9 Good Gringo Habits

9 Good Gringo Habits

I’m an incrementalist.  Small steps or small changes in habits provide an action plan to accomplish my goals.  In Panama, one of my goals has been to immerse myself in the local Panamanian/Latino culture.  You should too.  These 9 good gringo habits will make you…. well, casi Panameño (almost Panamanian)!

1. Buenas.   You should say “buenas” (generic term for good day/afternoon/night)  no less than 10 times a day.  When you get into a cab, say buenas.  When you walk past someone on a pedestrian street, say buenas.  Even when you enter into a semi-crowded room, you should acknowledge everyone by saying an all encompassing buenas.   Saying buenas at least 10 times a day is a good habit to get into because it’s a polite gesture used all over Latin America.

2. Drink National Beer.  You should be embarrassed if you order a Heineken or Coors Light at the bar.  Get in the habit of strictly drinking local beers, preferably Panama or Balboa.  Occasionally spice things up with a Soberana.   Local beers are cheap and not to shabby.

3. Read the Local Paper.  Making a habit of reading the local paper will not only improve your Spanish, but also increase your knowledge of current Panamanian events.  Locals will love it.

One reason is because Panamanians are too often forced to accommodate foreigners in conversations.  They’ll discuss international events like US Presidential politics, Hugo Chavez, the Olympics, Spanish Premier League Soccer or English Royal family weddings instead of local events because foreigners are too often oblivious to them.

Be a cool foreigner by having knowledge of local events.  At the time of writing, here are some newsworthy topics:  the controversial 3rd phase of the Cinta Costera, the implementation of the Metro Bus, and bonchinches (rumors) on the latest person in the Martienlli’s Administration being tied to Nacro-trafficking because of the wiki leaks cables.

I personally read La Prensa.  It’s Panama’s best newspaper.  Stay away from La Critica because it is depressing and La Estrella is too sensationalist.

4. Lead with Spanish.  I don’t care if you only speak 3 words of Spanish – which undoubtedly buenas, cerveza and baño - always start conversations by speaking Spanish.  In most cases, if the other person has superior English to your Spanish, they will switch the language of the conversation.  Otherwise, they might just want to practice their English with you.  It is important that they (NOT YOU) make the switch to English.

The habit of attempting to converse in Spanish will be much appreciated.

5. Eat Fresh Fruits and Veggies.  Panama produces some of the world’s best fruits and vegetables.  Since they are produced locally, the fruit and vegetables are left to ripen on the vine longer.  This makes for larger and more flavorful produce.

The habit of eating local fruits and veggies is not only healthy, but environmentally friendly.

6. Eat Panamanian Dishes.  Ceviche is excellent light snack.  Ropa vieja should be amongst your weekly lunch meals.   Fresh Platanos can sweeten up any meal.  Sancocho is a secret hangover cure.

There are plenty of local dishes that you can get into the habit of eating.  Pick and choose your favorites, and incorporate them into your diet.

7. Memorize the Chorus from famous Panamanian Songs.  This comes in handy at bars/clubs and long car rides.  A good habit is to type in the song title on YouTube with the word “letra” after it.  Most times, you can find the song with the lyrics for easy memorization.

Some Popular Panamanian Artists:
Mr. Saik
Samy Sandra
Señor Loop (I’ve accidentally called this group Señor Frogs for years)

8.  Kiss the Girls.  This should be an easy habit to practice. Everytime you greet a girl that you know, you should give her a lipless kiss on the side of the check.  Do this both when you meet her and when you leave.  If you don’t greet girls with a kiss, you’ll be consider El Gringo Frio (A cold spirited person).

9.  Travel to the Interior.  Too many people working in Panama City never explore the interior of Panama.  Que lastima! (What a shame!).  The heat, traffic and sometimes the general rudeness of city folk will drain you over time.

The habitual weekend trip to Azuero, Chriqui or San Blas will rejuvenate your soul.   Panama’s interior is pristine.  Country life has a slower pace and the people seem nicer.

Practice these 9 habits until they are part of your natural behavior.  Once you have mastered these habits, I’ll send you your next Successful Gringos assignment…

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You Are A Rich Gringo

You are a rich Gringo.

