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 ____”