9 Good Gringo Habits

September 19, 2012 by:
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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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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10 Comments on "9 Good Gringo Habits"

  1. brian on Tue, 10th May 2011 11:02 pm 

    I understand how to be a good gringo in Panama.. but how do you address the very poor workmanship, the usual lateness if they show up to do work at all and wanting to get paid for lousy workmanship. Generally speaking they want to rip off gringos. They promise but never deliver on those promises. So if they want us to be good gringos.. do what you promise what you promise.So tell us what we should do besides say buenos.. we bring good money to the economy and many gringos employ a lot of people.. so if they want to kill the golden goose believe me they will.. and by the way if they want the gold they will have to change and begin to do quality work that deserves the money they expect. I can’t tell you how many times work has been done for us 2,3 and 4 times without an remorse that they did a lousy job. So maybe the question should be what makes a good Panama worker provide value to the gringo that brings a lot to the economy. This country is not as great as they think it is…

  2. brian on Tue, 10th May 2011 11:08 pm 

    so I await your 9 Good Panama work habits to deliver the promise and customer value of the country after one has substantially invested in this country. If you would like my phone number to discuss please let me know

  3. DIxon Hamby on Thu, 12th May 2011 8:09 am 

    Good article. I spend winters in Panama and I am also from Seattle. Here are links to some of my photos -

    iPhone photos of Panama http://bit.ly/dWposf

    DSLR photos http://idixon.com/pages/panama.html

  4. michelle on Fri, 13th May 2011 5:11 pm 

    I think u should read the article and understand what is going on.
    nobody is talking about good or bad working habits from panamenians or gringos, is an articule about doing some things that would get you more in touch with the community of the contry u r currently living in, so i think no matter what u think about panameños and how they work u should show respect for the culture of the country u r living in dont u???? if u dont like it then gooo please goooo away from here with all of your golden goose dont u worry we can find new ones and better ones im sure ….. im ont trying to get into a fight but i just think u are cranky about an specific matter with specific people and u r not giving the importance of showing some respect for the culture of the country u r living in a chance !!!!

  5. Ian on Wed, 18th May 2011 2:53 pm 

    what is bano? nunca he escuchado esa palabra fren. Por otra parte, I like to know the point of view of a foreigner of my country, It´s not perfect and sometimes I want to leave running, but i love here. love the beaches, the women, las panamas bien frias, the food and of course my people.

  6. James (Jota) on Sun, 24th Jul 2011 12:12 am 

    This was a great article… mostly tips for guys but a good article. I lived in Panama for 3 years back in the 90′s and can’t wait to get back. All of the things you mentioned really do help. Panama is a beautiful country and the people are the same as anywhere else, with one exception. They are quicker to take advantage of a sucker that has no street smarts at all. So, my advice to people that feel they are always being taken advantage of is this. You probably are being taken advantage of, so wise up, stiffen up, and remember everything dealing with money is a negotiation. Don’t pay until a job is done, tip gratiously and in person (your hand to theirs), and don’t be afraid to tell someone to get bent right before you walk away. :-) Jota out!

  7. Samantha on Sun, 24th Jul 2011 11:01 pm 

    Brian just goooooooooooooo away Panama dont need people like you!!!! what in the hell you are doing in my country Panama will better without people like you…IF YOU DONT THINK PANAMA IS A GREAT COUNTRY GET YOU ASSS OUT OF PANAMA!!!!! gringos like you give a bad reputation to the others who have respect for the country is offer them somethig that their own country is not…..WHY IN THE HELL YOU INVESTING IN PANAMA????? invest in the US speacilly now when the economy is the way it is????? HAVE SOME RESPECT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  8. shynna on Thu, 4th Aug 2011 7:27 am 


    there are some gringos words that would be important to know! some people used them without some precaution.


    thanks for such a good web page!

  9. JOHN WRUCK on Wed, 18th Jan 2012 9:47 pm 

    I like those Gringo habits!!!!

  10. Jonathan on Thu, 21st Jun 2012 3:42 pm 

    Nice article. Good tips.
    Not sure I totally agree with Tip #5 though. All of my research into the matter indicates that Panama (and Costa Rica) are known and renowned (disfavour ably) for their extensive use of highly toxic agricultural chemicals—some of which are illegal elsewhere win the world. Whilst I am a complete advocate of the Eat Local philosophy, I question just how much you’ve really taken into consideration when you make the following statements:

    “Panama produces some of the world’s best fruits and vegetables.”

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

    Both points are highly questionable.

    I would say, Eat Local, but ideally grow your own and/or get your fresh food from farmers practicing organic methods.

    Again, you’ve made great tips that I am sure will lead to foreigners integrating more fully into Panamanian life.

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