can do is sigh in frustration with someone next to you. Panamanians like to complain about waiting in lines: but not enough to actually get angry.
If you are looking to meet Panamanians, you can simply go to any bank on the 15th or the 30th of the month. This is where Panamanians congregate to wait in lines together under the premise of “getting paid.” If banks don’t appeal to you, try bus stops or new movie releases or Albrook Mall on the weekend.
If you come to Panama for vacation or to live, you will inevitably hear the word ‘gringo.’ Since it is not necessarily a negative word in Panama, you shouldn’t get offended or concerned. But to help out the gringo community, maybe someone can help us understand why Panamanians say it and what it really means below in the comment section…
Panamanians are not huge exercisers but that does not mean they would ever turn down an opportunity to adopt a trend that was popular in the US years ago. Perhaps the best example of this (mostly because it is still popular in Miami) is rollerblades. On the Amador Causeway or the Cinta Costera, all Panamanians are either using or coveting a pair of rollerblades. This allows them to feel like they are on Miami Beach, without needing to pay Copa Airlines.
Not unlike going to Disneyland, rollerblades also allow Panamanians to feel young again. Some Panamanians even like to user traditional rollerskates which date back to the 1970′s. If rollerblades or rollerskates are not available, Panamanians will opt for either the razor scooter, the skateboard that wobbles back and forth, or (most common with smaller children but sometimes owned by adults too) the shoes that have small wheels hidden in their soles.
If you are going to the United States anytime soon, you would be doing yourself a huge favor to bring back a pair or two of rollerblades, especially because you could probably get them at discount prices there considering no one uses them anymore. Then in Panama offer them for sale at a premium on Encuentra24 or Facebook. There is a rumor in Panama that just like the old American school busses, all old American rollerblades are going to be shipped south and reintroduced to the market. Although no one can confirm or deny this report it does sounds possible.