A Chinito Internship
A Chinito Internship
It has been my dream to work at a Chinito. Since I arrived in Panama 5 years ago, I’ve had a hard to explain fascination with these small corner stores. Maybe it’s because Chinitos are owner-operated. We share a small business man’s mindset. Maybe it’s because I’m curious about China and its culture. I’m itching to travel to Asia more. Or maybe it’s because I admire Chinito’s dedication. They are open everyday, and almost all day. Whatever it is, Chinitos fascinate me.
Chen is the owner of my local Chinito. I approached him about the possibility of working for him for a single day, without pay. Panamanian politicians refer to this as, “caminar en los zapatos del pueblo” (walking in the shoes of Joe the Plumber). I just call it an internship.
Chen: “No te voy a pagar, Gringo.” (I am not going to pay you, Evan)
Me: “I know. That is the beauty of an internship. Business owners don’t have to pay money. My compensation is the experience.”
Chen: “Está bien, loco!” (Alrighty then! You crazy man, you)
Days turned into weeks. Weeks turned into months. I got busy with other things. Things included writing my first book as well as operating our rad colonial apartments. The idea of the Chinito internship was placed on the back-burner. Said another way, I procrastinated.
Ten days ago a sense of urgency came over me. My time in Panama was limited. Soon I would be back on the road. This time backpacking around Europe. My plan was to travel until my money ran out. If I was going to intern at the Chinito, it had to be now.
The following morning, I walked into the Chinito. Chen was re-stocking sacks of sliced pineapples. He was dressed casually in a white tank top, Umbro shorts, and pair of knock-off Crocs. I made a bee line straight for him. I stood behind him until he felt my presence. I spoke slowly.
Me: “Listo.” (Ready)
Chen turned around. His head cocked to the side as he looked at me confused. Chen had forgotten about our internship discussion months earlier. Instead of reminding him about it, I stayed silent. I proceeded on as if he remembered. My eyes were focused, and my face was serious.
Suddenly, Chen remembered. He, too, did not blink his eyes.
Chen: “Dale pues…” (Do it)
My internship was set. Tomorrow would be the day.
There was one small problem. While Chen and I’s stare off made for great T.V. drama, it left my internship clouded with a tremendous amount of ambiguity. What time do I start? What will be my responsibilities? I asked myself questions like these.
That night I couldn’t sleep. I stared at the ceiling searching for answers. Finally, an answer came to me in the form of a Chinese Proverb, “He who wakes up before dawn 360 days a year will make his family rich”. It became clear. I must rise before the sun.
The next morning, I arrive at the Chinito before dawn. As Chen rolls up his store front steel gate, I’m waiting there on the sidewalk. I have a cup of freshly brewed Boquete coffee in my hand. It’s my second. I’m ready to work.
Chen seems surprised to see me. Nonetheless, he immediately put me to work. My first duty is to be the front door watchman. This person sits on a beer grate at the entrance of the store and looks out for shoplifters. It’s an unglamourous position at the Chinito. However, I keep a good attitude. I’ve no problem starting from the bottom of the Chinito’s company ladder.
I ask Chen to demonstrate some of the tell-tale signs of a shoplifter.
Chen: “Busca el Ciclón. El Ciclón es carro, loco!” (Look out for the Ciclon. It is expensive! You crazy man, you)
Chen is referring to the energy drink, Ciclon. The price is $2 for a small can. $2 puts the price near the top of Chinito’s product list. Also, the small can makes it’s easy to conceal under a shirt or pair of shorts. Shoplifters take the Ciclon from his store and re-sell it to the Chinito on Calle 8. This is just one of the reasons Chen and Chinito on Calle 8 are not on speaking terms.
Chen asks me to focus my efforts on securing his energy drink section. I run into an unexpected problem. Most of the shoppers in this Chinito know me. They’re fellow Casqueños (residence of Casco Viejo). My attempts to search them are not taken seriously. Everybody thinks that I am being playful. “Oye, que te pasa, Gringo?!” (Cut it out, Evan!)
Chen realizes my efforts are being counter-productive. So he moves me to the candy section. Specifically, to restocking the Peanut M&Ms. After 30 minutes of restocking items, Chen needs to attend to a situation in the back of the store. He has to accept a beer delivery.