Recently, a friend from Costa Rica stayed with us in Casco.  She was basically the girl version of me:  college age traveler who fell in love with a foreign country.  She stayed and started a small business in Latin America.  She’s just a bit older, and a lot better looking than me.

Gringa: “Evan, I’ve lived in Costa Rica for more than 10 years.  I speak Spanish with a Costa Rican accent.  I date Costa Rican men.  Some of my best friends are Costa Rican.  Gringos don’t get more Tica (Costa Rican) than I am. Punto.” (period)

Me:  “True.”

Evan Terry Forbes

Gringa: “Yet, I still have to send my assistant to price barter.  I can’t buy fruits at the market or contract someone to build me a retaining wall without paying significantly more.”

Me: “Yeah, me too.”

Gringa: “I’ve just learned to accept this as a Gringo ex-pat fact of life.”

Gringos are perceived as rich.  All of them.  It doesn’t matter if you are a social worker or a celebrity, an entrepreneur, or a retiree living off a skinny social security check.  You are rich.  As the saying goes, “Gringos siempre tienen plata.” (Gringos always have money)

This rich Gringo stereotype stems from a couple things:

First, North Americans and Western Europeans make more money.  For example, there are per capita income discrepancies: USA is 47k.  Panama is 13k. Even if you earn just below USA poverty line ($22,350), you can vivir bien (live well) in Latin America.

Next, simply being in Latin America.  Traveling inherently means that you have excess income.  It doesn’t matter if you travel on a shoestring budget or a private jet.

Finally, Gringos tip frequently. It’s part of our culture.  On the other hand, Latinos do not.  The ability to tip, again, suggest that you are rich.

Just face it.  You are a rich Gringo.

While being perceived as rich helps you date women, it doesn’t help live a day to day life.  Price discrimination based on being Gringo becomes frustrating for ex-pats.  My savviest Gringo friends share tricks and tips on how best to get the non-inflated price.  It’s like a little game.

Here’s an example:  I wanted to paint a room in mi casita.  A painter quoted me $100.  I then sent a Panamanian co-worker.  She was quoted $60 for the exact same project.  I tipped her $10 for saving me $40.

Business school and common sense has taught us that cutting out the middle man is key to price savings.  Yet, my time in Latin American has taught me different.  By ADDING a middle man you save money.  True story.

7 Driving Tips Prior to Getting Behind the Wheel in Panama

Submitted by Alfonso:

For those of you new to Panama, I welcome you warmly. Though for the first few months you might consider using the cab system to get everywhere (and trust me – I mean every little nook and cranny of the city that might save the taxi driver two minutes time), you’ll eventually consider getting something permanent and venturing into the Panama streets behind the wheel.


Well, not at least until you read these tips which might help you survive your first time driving in the Panamanian roads.

1.  You think you can make it? You can’t. You’re coming off a side street; you look down the main road and see the cars far off. You assume that if you try to merge, they’ll slow down and make way. The error in that sentence is, by the way, the word “assume”. Drivers here, both foreign and national, are very possessive of the road, and will not hesitate to accelerate just to cut you off with glee in their faces. This, mind you, is not rude. You’ll warm to these customs very rapidly.

2.  You see that bus next to you; he will own you. A great number of the traffic accidents I’ve seen out there are due to people thinking that bus drivers are naturally inclined to stay in their lane. This is a serious mistake. When next to a bus, tense your ass up, hold the wheel tight and get ready for some DEFCON-5 maneuvers, the bus will randomly shift lanes with no announcement whatsoever. Eventually, you’ll be slicker than them, but for now, play it on the defense.

3.  Avoid honking at taxi cabs; they don’t seem to like it. If you’re the second or third car on the lane right behind the red light, and the first or second car is a cab, don’t honk when the light turns green unless you have a huge emergency. You run the risk of making the cab driver’s day. He ­will slow down or not move just to piss you off.

