The Grumpy Gringo

July 31, 2010 by:
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 home/other countries while frequently pointing out the negatives that they perceive exist only in Panama. I call them the Grumpy Gringos.

Contrary to my coined “Grumpy Gringo” term, the syndrome isn’t restricted to strictly Gringos (North Americans). Sure, we (Gringos) seem to be some of the grumpiest people in Panama. But, other foreigners: Colombians, Italians, French, Israeli, etc,  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 is the 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 World 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 gridlock traffic and the other daily irritations of 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. Countries like India, Colombia, Brazil and others. 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 grumpy statements.

Me: “God, back home is so much better than ____.”
Me: “Geez, ______ is so shitty in Panama.”
Me: “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 irritation in Panama is the regularity with which people cut infront of me in line.  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. 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 inferior. 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 is my hypothesis:

1. Lacking love life: Everything is so much better when you have a robust and healthy love life. Even the morning coffee taste better.

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 need to loosen up. This includes me. We live in the TROPICS. It’s warmer 85 degrees. Every single day. We can buy a delicious pineapple bigger than my head for $1. $1! We can be almost anywhere on the Isthmus and there is a beautiful beach less than two hours away.

This is the good life, brother.

I’ll 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 ____”

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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15 Comments on "The Grumpy Gringo"

  1. Tony Santos on Sun, 1st Aug 2010 12:15 am 

    Good piece, Evan, I too go through the grumpy gringo syndrome, but unfortunately, many times it’s much deserved. I find by leaaving Panama often, I get to recharge my batteries and build up my resistance against further grumpiness. One thing, however, that needs to be clarified in your piece is this. To Panamanians, most white, non-hispanic people of any nationality are considered one in the same as “gringos”. They don’t care if you’re American, German, Brit, Israeli, Dutch, Canadian, or whatever. To them, you’re basically Gringo. :P

  2. Kippy on Sun, 1st Aug 2010 11:38 am 

    In other words…people always find something to complain about…my favorite saying is BUILD A BRIDGE AND GET OVER IT….
    Life is to be enjoyed…..Be positive…..

  3. Sandra on Sun, 1st Aug 2010 2:55 pm 

    It is a common flaw in most of us. Somewhere we learned to complain. The problem is not that we can compare this to that and prefer one over the other. The problem is that we somehow that the credit for the condition of that we prefer and none of the responsibility for that we criticize. Panama is a lovely country that does a lot to welcome foreigners even those who have little regard for the country’s beauty or its people. If they expected to be like the United States, Canada, Europe, or elsewhere, what was the point of leaving any of those countries. Certainly it was not because they were begged by Panamanians to do so.


  4. GEORGE on Sat, 7th Aug 2010 5:59 pm 


  5. Lisa on Wed, 11th Aug 2010 10:50 am 

    Great Article! Unfortunately I too can relate… to the but well aware the grass is still much, much greener here than back home…

    To George:

    Dear George
    Life in Panama is a game! Play it by tbe Panamenian rules & don’t forget to enjoy it.

    You seem to be suffering from a severe case of GrumpyGringitis! Spending some time back home might cure you from your frustrations.

    Good luck

  6. Electronic Projects · on Wed, 3rd Nov 2010 2:12 pm 

    party buses are the coolest vechicles on town, riding them is so much fun “

  7. Tatiana Nazarova on Sun, 7th Nov 2010 10:38 am 

    Excellent piece of journalism and to the point.

  8. Rachel Divine on Sun, 7th Nov 2010 2:28 pm 

    Once again Evan, you capture what most miss.
    As a woman I see a lot of this in both men and women.. For us ladies in the house one problem we face is we cant buy hot young men for $20.

    Panama is as shiny as you make it. I have met amazing people here and some insanely interesting ones as well. After living in Panama for 2 years my Spanish rocks! Let me tell you I can now talk like a local! “Cheeso Priitty..”

    When I first arrived I had a couple people tell me.. “Talk to me in a year.”
    Here I am 2 years later, I am rocking, happy and a now, a bit more Panamanian.

  9. Ling on Sun, 7th Nov 2010 2:54 pm 

    What you descripe in this articule is just cultural shock, every people who had live in other cultural have trought for that.
    this are some web site to read about that:


  10. Panama Internet Marketing on Sun, 7th Nov 2010 4:40 pm 

    One piece of advice we always give new gringos is to take the “daily irritations” in stride. If you don’t learn to work within the system, or at least accept it, you will go crazy. We jokingly say “Welcome to Panama” and move on. But after spending the last 3 months back in North America we can honestly say that all those inconveniences happen up north as well. Traffic still sucks, people still cut you off, and people still promise to deliver tomorrow and then not show up. Plus, in general people just seem to be more rude. To all of the grumpy gringo’s out there, bad stuff happens everywhere, but overall, Panama is still the best place to be!

  11. Part 2: Panama’s Price Discrimination (and 10 ways to fight it) on Thu, 2nd Dec 2010 10:50 am 

    [...] a sour attitude.   Worse yet, you’ll stay in Panama and be slowly transform into that bitching Grumpy Gringo that rarely gets invited to social [...]

  12. Nedy on Thu, 30th Dec 2010 9:23 am 

    This was a pretty funny article!!… i know a couple of grumpy gringos or grumpy foreigners.. Kinda annoying after a while. :)

  13. Parking Tickets – Culture – Successful Gringo In Panama on Tue, 3rd May 2011 6:31 pm 

    [...] The successful Gringo-in-Panama must approach living in Panama with both open eyes and an open mind. Open eyes in order to recognize the differences between Panama and our home country. An open mind in order to craft solutions to problems we did not have to deal with at home.  If not, you’ll become just another “grumpy Gringo”. [...]

  14. Dissecting Panama’s Poor Customer Service on Thu, 29th Mar 2012 10:22 pm 

    [...] has a reputation for poor customer service.  Yet, discussing this topic is polarizing:  Grumpy Gringos broadly generalize that ALL customer service in Panama as awful. Not true.   I employe/work with [...]

  15. Chantal Gronichon on Sun, 17th Mar 2013 6:58 pm 

    I know a guy (let’s call him Dicky Beer) who complains every evening about the terrible service at the Balboa Yacht Club, yet he returns to that same bar EVERY EVENING and keeps complaining over and over while downing his daily dose of Balboa beers and giving the waitress a hard time because she doesn’t refill him fast enough? What a grumpy pain in the ass…

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