Chen: “Gringo, maneja la caja.” (Evan, take over the cash register)
Just like that I’m operating the cash register. The cash register is the epicenter of the Chinito. Me being summoned to take control of it is like a rookie backup NFL quarterback being thrust into the game after the starting veteran QB goes down with an injury. I had no time to think. Much less time to be nervous. Adrenaline raced through my veins – baptism by fire.
As Chen attends to the situation in the back, I am holding down the cash register just fine. I already know the price of most of the items being ordered. I order them frequently. They include bananas, yogurts, and calling cards.
All of a sudden, a rush of 20 MOP construction workers take their mid morning break. They all jam into the Chinito at once. The cash register is being overcrowded. (MOP = El Ministro de Obras Públicas aka The Ministry of Public Works)
MOP Construction worker: “Oye, Gringo, cuanto vale eso?” (Evan, how much does this cost?)
He holds up a mini liter of Coke-a-Cola. His bright yellow uniform is filthy. It’s covered with mud and bits of dried concrete from the extensive digging they are doing in Casco Viejo.
MOP Construction worker: “Chuleta! Ya el priceo subió!” (Pork Chop! The price has risen!)
Me: “Don’t blame me, papá. I am just the intern.”
Meanwhile, more and more MOP workers are surrounding the cash register.
#2 MOP Construction worker: “Gringo, dame una hoja.” (Evan, give me ‘X?’).
Me: “What is a ‘hoja’?”
Through hand motions, #2 mimics the rolling and puffing on a joint. I learn that “oja” is a slang term for blunt papers.
MOP workers have now engulfed the cash register. From all directions, everyone is demanding that I hurry up. “Muévete, Gringo!”(Move it, Evan)
A nervous sweat begins to drip off my face. My hands are shaky. Anxiety from the demands of impatient MOP construction workers has made me unable to do basic math. The pressure is mounting. I’m falling apart like a cheap suit. Chen is nowhere to be found.
By the grace of God, Carlos comes through the entrance. He is the skinny 20-year-old part-time worker at this Chinito. Carlos is Chinese, but was born in Panama. He is one of the growing number of first generation Chinese born and raised in Panama.
Immediately, Carlos sees me struggling and steps right in. He scoots me to the side as he takes the lead on the cash register. I slowly retreat to the beer crate a few feet away. He has essentially tagged me out.
Carlos is good. His movements are smooth and quick. He charms customers as he multi-tasks. With one hand, he lights a cigarette for a MOP worker. The lighter has been tied to the table to make sure it is not stolen. With the other hand, Carlos returns change to another customer. At the same time, another MOP worker asks the price of the small pack Ritz crackers.
Carlos: “20 centavos, nada má(s)!” (Only 20 cents. What a deal!)
Multi-tasking at the cash register like this continues. It’s an artform. Carlos has an entrepeneur-type of energy about him. I predict he will operate his own Chinito someday soon.
In the meantime, I’m taking notes on a small notebook I purchased right there from the Chinito. Writing information down helps me absorb it more efficiently. I discovered this during college. Hopefully, there will be another opportunity for me to “manejar la caja”.
MOP construction workers stay fraternizing in the Chinito during their break. They drink .25c Malta (a carbonated malt beverage) and nibble on .15c pancito (bread). Some of them cat-call girls ranging in age from 14 to 40. Other fight for bragging rights over who has the latest and greatest smartphone. The atmosphere is urban masculine and blue-collar.
Casco’s white-collar workers are also congregating. They hang out at Super G, a few blocks away. They sip on skim-milk cappuccinos as they discuss the advantages of vegan diets and Macintosh computers. The two groups are in relatively close proximity to each other, yet their cultures are worlds apart. But, I digress…
After a couple hours behind the cash register, Carlos is summoned to stock beers. Chen’s wife, Erika, has taken over. She sits next to me as she eats a bowl of sticky rice with chopsticks.
Erika: “Tu eres millonario, verdad?” (You are a millionaire.)
Me: “No, no, no… I’m just a small time hotelier who moonlights as an indie writer.”
