It’s a Language and Cultural Thing

A lot of expats have a long list of things they don’t like about Panama and the Panamanians. Then, of course, I wonder what the hell they’re doing here. My list is quite short about things I don’t like. One of them is that so many Panamanians seem to regard their country as one huge garbage dump. The country is gorgeous as long as you don’t look at the ground. It seems as if on Sundays many Panamanian dads gather up the family and say, “Let’s get in the car, ride around and throw our trash out the windows. Doesn’t that sound like a greatway to spend the afternoon?”

Let’s not forget that back in the 40s and 50s it was much the same in the States. It was Lady Bird Johnson who started the campaign to clean the country up and get rid of, as much as possible, billboard blight. But also to just stop throwing crap out the window of the car. It didn’t happen over night. It took a whole generation to make the change and become, for the most part, what the song calls it, “America the Beautiful.” Hopefully that will eventually catch on here.

But it hasn’t, yet. Today as I was walking down the hill from the cigar factory down into downtown Bugaba where I needed to pay my water bill, I stumbled across this piece which had been dropped on the ground.

We in the States, of course, know this as an “Eskimo Pie.” But in Spanish the letter “S” is pronounced “ES.” For example, at the end of the Rio Dulce in Guatemala, at the extreme end of Lago Izabel, the major town is called “El Estor.” That derives from the old days when the settlers of what was then British Honduras, now Belize, would come up the river to get their supplies at “The Store.” Hence El Estor. I know that sounds strange, but that’s the legend of how the place got its name.

Now, if the product above carried the English “Eskimo Pie”

it would have to be pronounced in Spanish with a broad “A” and then eskimo Pie. Oh, well.

While I was waiting in line at the water company a young man came in with a rambunctious little girl. Cute as a button. I thought I heard him talking to her in English so I asked him if he was. He said yes, she needed to learn the language. He was from England and married to a Panamanian girl. Though he said he speaks Spanish pretty well he always talks to the little girl in English and mom always talks to her in Spanish. I’ve seen this once before when I was going to the University of Miami back in 1961. My Cuban girlfriends aunt had married an American and while he spoke excellent Spanish and his Cuban wife spoke excellent English they always talked to the kids in their native tongues and the three boys were absolutely, flawlessly fluent in the two languages. I told this young man to keep it up. It is a wonderful gift to give to the child to be able to speak two languages as if both were their native tongue.

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