4.  No, Virginia, there is no automatic pilot. When driving around Panama you’ll see men and women behind the wheel. The question that will really bust you up is if they’re actually holding it. It is almost requisite for some to talk on the cell phone with one hand while adjusting the air conditioning or changing stations with the other. Get on the defensive but relax, it’s ok. One day you too shall be skilled in this noble art. Level 10 includes the speakerphone, a sandwich, the radio and that portfolio you left on the back seat.

5.  What sign? This is very important. You can see the sign. I know it, don’t worry, I trust you. But it will seem as if you didn’t get the “IGNORE TRAFFIC SIGNS TODAY” memo with your edition of the newspaper. When you think you got the road and you see they have a stop sign to prove you have the road, slow down a little bit anyway, particularly in the San Francisco (between Calle 50 and Via Porras) area. A lot of accidents happen this way.

6.  Red means stop, green means wait a second. The light just turned green, you’re about to hit the accelerator, you’re starting to move, and then this car just blows the red light and zooms right in front of you. When the light turns green, relax, wait two to three seconds (more if whoever is behind is honking, see 3) and then hit the gas. Otherwise that car might have zoomed, rather than in front, into you.

7.  Be prepared to be surprised. Yeah, I know it sounds as if you’d rather hit the tracks at NASCAR than drive in Panama, but even with all the little flubs here and there, you’ll be amazed. Get ready to be given a shot to merge by a kind taxi driver, or the possibility of sliding into that next lane by the nice lady in the Prado (those cars own the streets!). If anything, Panamanians are kind and helpful, which makes this a great place to own and drive a car (assuming you took your heart pills, right?).

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Latin Greetings – Kiss, Hug or Handshake?

Westerners are often times confused with what greeting gesture to use while in Latin America.Generally, Western cultures utilize handshakes and hugs – handshakes for business and unfamiliar acquaintances, and hugs for close family and friends.


On the other hand, Latin cultures rarely use hugs for their embrace of choice.Rather it is customary to give a lipless kiss on the right check, even if it’s your first time meeting a person through a mutual friend, but not in a business setting.

A bit confused? I was too.Here is a list of the greeting gestures in common social settings in Panama:

Male to Male; It is almost always a handshake.Only if the other male is a close friend or a member of your family you will give a hug.

Female to Female;Always a kiss except in business settings.

Male to Female;Here’s where it gets complicated.   The following encounters will be between a male and a female.

Long time friends:Kiss

First encounter:Handshake

First encounter via mutual friend, i.e. a friend introduces you to his/her co-worker:   Kiss

First encounter multiple people: All kisses even if there’s a large group.It is only excusable not to kiss the group when there is a large obstacle making introductions difficult.I.E. a group of 10 people sitting around a table and it’s bothersome and awkward to go around the entire table.In that case, a simple wave to the group and saying “hola, mucho gusto” will do.

Second encounters without the mutual friend:Always a kiss, even if you didn’t talk to the person the first time you met.I.E.you met a person for the first time at a lounge and 6 days later you bumped into each other at a coffee shop.This would qualify for a kiss greeting.

Children:Informal handshake regardless of gender.Males should only kiss if the female is an adult.Females may kiss other teenagers females even if there is an significant age difference.

Business setting long time friends:Kiss

Business setting acquaintances:Handshake.Business settings typical are influenced by Western corporate culture.So even though you might kiss greet that same person at the library, in the board room you will shake hands.

Sticky situations:

Meeting the family.ALWAYS KISS THE MOTHER.If you are a Westerner and you’re meeting a significant others family for the first time, make a point to kiss the mother.Latinos have very close knit families and a mother’s first impression can make or break the relationship. Kissing her will demonstrate a level of Latino cultural understanding – this will definitely earn brownie points.

Restaurants.While I was dining with my mother in Argentina, I would make proper introductions with our waiters.If our server was female, I would be greeted with a handshake and my mother with a kiss.In this situation, the male never should gesture towards a kiss, rather settle for the handshake.

Country cultural customs.In Panama, rural interior customs are much more conservative.In places like Boquete and Pedasí it may not always be appropriate to lead with a kiss.When in doubt, observe your local surroundings and follow suit.

Things to remember.

Who leads?Typically the male leads introduction.So, if you are the Western male do not wait for the female to initial the greeting.Make the move.