Erika: “Mentira! Los gringos siempre tiene plata!” (Lie! Gringos always have money!)
Me: “Well, not this one. I’m still paying off student loan debts!”
We chit chat for a while. Then, she asks me if I want to take over the cash register. This time she will stay near just in case. I’m back in the game!
Continue reading Part 2: A Chinito Internship – II
Retirement Blog: Habla Español
Let me begin by stating that I took two years of high school Spanish. It was a long long time ago. Spanish was not my best subject. I passed just enough to complete the college entry requirement. I definitely wasn’t conversational.
My memory of most words vanished years ago. Worst, I listen slow so when anyone speaks fast, I only pick up a few words. This has meant, I have little ability to communicate in Spanish speaking country. Frustrating indeed for an extrovert who craves talking with everyone she meets. I need at a minimum enough Spanish speaking ability to go beyond text book greetings and simple phrases.
My son, Evan, had taken language immersion in Guatemala several years ago. He learned a enough of the language to launch his Latin America adventures.
Perhaps, a Spanish school would work for me. I would emerge myself in Spanish in Boquete. Evan had arranged for his friend Itzy who is a teacher to tutor me. I would take lessons four hours per day – two in the morning and two in the afternoon – for a week. Admittedly not nearly enough time, but hopefully it would create momentum.
Itzy began by asking me to write a list of what I wanted to be able to say. This was a much more practical approach than learning from a book organized into sections of contrived conversations. We were also able to skip over things I already knew – granted not a lot to skip. The process continued when the lesson was dedicated to verbs. I picked the verbs that I would most use. Learning became so much more relevant! Even more amazing, was that I actually began to understand when Itzy spoke to me in Spanish.
The real thrill of this came at the end of the week. While in Boquete, I stayed at a private residence. My hostess spoke only limited English. Our conversations for most of week were pleasantries. At the end of week, we had a long conversation. We discovered commonalities of social work, backgrounds of case loads, and much more. There were, of course, words spoken by each of us that the other could not understand. The more important thing was it was a real conversation! More than enough motivation for me to keep learning.
Back in Casco, there is a conspiracy to keep me practicing Spanish. My driver Blas each day insists that I learn a new word. I attempt to tell him in Spanish that at one word a day, I will speak Spanish when I am a 100. Evidently I did not quite say this because he understood that it will take me 100 years to learn Spanish. It was close enough for it to become our joke.
I am getting better but need to keep taking lessons and practicing. If I pick up the pace with two words a day, well, I should be fluent well before a cententinal birthday.
Retirement Blog: Brewin’ Boquete Coffee
A tour at Dos Jefes Finca in Boquete.
I am from the Coffee Capital of America, Seattle. Where coffee is truly appreciated. In fact, we proudly boost that we are responsible for the popularity of gourmet coffees, expresso stands, and trendy coffee cafes. Enjoying coffee to me is every bit as wonderful as savoring a fine glass of wine is to someone from France.
Every time I’ve come to Panama I travel to Boquete. I love its cooler climate and lush green hills, but also go to sample fresh coffee. Frankly there is nothing more wonderful than having freshly roasted and brewed coffee made from carefully grown beans. This year was no exception. Once again, I traveled to Boquete anxious to again find the perfect cup of coffee and learn more about the production that makes some coffees so special and others… well, not.
I jumped at the opportunity to join Dos Jefes Coffee Tour. Dos Jefes is located at an approximate altitude of 4600 feet and above the town of Boquete. Its owners are expats, Rich and Dee Lipner, from the United States that a few years back fell in love with Panama as well as a prime piece of coffee producing property that had not been worked in years. They arrived without any prior coffee expertise. Dee would learn everything about planting and Rich everything about production. Boy did they learn!
As much as wanting to produce coffee, the pair wanted to preserve their farm and environment. Their finca which produces Cafe Luna is operated on the lunar calendar and beans are dried on racks in the sun. It is an impressive operation. Our tour allowed us to pick a few beans and taste them in a raw state. We peaked into the drying racks which had been carefully wrapped because rain was on the way. We saw rows of pots of young coffee plants that would be used to replace those that were losing production or traded for a plant more productive in this area. All the while, Rich was explaining the details of growing, the world coffee market, and the importance of environment.
