6 Ways to Piss Off a Panamanian



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6 Ways to Piss Off a Panamanian

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Panama is one of the most beautiful, diverse, and fascinating countries in the world and more and more travelers visit this Central American wonderland each year. Panama’s most famous landmark is the Canal, but it's so much more than that!

The autonomous indigenous islands of San Blas are a blast from the past

Panama City, also known as the Miami of Latin America, is a thriving commercial and cultural center with skyscrapers and urban architecture.

The famous Caribbean beaches of Bocas del Toro provide the perfect backdrop to the vibrant beach town.

Boquete’s mountains and flowers are frozen in an eternal springtime.

You really can’t understand Panama until you explore the entire country.

The Panamanian people are as lovely and welcoming as the country itself, however that doesn’t mean that there aren’t more than a few times that backpackers and would-be retirees do or say something that pisses us off.

Angry Panamanian

So, on your next trip to Panama enjoy the beaches, the rain forests, and the chaotic beauty of Panama City, but don’t do these six things.

6. Assume You Know What the Panama Papers Are

A few months ago the world was rocked with the release of the Panama Papers, a long list of CEO’s and heads of state who were caught evading taxes and laundering money, to put it simply. These companies and individuals were clients of a Panamanian law firm. When the data was dumped it was considered the largest leak of its kind in history.

Here’s the thing though. It's only one law firm. Not an entire country. Calling this the #PanamaPapers is highly inaccurate. What percentage of Panama's citizens have anything to do with this scandal? Even if other law firms in Panama are also helping the ultra rich from all over the world hide their money, what's up with the other 4 million Panamanians? The majority of Panamanians are honest, hard working people who have nothing to do whatsoever with the wrongdoings of the world's elite (and after all, who's hiding the money, are citizens of other countries).

5. Get Your Panama Canal Facts Wrong

If we had a dollar for every U.S. citizen who claims some strange birthright to the Panama Canal we’d be millionaires by now. However, if visitors familiarize themselves with the history of the canal things would be a lot easier.

The Panama Canal at Night

In short, the canal was initially begun by the French in 1881, but they just weren’t prepared for the hardships that ensued. Not long after Panama declared independence from Colombia in 1903, the United States took over for the French and began construction in earnest. The first ship to transit the canal was the SS Ancon an August 5, 1914.

Of course, after the US managed and made the entire project possible, they weren’t going to leave just when they had the perfect geopolitical tool to control the maritime traffic between the Pacific and Atlantic, and the canal remained under US rule. After WWII the Panamanians began pushing back against the United States and in 1977 Omar Torrijos, Panama's dictator, and then US President Jimmy Carter, began the process of returning ownership of the canal to Panama. However, the transition didn't finish until 1999. So yeah, Panama owns the canal and it’s one of the country’s largest sources of income, now that it's managed for profit.

Sorry, USA. But you can take a boat ride through it or visit the Panama Canal on your own have a look at the Miraflores Locks anytime you'd like.

4. Refuse to Engage in Small Talk

Panamanians value courtesy above all else. You’re expected to say hello, good afternoon, and good evening to people whether you recognize them or not, especially before you make a request. You’ll be considered rude if you simply launch into “how much does this cost” without properly greeting someone and asking "¿cómo estás?" first. When you begin a conversation without the proper greetings, the person will be less likely to go out of their way to be helpful to you. Luckily, the word "Buenas" can be used in general to cover greetings regardless of the time of day.

Panamanians are quite friendly, patient, and happy to talk to tourists and new people. You will be asked “where are you from” at least twice a day. The person will then engage in a conversation with you about any potential shared interest simply to show that they are being attentive. Even if you are from the most obscure place on the map, Panamanians will dig up any reference to show you that they acknowledge having you here. The reason for this is to simply make you feel welcome in a new place.

3. Get Offended if You Get a Nickname or are Referred to by Your Ethnicity

Like many Latin American countries, Panamanians are fond of using physical descriptors in place of names. This may be perceived as politically incorrect in other countries, but it's perfectly acceptable in Panama and never meant to offend. Anyone older than you- even if it’s only by a year- will likely refer to you as "joven" (young person) at any point in time if they don’t know your name. If you hear someone yelling out "joven", they’re likely trying to get your attention. Also, it is not rude in Panama to refer to someone as "chica/o", or by their skin or hair color as a sign of affection "Morena", "Fula". You will also often hear people referred to simply by their ethnicity "gringo" or "chino" to such an extent that all the Asian owned bodegas are now casually referred to as "chinos". This is often initially surprising to foreigners used to pretending that differences don’t exist but, in due time, you’ll find yourself on the way to the "chinos" on the corner as well.

2. Diss the Food

For some reason many people think that every country south of the United States serves Mexican food or a variation of it. While you can find tacos in Panama, they’re not a traditional Panamanian dish and assuming so can get you some serious side eye. Panama has a very diverse culture and this is reflected in its food, whether you’re dining on Afro-Caribbean seafood dishes in Bocas or the more humble but oh-so-good chicken and rice in Boquete.

Lunchtime in #PanamaCity: Crab cakes in a curry ginger sauce paired with black beans and rice and sweet plaintains...it's okay to drool. We won't judge you.

Posted by Habla Ya Spanish Schools on Thursday, March 17, 2016

Panama’s melting pot population means that you can also find authentic Chinese and Middle Eastern food in areas throughout the country as well as five star international cuisine in the capital.

1. Don’t Even Attempt to Speak Spanish

English is rapidly becoming the most prominent language in the world, but to automatically assume that everyone shares your mother tongue is a great way to piss of a Panamanian. Take the time to learn some of the most useful words and phrases, such as the ones you’d use in casual conversation and to get your needs met. If you can order food, ask for directions, ask for help, or just say hello politely a Panamanian will be much more likely to smile and lend a hand. After all, we are a very welcoming people, if we can understand what you’re trying to say.

You could also invest the time and take a language class once you arrive. Panamanian Spanish has nuances, accents, and other ways that make it different from the Spanish that’s spoken in other countries. Learning on the ground is the best way to not only help you connect with other people while you’re in Panama, but it will also put you in a great position to learn more Spanish as you visit other countries in Central or South America.

Panama is one of the most spectacular countries in the world and our people are proud and friendly. Avoid these common mistakes and your next visit to Panama will be better than you ever thought it could be.



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Search our blog if you're visiting Panama! From must do's, where to party or eat, to which beaches and hiking trails you shouldn't miss, you'll find great insider info about Bocas del Toro, Panama City and Boquete, as well as Panamanian culture, customs and traditions, and certainly tips and advice for learning Spanish while in our country! We've been writing about all things Panama for over 10 years and nothing beats local knowledge from the locals themselves.

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