Suave. Do not dive bomb into kisses.Nothing is more painful, and slightly embarrassing than smashing into each other faces like a mountain goat.To avoid potentially fracturing your face, try posting your arm against the opposite persons shoulder to control the speed.

One for the road too.Be sure to kiss everyone on your way out the door.Leaving without a goodbye kiss will be considered rude.

I am quickly coming on my 1000nd day in Latin America and these are some of the introduction lessons that I have learned.The way in which you greet someone will significantly shape your first impression with that person.Good luck, and pucker up.

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More about the Author:  Read Evan’s Bio

Panama Car Rental Warning — Read This Before!!!

Here is the rule of thumb when renting a car while visiting Panama City—Don’t.

For one, you don’t need a rental car if you are staying in the city. Taxis are everywhere, cheap, efficient, and most importantly, hassle-free (read more about them here).


No need to worry about parking (which can be a huge headache in certain parts of the city), and for someone who does not live here, finding your way around the city is incredibly difficult. There are maybe five street signs in the entire city, and ask anyone directions, and even street names are useless.

People here in Panama use landmarks to give directions, not street names. I don’t even think that most buildings have an address the way we think of them in North America. Panama was not a master-planned city, instead growing outwards (and eventually upwards) in a pattern more-or-less described as chaotic. I doubt that if I told a taxi driver that I lived on Calle Ricardo Arias, which is in the center of the city, and driven by most taxi drivers everyday, they would know what I was talking about. But when I tell them “near restaurante Costa Azul”, I get home safe and sound, every time.

As you can see, unless you have a previously existing knowledge of Panama City landmarks, having a car here is an effort in futility. But this is not the only reason to avoid renting a car while in Panama. As I learned the hard way a couple of weekends ago, the rental car companies are all crooks, especially if you rent a car at Tocumen International Airport. Go ahead, check the prices out online. Go to any one of the major car companies (they are all represented in Panama), or any one of the online travel websites. You will be surprised- car rentals start at $9 per day, with unlimited miles.

To good to be true, you are thinking. You see the little asterisk next to the prices, and scroll down to look at the terms, taxes and fees that will take the price of the $9 per day sedan to almost $50 per day. The only problem is that the way they are written, they do not say that these extra fees are mandatory, and the terms are all ambiguous. Forget the fact that somehow turning $9 into $50 is borderline fraud (in my opinion), most of the increase is “mandatory” insurance. Forget using your American Express card. And that new $9 per day flat rate that Orbitz and Expedia offer for full coverage, doesn’t do sh#t- you have to pay the full rates anyway.

So, if you are staying in the city, stay away from rental cars. But, if you have to rent one to drive out into the countryside, or have to rent one while in the city, I definitely encourage you to do so from one of the many operating in the city, and staying away from the airport rates, which are much higher. There are several rental companies within a two-block radius in El Cangrejo near the Veneto casino, all of which charge less than their counterparts at the airport (it is the difference between paying approx. $50 per day with full insurance, and $50 per day with minimal insurance- difference? About $25).

We recommend taking taxis in Panama City and taking buses around Panama’s countryside.  It’ll save you time, money, and massive headaches.

Any questions? Contact us at EyeOnPanama@gmail.com.

Read the author’s bio: Jesse Choquette

Priority #1 in Panama: Buy a $10 cell phone

The first question I ask Panama first-timers is “Have you bought a local cell phone?”.Undoubtedly the response will be no.Yet, buying a pre-paid $10 cell phone should be at the top of anyone’s priority list.Having a cell phone will make your life soo much easier—trust me.It doesn’t mater if you’re here for a short term vacation, or looking to settle more permanently, having a cell phone will allow you to be networked into Panama’s scene.Examples of the various tasks a cell phone allows you to accomplish are: calling a dependable cab driver late at night, exchanging numbers with new local friends, complaining to a tourist companies head office if warranted, and just simply to be connected while in Panama.


Prior to 2009, Panama only had two cell phone providers operating within its boarders– Mas Movil and Movistar.These two giant companies had a monopoly(word) over Panama’s cell phone market, resulting in collusion, and ultimately affecting the consumer by suppressing our options. Since then, both Digicel and Claro have begun operations on the Isthmus.Now obtaining a cheap,

reliable, pre-paid phone is as easy as ordering a street side pack of cigarettes.