We headed back to the terrace, where Rich set up a taste test. Three cups of coffee were poured. One was a light roast, the second a medium, and the last a dark roast. We were asked to determine which one of the unmarked three suited our personal taste best. We were also provided a taste chart to see if we could discern tastes within the coffee – just like wine. Before taking the test, I was certain that I would pick the light roast. I like my coffee smooth and a bit sweet without adding sugar. Imagine my surprise when I picked DARK ROAST!!! Café Luna from Dos Jefes is DELICIOSA and was recently voted Boquete’s “Best Coffee”! It is well worth another visit to keep a fresh supply.
Next came a very special treat. We enter the roasting room where I was chosen to be the roaster. I measured the beans, set the temperature, and waited patiently as the roaster reached the exact temperature. I put the beans in the roaster and monitored their progress by listening to pops and monitoring the color. I nervously prayed that I would not ruin the batch or break the machine. We were all invested as the roasted beans were poured out. Rich measured us generous packets of Café Luna that we had roasted for souvenirs. How special is that!
This is a Boquete must do tour. It is a wonderful opportunity to learn about coffee growing and the coffee industry. You will leave with a new appreciation for the rich tasting liquid, the people who bring it to us, and likely a new brand favorite. You will get more than your money’s worth.
My Failed Attempts To Friend Panama’s Yeyés
My failed attempts to friend Panama’s Yeyés.
“Yeyé” is a subculture in Panama, one of its most exclusive. The definition of Yeyés would be preppy, wealthy people who like to show off a lot. Thus far, my attempts to understand Yeyé culture by befriending them have been unsuccessful. Even though I have many friends in Panama, very few of them are Yeyés.
A stereotypically Yeyé person would be born and raised in Panama City. They would have attended an exclusive private school. Their skin color is light and locals say they speak like they have, “Una papa caliente en la boca” (a hot potato in their mouth).
*** A great illustration of Yeyé behavior is demonstrated by La Patrona on the show Usnavy.
On the surface, it would appear that Yeyés and I would share many commonalities; First, we both live in Panama. Second, we both have had a relatively high level of schooling and consider ourselves fairly well educated. Lastly, we both love to speak Spanglish. In theory, befriending Yeyés should not be that difficult. Yet, it has been quite the contrary.
I believe one reason is because I’m American. Yeyés typically stereotype Americans as unsophisticated, unless you come from New York City, Miami, or the state of California. If Yeyés knew Seattle or personally knew me better, they might think Seattle is sophisticated too.
Another obstacle to befriending Yeyés has been connecting to their culture. I’m critical of many aspects of it.
First, Yeyé culture lacks excitement and depth. A fun weekend is considered going to a family Buenaventura beach house or a friend’s condo in Coronado. For international travel excitement, add in a shopping trip to Miami. Those options seem quite boring to me. Locally, I would rather hike Volcan Baru or go camping on a tropical island of San Blas. Internationally, exciting trips abroad include exploring new countries in Asia or tracing back my family roots in Scotland. Something new. Something interesting.
Secondly, Yeyéculture is too pretentious. Yeyés, like other snobby cultures, pride themselves on being exclusive. Exclusive private parties in VIP and only inviting exclusive people. I’m the complete opposite. My personal life philosophy values being inclusive. I like street festivals with toda la gente (everybody) or staying at hotels/hostels that are conducive to meeting other people. The more the merrier!
In addition to our other differences, having a normal conversation with a Yeyé is nearly impossible. Here are examples of my attempts at small talk with Yeyés I have met:
Me: “…..So, where are you from?” (90% of the time I have to initiate the conversation).
Yeyé: “Panama (obviously).”
Me: “Ohh yeah, which part?”
Yeyé: “Punta Paitilla.” Punta Pacifica and Costal Del Este are also common responses.
Me: “That’s cool….”
(long, awkward pause)
At this point, I’ll try to keep the conversation flowing. I might ask questions on topics that are conducive to conversation; music, restaurants, or local politics.
Setting: A private house party in Coronado. Topic: Music.
