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 stereotypicallyYeyé 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. We 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, Yeyé culture 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.”
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.