My Failed Attempts To Friend Panama’s Yeyés

June 17, 2011 by:
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 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.


Attempt #1
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: “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.


Attempt #2.
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.


Attempt #3
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.

Evan Terry Forbes

Evan Forbes 122 post in this blog.

Evan Terry Forbes is an Author, Entrepreneur and Hall of Fame Traveler. He writes entertaining books about how travel has changed his life. In so many beautiful ways. Currently, Evan is traveling with his retired mother for 1 year through Europe and Asia. This book will be called, Travels With My Mother - How Travel Transformed A Mother-Son Relationship. Read his books here.

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18 Comments on "My Failed Attempts To Friend Panama’s Yeyés"

  1. Quico on Fri, 17th Jun 2011 4:48 pm 

    … and why you care to befriend a bunch of morons?, mostly princesas or plain jewish-in-the-closet-still-gay panamenian males. Panama is a small place as you know well so you should not try to waste your time. Unless you are looking for a rich bimbo to save your economy in the future, stick to the few literate people in Panama, I should capitalize THE FEW.

  2. dawn on Fri, 17th Jun 2011 7:19 pm 

    i hadn’t heard the term yeye before. how does it equate to rabi-blanco?

  3. Tania @ Passport2Design on Fri, 17th Jun 2011 7:34 pm 

    This is a funny article, Evan. I love that you referenced the party you went to here in Coronado. Too funny :)

  4. hb on Mon, 20th Jun 2011 8:59 am 

    I am agree, it is funny article. There is many people think as you and they are Panamanian. But I don’t judge the yeye people because they don’t know they act as stupid in the life.

  5. Brittany on Tue, 21st Jun 2011 12:15 am 


  6. Brandon on Tue, 5th Jul 2011 1:00 pm 

    Juralo por tu tabla de surf, mopri awebaooooo.

    Think of yeyes as the counterpart of the preppy, frat bros in the U.S. They’re tipically into surfing, skating, rollerblading, have what you would call a “surfer accent” (but not as laidback) this is what they call the “papa caliente en la boca,” talking as if having a hot potato.

    They’re easily recognized by their accent (it may take a while to differentiate them from the mainstream. Btw, I noticed that this accent is also endemic of other “high class” subcultures in South America), by the way they talk, things are extremes, either “lo mejor” or “que porqueria/basura” (trash), and the regular use of English words from the American lexicon.

    Their favorite phrases include but are not limited to:
    “o sea” mainly used by girls = I mean, but think of it more as “like totally” with the same obnoxious emphasis used by girls.
    mopri awebao = dude

    Finally, they will let you know about their trips to Europe and such just to let everyone know in Panama that they have the means to travel.

  7. Diovanis Liset Serrano Atencio on Tue, 5th Jul 2011 4:40 pm 

    Q sopa ;)

    First of all, luuuuuuuuuuv your article!!! I totally agree with you.
    Look I’m Panamanian too ^_^ and proud of it aswell… but don’t give me that crap about those Yeye peeps….I shit on them :P
    I was born in Panama but when the invasion came of the US my parents fled to Amsterdam.
    Maybe you’ll be familiar with the Dutch culture…freedom is everywhere…no matter what you wear/no matter what you do /say/look like…we are so tolerant :D
    I’m so proud to be living here in amsterdam allthough I miss my family and friends in Panama…
    My family is not rich…and what I see from my cousins…some of them are trying to be one of those fucking Yeye peeps. It’s irritates me…:@
    The thing is in Panama…”La gente vive de lo q la gente dice”
    And the funny thing is that everytime I go to Panama to see my family or friends I come with the attitude of “I DON’T GIVE A FUCK WHAT THEY SAY/DO/EAT”
    I prefer to be en el interior(Santiago- Guayaquil). Those people(los campesinos) know more about Panamanian culture and foreign cultures then those stupid ignorant Yeye shitheads.
    They are also more educated/polite and rewarding aswell. My parents became in Holland more open minded and my parents and I always have different opinions (way of thinking)about everything in Panama…
    The thing that I really love and miss is the food, el ambiente caliente, las locuras y demencias “a lo rakataka style :P” hihihiihii la buya de la gente,los diablos rojos,the climate,my beautiful country Panama. Still so much to be discovered by his own habitants. A foreigner knows/seen/been more of Panama then a local or rich Panamanian. I have few friends in Belgium that they did their study abroad in Panama for a year and they even know all the alies of every corner in Panama. If you hear them talking you think that they are Panamanian. They talk the ghetto style of Panama hehe so funny. Sometimes I feel less Panamanian then them because they have seen it all. Every corner you can think of. It’s so cool of them.
    But about the Yeye shitheads….they don’t appreciate nothing….they are soooo racist/narrow minded/ignorant shitheads.
    One time one of my cousins brought me to a partyclub,a place somewhere in calle uruguay where all those shitheads party. Oh my God i was bored like hell because they only talk and stand there with their expensive drinks. And we paid per person around 20 bucks to get in. :O
    We bought 1 drink and left immediately…to bad that we didn’t get our money back. So then we went partying in Zona Viva at Kasko T…. I danced my ass off there like a rakataka..LOL :P
    Something that I hate about Yeye shitheads is how they treat the native indians (los cholos) so fucking racist.
    I was treating my little cousins on macdonalds because they don’t have that luxury to go there as much we do here in europe. After we finished our meal…in Holland we are use to pick up our dinner tray and throw ur garbage in the bin… and some dumb bimbo yeye grab me by the arm and said “Deja eso alli, eso es un trabajo pa los cholos” I was like WTF, I said: “Perdona joven pero donde yo vivo y donde yo me creii todo el mundo es igual…todo el mundo se ayuda…no importa cual color tengas o cual marca usas…si usted se cree algo mas q esos cholos…entonces q demonios hace usted en un macdonalds?”
    People around me were like smiling but in silence and my little cousins(so cute by the way) also lauging hihihihii… so I picked up my tray and left.
    Anyways, I just love my country …miss it a lot!!!
    Last time I was there was last year July/August 2010 (Patronales baby ;) hehe)
    My next trip 2 Panama, hopefully in 2012….this year going to do some roadtrip in Europe :)
    I try 2 go every 2/3 years to Panama…The thing is … Its to expesive from europe to latin america unfortunatly :(
    But there will be always people like the Yeye in every country of the world. Sorry but i can not be friends with them…I ‘m to openminded, to outgoing, talk with everybody, i’m not into all the brands,and be a fucking fake bitch,etc
    Oh well Evan, loved your article and while I was reading it I was nodding my head everytime. I ‘m also into hostels and stuff ^_^ that’s so european :P hihihihii
    Anyways, say hello to my fellow peeps en el interior :D Porq pa’l monte es q vamos jijijijiii
    Saludos desde weed smelling Amsterdam :P ;)