Me: “Oye, do you know of any good bars or restaurants that play Latin music?”
Yeyé: “No. I really don’t like Latin music. I listen to electronic and house music…. I know I’m Latino, but I really don’t like Latin music.”
Me: “Ohhh…..ok. Bummer.”
Yeyé culture is into electro music, preferably anything European. This may include other popular varieties of international music, but definitely NOT Latin music. But, I’m the opposite. I’m burned out of partying to electro music, especially while living in Latin American countries.
Setting: A rooftop bar in PTY. Topic: PTY restaurants.
Me: “Have you been to any good restaurants lately?”
Yeyé: “Have you heard of the restaurant Beirut? Es lo mejor! (it’s the best!)”
Me: “Yeah, I’ve been there a couple times. Kinda overrated…”
Again, here our tastes are different. Yeyé culture is into foreign themed restaurants with imported food, preferably Middle Eastern or Italian. On the other hand, I dig restaurants with gourmet interpretations of local cuisine. I enjoy the freshness and the creativity of sprucing up local dishes like patacones relleanos, ceviche, or a local steak from Chiriqui.
Setting: Art Galley. Topic: Local politics.
Me: “What do you think about the police arresting the two girls kissing in Casco Viejo?”
Yeyé: “I know it is wrong, but it’s Panama. That is just the way it is in my country.”
Me: “Yeah. Well, I think….. Nevermind.”
I typically refrain from giving my politician opinion because I’m a foreigner in Panama. Yet, I’m still frustrated in these conversations because Yeyés are too often apathetic about local issues. No matter if is it homosexuals being denied rights, controversial mining on indigenous land, or the controversial 3rd phase of the Cinta Costera, a typical response is nonchalantly saying, “Ohh well. It’s Panama. I don’t really care”. I could not disagree more with being apathetic. You can be for something or against something, but AT LEAST BE for something.
However, maybe I’m being too harsh on Yeyé culture. Not everyone is strictly a Yeyé or not. There are varying shades of Yeyéness.
Moreover, people change. As Yeyés grow older, sometimes they grow out of the Yeyé mentality. Others have international experiences (studying or living in another country) that opens their minds and deflates their egos. As a recovering Yeyé friend once told me, “When I studied in London, it was so multi-cultural. Everyone was from a different country. Nobody knew about my prestigious Panamanian last name. So, acting like a snobby Yeyé wasn’t cool. If I did, I wouldn’t have had any friends there.”.
So I will keep attempting to friend Yeyés. I like to have friends from different backgrounds and walks of life. Hopefully they’ll just realize that they are acting like an idiot.
Why Foreigners Think Panamanians Are Lazy
“Panamanians are lazy.”. All foreigners say it. Americans will rant to agreeing Argentinians. Colombians will bitch to Germans. Complaining about Panamanian laziness is a way to vent frustrations and to find common ground in a conversation. Foreigners all do it. Gringos and even other Latinos. In English and Spanish. Believe me.
I do not intend to discuss the merits of the assertion that Panamanians are lazy. This assertion is broad brushed. It is highly racially charged. It is offensive. Instead, I want to explore, in a series of essays, what sociological and psychological factors influence that particular attitude.
Contributing Factor #1 – Stereotyping Panamanians.
Cognitive Miser – this concept refers to how people cannot possibly assimilate all the information they are bombarded with by the world. The mind will process the most relevant information needed to make a decision. It will disregard the rest.
A real life example would be when we cross the street. Analyzing every detail – how many lines are painted on the road, the exact distance of every single car, etc – would be too taxing. We would be mentally paralyzed and never cross the street.
Stereotypes are an example of cognitive miserliness. People interpret certain characteristics in others in order to more easily categorize them.
A good example is how women date. Women are experts at looking for specific characteristics that indicate a suitable male partner; well groomed, ambitious, treats other females with respect, etc. Pinpointing particular characteristics allow women to form a stereotype of a good guy. By stereotyping men, women are able to sort through the endless male partner candidates. The decision becomes easier. Stereotyping is a mental function that is necessary and inescapable.
