I don’t know how many times I’ve said, here, that I mangle the Spanish language. I dish out grammatical errors like Halloween candy. But I manage to communicate with the locals all the time. Everyone, though, says my pronunciation is excellent. However, there are times when a tiny segment of Panamanians are just plain dumb. It usually happens with store clerks who have what I can only assume to be a limited education. But not always.

Earlier this week I had to buy my blood pressure medications. I went to the Romero supermarket which has a well-stocked pharmacy. A good looking girl, probably in her late 20s or early 30s greeted me and asked what I wanted.

I said, “Zestril, diez miligramos.”

The veil of stupidity descended. It indicates there’s a light on but you’re not sure if anyone’s home.

“ZES trill,” I said.

Again, not a hint of recognition that we were living on the same planet on her face. She handed me a piece of paper and a ball point pen.

I wrote it out.

“Oh, zes TREEL,” she said with a smile.


“Voilà,” I said. (That’s my favorite French word, and it covers so much. There’s really nothing that will take its place.)

She got the box. It contains 56 pills: nearly a two-month supply.

“¿Algo mas.?”

“Sí, Cardiotal”

Vapid expression once more and she started to push the paper and pen at me.

“No,” I said, “trabaja conmigo.” (No, work with me.)

“Car dee oh TAL. Cinquenta miligramos.”

She gave me a genuine smile as what I said registered and she got me another two-month supply.

“Ahorra, Clo ped eh GRAL”

Again, nothing there.

“Como Plavix,” I said, “pero generic.”

Another smile and she wandered back into the stacks.


“Dos cajas, por favor.” (Two boxes, please.)

“Finalmente, ee b’you pro feen oh, quartro ciento miligramos.” (Ibuprofen, 400 milligrams.)

It took her a moment of two to sort it all out but she got it.

She totaled it all up and it came to $132.96. (That’s a two month supply, though the Ibuprofen will last much longer.)

I slid my “Puntos del Oro” card (It’s sort of like Green Stamps but you don’t have to lick anything.) and my carnet (my government-issued residency card) across the counter and received a $26.59 old farts discount. Final bill, $106.37. Not bad when you consider that the last time I bought just Plavix in the in the States, about six years ago, a single month supply cost me nearly $200!

It was a bit of a chore at the pharmacy counter, but we got it worked out.




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4 responses to “Comunication

  1. indacampo

    Love it. I often think that I’ve boobed things up when I say it but then I go back and ask a more “fluently bilingual” friend and it turns out it’s not usually me after all… Phhhfff!

    So, you know the “look” then. It hasn’t happened to me often, but when it does I always feel it’s THEIR fault, not mine.

  2. Karen Ama Panama

    I always find the medical side of Panama interesting since I work in the medical world here. I needed Ibuprofeno when we were there, and they give you the good stuff, 600 mg in one tablet! You need a prescription here for that. I was quite pleased and learned a new word. Glad you were able to find what you needed. It’s funny about the French, as I speak French and find myself sliding into it all the time with my Spanish. Que Bueno!

    When I started to struggle with Spanish in the real world of Panama I used to mix my French in sometimes without even realizing it. Doesn’t happen any more, though.

    In Panama, with the exception of antibiotics and strong pain killers just about EVERYTHING is over the counter here.

  3. John & Susan

    Thanks for sharing Richard!
    You scored!!

  4. capt dan

    I’m the luckiest guy in the world in this department. My doc gives me free samples of all the drugs I need. Blood pressure, blood thinner, etc. Problem is, he’s my age and will retire soon. Bummer.