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Dealing With Culture Shock In Panama – Some Advice For New Expats

Panama is often described as a place where tropical beauty meets consumer paradise! The landscapes of this country are as diverse as its traditions and cuisines but the people are very tolerant and accepting. However, when moving to a new country, culture shock is inevitable so it is important that you prepare for some of the changes you can expect. Here are 10 things you need to prepare for:

1. Driving and Traffic

Everyone in Panama seems to embody the famous “juega vivo” attitude – where in the game of life, the only way to stay ahead is to push yourself to the front.When driving, people do not let you pull out in front of them and you need to literally step on the gas to get ahead of someone. Most drivers seem to honk randomly, which can be a little disconcerting and more than just a little distracting. Motorcycle drivers do not remain within a lane, but instead they weave in and out of the traffic – no matter what the speed!

2. Water and Electricity Outages

It is not unusual to wake up in the morning and discover that the water is out. This is especially true if there is construction work in your neighborhood. It is best to store at least a small amount of water to take care of your morning ablutions at the very least! Electricity outages can be particularly disruptive as you could lose all progress on a report that you stayed up all night to complete! While most outages last for less than an hour, some could even last the entire day.

3. Spanish Subtitles and Spanish Announcers

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Movie theatres and TV channels have Spanish subtitles by default! If you have gone to a Panama movie theater for an English movie, you only have two choices – you can either watch the movie dubbed in Spanish or you can watch it in English with Spanish subtitles. Almost all sporting events on TV, from WWE wrestling to NFL, have Spanish-speaking announcers. In some cases, you may be able to hear the English-speaking announcer, but he will be drowned out by the Spanish-speaking announcer – this can be surprisingly frustrating if you do not speak Spanish.

4. Customer service is almost non-existent

For some inexplicable reason, most businesses in Panama just don’t consider customer service to be important. Be prepared to seethe in anger while the waiter at a local restaurant ambles around studiously ignoring your increasingly frantic gestures to get his attention. The only way to get any customer service is to be proactive and pursue it doggedly!

5. Littering

Littering is a common problem in many areas of the city. It is not unusual to see motorists chucking empty cartons out of their car windows, and you may have to walk around huge fly-infested piles of garbage dumped at unofficial “garbage sites”.

6. Loud Music (at random hours of the day or night)

Loud music is just part of life in Panama. It is not unusual to hear a sort of incongruous medley of various genres emanating from your neighborhood just as you sit down for a quiet and peaceful dinner! Thick curtains should help to dampen the sound but may not be capable of eliminating it completely. Perhaps the best option would be to invest in a good sound system – if you can’t beat them, join them!

7. Unexpected Visitors

Don’t be shocked if friends show up for dinner even if you haven’t invited them, and don’t expect them to call ahead – it’s just not the Panama way of doing things! It is best to be prepared for visitors and, once you start to make friends, always cook a little extra food, just in case they decide to stop by.

8. Everything is fried!

If you are not sitting down to a home-cooked meal, you can be sure that most of your meal will be fried. Panamanians fry just about every food, right from bread to pastries, and everything in between! Don’t be shocked if you order tuna or lunch meat and that’s fried too!

9. Quirky Road Rules

On certain roads, traffic patterns change during the rush hour. This means that you may find that the two-way road you are on might suddenly change to a one way road. These changes generally occur between 6 and 8 in the morning, so this is when you need to keep an eye out for any changes, especially if you are not familiar with the area.

10. Religion

Religion permeates every aspect of life, from schooling to businesses. Whether you put your child in a public school or a private school, you can expect religion to be a part of their curriculum. Most shops and businesses shut down on religious holidays, depending on the owner’s faith.

While it may be a little intimidating to move to a new country, remember that culture shock is only temporary, and you will soon find yourself at home in Panama.

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