  8. Rigids Smithfive on Tue, 19th Jul 2011 5:41 am 

    Even, i haven’t heard of yeye before….

  9. Sylvia Reed on Tue, 19th Jul 2011 5:43 am 

    This article really seems to be funny yet interesting..

  10. Sylvia Reed on Tue, 19th Jul 2011 5:43 am 

    This article really seems to be funny yet interesting..

  11. Fernando J on Mon, 5th Dec 2011 10:23 am 


    Leave Beirut alone though… It is lo maximo!

  12. Charlie Navarro on Sat, 14th Jan 2012 9:14 am 

    Very interesting article and on point. Brother, the underlying factor in Panama with the Yeyes, is the fact that they are extremely racist. End of story.

  13. Sharon on Sat, 18th Feb 2012 3:35 pm 

    Basic things to be friends with a yeyecito is never be yourself. Don’ ask them things that they don’t know yet show them that you are smarter with arrogance but not showing off. Don’t show too much emotion, use lots of “nomal man” “whatever”. Don’t ask too many questions, statements are better. Don’t be overly nice actually you don’t have to be nice at all. Yeyes are usually mean too each other (of course be careful). Don’t show interest in them or latin culture because yeyes hate it. Never ever criticize the country. Foreigners have way too many opinions and don’t understand that when you move countries you gotta get use to how things are in the new country–at least that’s what panamanian are.

    Btw you seem like a cool person.

  14. Bobby P. on Sat, 31st Mar 2012 5:48 pm 

    Seems like you were hanging out too much with the ahole that only saw people eating ketchup everywhere he went.

    Nice job generalizing. By the way, I am a Yeye and I hate electronic music, I love olda salsa, and I constantly befriend gringos.

  15. Caro on Fri, 6th Apr 2012 11:33 am 

    I think you are an asshole and have no idea of what yeyes are….

    Beirut is the best btw!!!!

    Att. The yeye!!!

  16. Liz on Fri, 6th Apr 2012 5:25 pm 

    I am Panamanian and I moved to the United States 16 years ago. I was raised in a middle class society but I went to school with lots of yeyes and some of my family might be yeyes. Even now at 40, I still have some yeyes friends and when I talk to some of them I feel like they froze in time. Most of these friends are women who can’t talk about politics, still think they can be models and would die if they did not have a maid. I feel very bad everytime I visit Panama and I see that most people I know are so short minded.

    I think it is funny what you say about the music because when I lived in Panama I never learned to dance Salsa. None of my friends liked that music and we went to clubs that played american music (Rock Cafe and Patatus). I married a Puerto Rican and I took salsa classes and now that is my favorite music. The belly dancing trend is strong in Panama right now but overhere it was a trend back in 2000. Those yeyes are a way behind. LOL.

  17. Chantal Gronichon on Sat, 18th Aug 2012 1:05 pm 

    Yeye refers to the musical style of he 60′s when every song had some yeyeye plugged into it. As for “papa en la boca” yes, an awful lot of girls and even older ladies speak like they have a hot potatoe in their mouth. It’s funny and not necesarily or exclusively yeye. The racatacas (or wannabee yeyes) also try to speak with that accent and this is absolutely hilarious…

  18. Juan Ramon on Thu, 23rd Aug 2012 10:06 am 

    I’m not ashamed to say it but I am what you would consider a yeye coming from an upper class family and having studied abroad. However, the kind of people you’ve encountered are sheer snobs! No well bred person would treat you like that. You should not generalize. Imagine if the tables turned and I would put you in the same bag as Americans who only come here to do drugs and promote prostitution? I hope that you have better luck meeting real yeyes who are friendlier, not the posers you’ve encountered!

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