In order to purchase an inexpensive cell phone, you must bypass company sponsored stores and head straight to mom n pop electronic stores (only used sponsored stores if you love to overpay for goods and services).Referred to as “Chinos” (a Chinese Male) by the locals, because they are almost exclusively owned by Chinese immigrant families, these electronic stores offer new and used low-priced phones.

Located in almost every commercial strip, “Chinos” offer hundreds of different cell phone options, including the ability to unlock phones from different countries.If you are without a phone, simply slap a crisp $20 dollar bill on the counter and 5 minutes later you will have a fully functional phone, equipped with plenty of talk time.Now that you are connected to the outside world, I recommend tapping a small piece of paper with your number on it because you will forget it.Refill your minutes at any super market, with street vendors, or at a mini mart and hold on to the phone for the next time you come to Panama, because the minutes are good for a year.

For the widest selection of mobile phones, head to Via Veneto in El Cangrejo.

Any questions, comments, concerns with this article please leave a comment.

More about the Author:  Read Evan’s Bio

Taxi Tips for Panama That Will Save You Money!


One of the most efficient modes of transportation in Panama City is a taxi. They are cheap and fast, and, in my opinion, it is  far safer than gambling your life on Diablo Rojo or playing the Latin version of bumper cars in the city’s typical traffic. Moreover, taxis are everywhere. A taxi can be hailed on virtually every street corner and for a few bucks, take you directly to your destination.

eop-evan-headshot1The practice of taking a taxi in Panama has unique considerations. Largely an independent industry consisting of single owner drivers, taxi rates are not clocked on a meter. Therefore, rates are not uniform for either distances or passengers. For example, most taxi drivers will jack up the prices on foreigners. The result is that a Panama resident will pay $2 for a fare that Westerns will pay $10. Based on cab fares in the US this might seem both fair and not worth a fuzz, but if you take a cab frequently, then knowing how to reduce this exploitation will mean more dollars to spend on other things.

Following these tips can help reduce the taxi rates paid and increase personal safety:

 Avoid parked cabs in tourist areas. Cabs parked outside hotels, restaurants, and casinos are waiting for tourists and much more likely to charge higher rates because the tourist will not either no the city or question the rate. Instead go to a near-by corner and wave down a cab.

 Don’t ask the price. When you exit the cab, walk to the driver’s window and pay without asking “cuanto cuesta?” (How much?). After you have paid a fair price, walk away.

 Wait until after rush hour. Panama has some of the worst rush hour gridlock in the world between 5 to 7 PM, and cabs will charge premium fares at rush hour both because demand and because it mean few fares while tied up.

 Say you live in Panama. If asked how long you have been in Panama by the cab driver, answer that you have been to Panama many times or are living there. He is not asking because he cares or wants to chat, he is asking because he wants to know how savvy you are and how much he can get away with charging.

 Do not take cabs with another person in front seat. This has the potential to be a set up with the amigo able to rob foreign passengers. While the practice is not widespread, it is better as a safety precaution to avoid those cabs that have a second person in the front seat.

What are the fair rates? Use the following guidelines:
 Panama City to the Causeway, expect to pay $5 – $6.
 Panama City to the Canal, a fair rate is $5 – $6.
 Within the city, expect to pay $2-$3 as a good rate.
 Airport to Panama City will cost more. Airport cabs uniformly use a set rate of $28 per person. I recommend asking a couple of drivers to encourage them bidding against each other to lower this cost. Even better is walk upstairs and catch a cab dropping off passengers. They will not be expecting to return with anyone and will be much more likely to accept a $15 fare to the City including the toll charges.

Hiring all day taxi drivers is approximately $40 and varies on driving distance.

 Panama City to the Airport can be found for $15 including the tolls.

Utilizing Panama City cabs will go along way to navigate your way through the congestion of Panama City traffic. Try these tips and enjoy a cheap, convenient, and safe way to move around the city.

More about the Author:  Read Evan’s Bio

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