One of the main factors contributing to the Panamanian-are-lazy stereotype is the frequent conversation topic of “Panamanians are lazy”. It’s used to vent frustrations with friends and to break-the-ice when striking up a new conversation. Newly arrived foreigners overhear these conversations. In due time, they believe the stereotype as truth.
Let’s say a Canadian immigrates to Panama. One day while at a BBQ in Clayton, he’ll overhear other Canadians and Americans ranting while they recite a story involving a lazy Panamanian. That same night while partying on Calle Uruguay (a popular nightlife district), he’ll be conversing with a mixed group of Italians and Venezuelans. The Panamanians-are-lazy topic will be used to break-the-ice. At this point, the newly arrived Canadian (being a cognitive miser) will say to himself “Hmmm, it seems everybody thinks Panamanians are lazy, even other Latinos. So, it must be true.”.
Throughout the Canadian’s time in Panama, he will have subsequent conversations that continue to reinforce the Panamanians-are-lazy stereotype. Then, he too, will use it.
The Panamanians-are-lazy stereotype effects how foreigners interpret situations and the people of Panama. Foreigners (being cognitive misers) will disregard actions contrary to the stereotype. 10 lazy actions will be cognitively absorbed because they coincide with the Panamanians-are-lazy stereotype. Yet, 10 energetic actions will be disregarded. Mentally, they’ll consider the action of a Panamanian being energetic to be an outlier. They’ll say, “Well, this is different because…..”.
For example, a friend of mine recently imported a car. The process of getting the car through customs took a long time. According to her, the reason the car took so long to clear customs was that the people working at customs were “unorganized and fucking LAZY!”.
During the prolonged process the car suffered extensive damage. My friend called a local repair guy to fix them. Immediately, the OWNER of the repair shop personally came to her apartment and picked up the car. He repaired the car quickly and for a reasonable price.
This was an example of both a lazy event (3 months in customs) and an energetic event (the owner of a repair company’s personal and speedy service) occurring in the same day. Yet, that night at the Lebanese restaurant, Beruit, the lazy-3-month-custom process dominated the conversation. Her other foreigner friends chimed in with their similar Panamanians-are-lazy stories like, “Oh yeah, you think that was bad, listen to this ….”
Rarely (if ever), in these conversations do foreigners holistically consider the numerous inputs affecting work ethic. Seemingly unrelated details like a person’s climate and cultural legacies affect behavior. People in Northern climates are evolutionarily adapted to use movement as a mechanism to elevate body temperature. Rice patty societies of Asia have a reputation of possessing a solid work ethic. Experts partially attribute this to the tremendous amount of labor required to successfully cultivate rice. (The Chinese have a proverb that attests to this fact “The man who rises before the sun 360 days out of the year will be rich.“.)
**** A great book to read on this topic is Outliers: The Story of Success.
Studies have shown that thousands of details like a person’s upbringing, surrounding culture, geographic location, social/economic standing and many more factors affect their behavior. They are like tributaries that feed into a river. Foreigners in Panama rarely consider any of them. Taking all these details into account would be too mentally exhausting. After all, we are cognitive misers.
To recap, our minds take shortcuts in order to process information quickly (cognitive miser). Stereotyping is the cognitive misering of people. Foreigners use the Panamanians-are-lazy stereotype to vent and as an icebreaker with other foreigners. Freshly arriving foreigners (being cognitive misers) adopt the Panamanians-are-lazy stereotype because they hear it repeatedly. Once the stereotype is in place, contrary information will be disregarded (Think 10 energetic acts).
I ask my fellow expats to fully consider the negative consequences of their stereotypical belief that Panamanians are lazy. If we don’t occasionally take a step back and question our personal beliefs, we end up with a stereotype that is both unfair and counterproductive.
Contributing Factor #2 coming soon…..
4 Panamanian Phrases That Will Confuse You
4 Panamanian Phrases That Will Confuse You
How-To-Be-A-Successful-Gringo-In-Panama, the lessons continue….
