Here are some behavioral contrast between an unsuccessful and successful Gringos. By no means are these occurrences daily in Panama, however most cultural high transparent people have experienced a few of these situations while living in a low transparent society.
White collar corruption: Government officials and other people of power will utilize their position to extort a bribe. They’ll delay the processing of paperwork. Applications are delayed without excuse until a under-the-table-payment is received.
This blatant white collar corruption in low transparent countries is a foreign and uncomfortable concept to culturally high transparent people. High transparent societies are more accustomed to making campaign contributions to influence government officials.
Unsuccessful Gringos will get frazzled when government and/or business professionals insist on a illegal cash payment. As a result, they will be too uncomfortable and abandon the project completely or grossly overpay the bribe.
Successful Gringos don’t get overwhelmed by frustration. Successful Gringos I have met get creative. Most will send locals to do their dirty work. They understand that the sight of a Gringo automatically increases the price. They’ll circumnavigate the head guy by discovering the lower level employee that is responsible for pushing the paperwork. Not only will the bribe amount be much smaller, their paperwork will be processed much more quickly.
Another technique successful Gringos may utilize is to visit that particular office EVERYDAY. Their demeanor will be charming, yet persistent. For extra persuasion, they will bring freshly baked goods. Preferably anything from the local bakery, like the Orejas or Canones.
Random checkpoints: In most high transparent societies, random checkpoints are strictly illegal. It’s considered an infringement on civil liberties.
In Panama, police at these check points will often ask for very detailed documentation. The police know that 90% of unsuspecting foreigners either don’t have all the fine detailed documents or their limited Spanish they will not comprehend what papers the police are asking for. When the proper documents are not produced, the police will threaten to impound your vehicle immediately. This is a scare tactic.
Unsuccessful Gringos will get angry. They’ll frantically shuffle for papers while cursing the police officer under their breath. In the end, they’ll pay a hefty bribe of $60 or more (3 times most police officer’s daily salary) because the cops thinks that they are assholes.
Successful Gringos act calm. They slowly search for the random documents. In the meantime, they’ll offer the police officer a cold soda or Gatorade. Since the Gringo was friendly and quiet time consuming, the police officer usually gives up.
If the police officer persist, successful Gringos will call a well connected lawyer friend to talk to the police officer. This basically tells the police officer “Oye amigo, don’t screw with me because I know people!”. Typically they’ll be free to go or the bribe will be reduced to $10-$20.
Social function and their hierarchy: Inviting people from a perceived lower social class to an elite social event is strictly a faux pas. Low transparency country’s rigid social class system makes it a bit awkward for everyone. Eventually, your elite friends will just stop inviting you to these events.
Both successful and unsuccessful Gringos should not conform to this social norm. Be friends with everyone. Regardless of perceived social class. It will make you a better human being. The few that look down upon you…. well, they are not worth being friends with in the first place.
In addition to culturally high transparent people, the majority of locals dislike a low transparent society. Panama has a campaign slogan “Entran limpios, salen millonarios” (Enter clean, leave millionaires). This directly confronts white collar corruption. Social hierarchy is negativly depicted in Panama’s major movie Chance. Small business owners in Casco Viejo are beginning to organize in order to protect against unwarranted harassment from the few crooked government officials. Low transparency and its effects on culture are unwanted and eroding in Panama.
Gringos can help with this process by convincing their local friends that there is a better way, a better future.
In the meantime successful Gringos have to understand the present. If you have to pay a bribe, pay the smallest bribe possible. If you have to pay a bribe, pay it to the least powerful person who can get you what you want. Most likely they are grossly underpaid and could use the few extra bucks. If the people at the top don’t get the money, sooner or later they will make sure that the little guy does not get it either.
In conclusion, it’s important to understand the complexities of different cultures. Moving from a high transparency society to one that is lower one requires adjustment. These cultural considerations are often overlooked when Gringos contemplate moving to Panama. It is important to be willing to adapt to your new environment. Stay positive and be creative, and you’ll be a successful Gringo in Panama, oiste!