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.
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.
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…