Learning Spanish from a university class or Rosetta Stone will only get you so far. The beginner and intermediate lessons only begin to scratch the surface of the language. As you’ll quickly discover, Panama has its own brand of Spanish. Little phrases and inside jokes have meanings that won’t make sense to you at first. They’ll confuse you. Let’s start with…
Oiste is preterite tu form of the verb oir — to hear. Thus, oiste in Spanish translates to “did you hear me?”. It’s a confirmation that the person indeed heard you. For example: “Hey Miguel, can you grab me that bag of chips, oiste?”.
In some Panamanian’s lexcion, however, oiste is a part of the rhythm of speech. It is the English urban slang equivalent to “do ya feel me” or “ya know what I’m say’n”. The following is an example of how the use of oiste confused me in a recent conversation.
“Vamos a buscar comida, oiste?” (Let’s go look for food. Did you hear me?)
“Yes, I did understand. Ready to go!”
“Quiero un batido de guineo, oiste?” (I want a banana smoothie. Did you hear me?)
“Yes, yes, I understand. That sounds delicious!”
“Fren, esta viana es lo mejor, oiste?” (Friend, this shit is the best! Did you hear me?)
*** Fren is a Spanglish term and refers to the English word for friend.
Somewhat annoyed I replied, “Fren, I do speak Spanish. I know I have a heavy Gringo accent, but I understand 100% of what you are telling me. It is not necessary to ask me oiste after every sentence.”
I finally figured it out after he used oiste several times. He was not asking me to confirm that I indeed heard him. Rather, it was just a part of his pattern of speech.
Spanish 101 teaches you that Ahora = Now. Ahora vamos a la bibloteca (Now we go to the library). Simple. Yet, it is common for people to use Ahora as later.
“Evan, te llamo ahora.” (Evan, I call you now.)
“You call me… now? But, aren’t we already in a conversation? How will you call me now if we are already talking? I’m confused.”
“Evan, que te pasa? Te llamo AHORA!” (Evan, what is wrong with you? I call you now!)
“Hey, don’t que te pasa me, missy. “Ahora” is now. At least as I understand it.”
“Bueno. Evan, te llamo MAS TARDE, oiste!” (Good. Evan, I’ll call you later.)
Be sure to remember some general Panamanian Spanish guidelines.
English Spanish Panamanian Spanish
Later Mas Tarde Ahora
Now Ahora Ahorita
Already Ya YA! (YA means hurry up! I needed it 10 fucking minutes ago.)
Again, Spanish 101 teaches you that Siempre = Always. “Siempre es lo mejor” (It’s always the best).
However, in certain situations, it is used to replace the word todavía (still).
A female friend:
“Te vas al cine siempre?” (Do you go to the cinema always).
Hmm…. “It is true I enjoy the cinema as much as the next guy, but not always… I don’t understand. Are you asking me, ‘Do I always like to go to the movies?’ or ‘I’m always at the movies?’ Like I go to the cinema so much I practically live there, or something?”
“Evan, que estas hablando? TODAVIA quieres ir al cine?” (Evan, what are you talking about? Do you still want to go to the movies?)
“Ohhh…. now I understand. Do I want to go to the cinema tonight? …. Sure! Why didn’t you say that in the first place, silly :)”
4. Cuanto sale
Sale is the present tense it (he, she or it) form of the verb Salir. Salir = leave or to go out. It is commonly used in terms of going out to party. Like “Tu quieres salir hoy, mi amor?” (Do you want to party tonight, baby?).
It is also used to ask the price of a certain item. It replaces “Cuanto cuesta?” (how much?).
“Cuanto sale eso?”
Hmmm…. “Did you just ask, “Cuan-d-o sale eso?” (When does this leave?). “Sorry sir, but this item does not leave the store.”
*** Cuando = When. Cuanto = How.
El Senor, visibly annoyed, repeated himself very slowly and clearly:
“No, cuan-d-o s-a-l-e eso.” (How much this item goes out at night.)
Hmmm…. Strange. “Sir, I have no idea what you are saying.”
“A ver….” then El Senor explained to me the meaning and context of cuanto sale.
At first, these words and phrases will certainly confuse you. Don’t let it frustrate you. Instead, embrace it, mimic it, love it… Panamanize your vocabulary! If you combine these examples and sprinkle in some past EyeOnPanama.com helpful Spanish language articles; Spanish Sweet Nothings, Pretend Like You Speak Spanish and some Panamanian Slang terms, you’ll practically be a local! Dale, loco! (Do it, you crazy person!).
