Category Archives: Letters From Panama

Gudbai Gringa – Gringo, Gudbai!

Flexibility and Adaptability = Joy and Happiness

Closed Minded and Rigid = Frustration and Discontent

Why is it when we go to a foreign country we find it so difficult to adjust – to leave the customs and traditions of our home country behind?

I believe it’s partially due to not spending enough time in that new foreign country, in this case Panama. It takes time to become completely familiar with a countries customs and culture.

Many of us make a decision to move without really knowing what’s ahead of us. We move blindly ahead secure in the fact everything will work out.

Let’s look at a few examples where this naivety can lead to problems.

We have all heard about the Mañana Attitude when it comes to Latin cultures. The direct dictionary translation of Mañana is tomorrow. But for Latinos what it actually means is “not today”. A subtle difference but one which can lead to miscommunication, frustration and conflict.

Many times the same holds true holds true for Punctuality. In many Latin Cultures punctuality can actually be considered inconsiderate. A good example is a dinner party invitation. In many cases a 7 o’clock invitation to a dinner party does not mean you should arrive at 7…. an hour later is often the expectation. If you are someone who lives and dies by the clock, living in Panama  or any other Latin culture may not be for you.

Of course these examples are gross generalities, and exceptions abound. But many new residents have a difficult time accepting these and many other Latin customs.

The key of course is to be flexible and adaptable. Before anyone moves to a different country where the culture is significantly different from their own, it’s wise to live in that country for an extended period of time. To really experience it and get into the groove of the day to day. It’s important to identify whether all of the small (or large) cultural idiosyncrasies will continue to bother you or if you can adapt and learn to accept them into your own lifestyle.

To really experience a foreign culture, it is best to immerse yourself in it. You don’t get that by living in a gated community with other expats. When you first move to Panama I encourage you to try living among the locals for awhile. You can’t avoid them forever and the more important question is what’s the point of moving if you don’t want to be part of the local culture?

Many of us don’t speak the language of our new host country and are embarrassed by our lack of ability. Therefore we can be hesitant to use our limited skills. TRY!!!! This is where your ability to adapt is most important. As uncomfortable as it is TRY! Even if you have to get out a pocket dictionary and fumble your way through a sentence… TRY!! You will be amazed how far someone will go to help if you are doing your best to be part of their way of life instead of expecting them to become part of yours.

I believe I mentioned in a previous letter that I grew up in South America. My home was a small mining town in the mountains of Peru at an altitude of approximately12, 500 feet about sea level. The town had a population of roughly 400 made up of approximately 35 different nationalities.

Later in life, I learned from my mother, that upon seeing the little town for the first time, had she not been incapacitated with altitude sickness she would have put me back in the car and turned around and gone back to Lima.

My parents spent 16 years in La Oroya. Both learned to speak flawless Spanish and they immersed themselves in both the native and expat communities. Prior to that move they lived in Los Angeles, California…not exactly a small town.

If you read a lot of blogs about Panama, you will soon discover there appear to be a lot of unhappy people who complain about the local customs and how things were better back home; what a screwed up bunch the Panamanians are; etc. But, you will also find the happy expats and travelers, who are thrilled with their new life experience, and are enjoying the different way of approaching life. Unfortunately there are often more of the former than the later. Why is that? It’s because the people who can’t or won’t adapt tend to shut themselves in and complain – in this case on blogs while the later are too busy having fun and enjoying their new found home!

For most of us North Americans, a new life in Panama means adjusting to a slower pace and some different priorities.

So to really enjoy life in Panama, say Gudbai to a part of the old you, joyfully embrace the new experience, and say Hello to the new Latingo (Latino + Gringo).

Ciao for now,

Move to Panama

P.S. Tell me what you thought of John’s letter in the comments area below. What did you like? What could you have done without? What else can John share with you about his move to Panama?

Please Leave your comments, questions, suggestions below – join the conversation and watch what happens!


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