The Grumpy Gringo
The Grumpy Gringo
Grumpy Gringo syndrome is all too common in Panama. The syndrome is characterized by a negative outlook on life amongst some foreigners living on the Isthmus. The Grumpy Gringo resents what they have lost and under appreciates what they have gained. They embellish fond memories of other countries and their home country while frequently pointing out the negatives that they perceive exist only in Panama. They are the Grumpy Gringos.
Contrary to my coined “Grumpy Gringo” term, the syndrome isn’t restricted to strictly Gringos (Americans). Sure, we (Gringos) seem to be some of the grumpiest people in Panama. But, other foreigners; Colombians, Italians, French, Israeli, for example, also exhibit syndrome traits.
The syndrome is made up of two central components; Part one is Rosy Retrospection. This is when a person over exaggerates the positive nature of their past. To them, the past is always so much better than the present. “The past is always recalled to be good”.
Part two; Foreigner Superiority Complex. Many foreigners who come to Panama believe they’re smarter than the countrymen they left behind. It should not surprise anyone that they believe that they are also smarter than Panamanians. This is common in all developing countries. Many people coming from the developed world; North America, Europe, and in Panama’s case Argentina, Chile and Mexico act with a sense of superiority. Typically, they’re very condescending to Panamanians.
Simply stated, anyone demonstrating both Rosy Retrospection and Foreigner Superiority Complex while in Panama, is what I call a Grumpy Gringo.
On a recent trip back home to visit friends and family, I diagnosed myself with Grumpy Gringo-itus. My prolonged stay on the Isthmus was making me irritable. Panama was getting to me. The sweating, the noise, the traffic, and the daily irritations of daily Panamanian life were beginning to drain my generally upbeat personality.
With increasing regularity, I mentioned how I would prefer to live in other countries I’d visited; India, Colombia, Brazil, and others. And, how certain things were SO much better back in my home country of America. I was grumpy. I was gringo. I was that Grumpy Gringo.
During this time, friends would often hear me utter sentences like;
“God, back home is so much better than ____.” ,
“Geez, ______ is so shitty in Panama.” ,
“I really miss ______ from back when I lived _______.”
The list went on….
However, while back in the States, I noticed something. Those “things” we foreigners claim are SO much better, generally are not. For example, a daily irritation of mine is the regularity with which people cut infront of me in line in Panama. Yet, within minutes of setting foot in Miami’s airport, I was overtaken in line. Additionally, I have always resented cab drivers price gouging me in Panama. Again, in California, I got ripped off by a cab driver. I guess some bad manners are universal.
Even if there are some cultural norms we perceive as superior such as better customer service, less overt corruption, stronger work ethic, there are many other cultural norms that are clearly not superior. A few examples from the United States are its uber materialism, bitter ideological political mindsets, weak family and community relationships, and rampant obesity, just to name a few.
What are the root cause of Grumpy Gringo-itus? I’m not sure I’ve discovered any scientific answers, but here are a few of my hypothesis:
1. Lack of a love life. Everything is so much better when you have a healthy dating life.
2. Panama is small. Instead of comparing Bogota (7.5 million people) to Panama City (1.2 million people) or England (50 million people) to Panama (3 million people), compare Cartagena (1 million) to Panama City or Panama to Nicaragua (5 million). Compare apples to apples.
3. Age. Age increases people’s bitterness and cynicism. Especially in old men.
Grumpy Gringos, myself included, need to loosen up. We live in the TROPICS. It’s warmer 85 degrees EVERYDAY. You can buy a delicious pineapple bigger than my head for $1. $1! You can be almost anywhere on the Isthmus and there is a beautiful beach less than two hours away. Life is not so bad.
As a matter of fact, I will bet that someday when we return back to our home countries we will still be grumpy. When we are working 50 hours a week, when we are stuck in traffic two hours everyday, when it is freezing outside and there are no Panamanian Chiva party buses to ride, we’ll look back at our time in Panama and say “Geez, Panama was SO much better than ____”.