Category Archives: Culture Shock

Thinking of a move to Panama? Read This First

There is a feature for WordPress bloggers called “Tag Surfer.” It hones in on what other bloggers have written that you have expressed an interest in. Today I found a post by an unknown (there’s no”About” section attached to the blog so I don’t know who wrote it. It’s called:

http://livingtheamericandreamineurope.wordpress.com/

And the title of the post was: “So, You Want To Move To Europe? Part Two I have to admit I didn’t see Part One.

Anyway, the unknown author presented an article from Cracked.com and the post:

http://www.cracked.com/article_19363_6-reasons-your-plans-to-move-abroad-might-not-work-out.html

Now, Cracked.com is a humor site, but there’s a lot of truth in this post. Here are the six reasons given and I’ll add my own notes but you need to read the article for yourself if you’ve ever thought about moving to Panama or any other country that’s not your own…

#6. The People There Probably Don’t Want You

Personally I haven’t met anyone here in Panama like that, but I know they exist. My lawyer told me once that she has friends who don’t like gringos. Hey, I understand. I don’t like most of them either.That isn’t to say I don’t have some gringo friends here, but for the most part I avoid gringos. I went to the Tuesday Market in Boquete once and I shudder to think of ever having to go back again. I bought what I came to get and left as soon as possible. But then again, I do that with shopping in general. That may have something to do with sex. (No, not THAT kind of sex. Sex as in which one you were born into.) Most women go love to go “shopping.” That doesn’t mean they’re going to buy anything when they go, but that’s the term most women use. Men, on the other hand when they have something they want or need to get, they go to the store, find the item or items, pay for them and leave.

#5. Their Governments Don’t Want You, Either

Panama is a little bit different. They are actually trying to make it easy for people, retired people that is, to move to this small country where they will voluntarily spend their retirement income.

#4. Other Countries Treat Illegal Immigrants Worse Than America

Who knows about Panama? I do know, that despite having a Pensionado Visa, and am “legal,” I am perpetually a guest in this country and can be told to leave at any time for any reason or no reason at all. I hope I never have to find out how their extradition process works.

#3. What You Hate About America, You Find Everywhere

Now this is spot on. Don’t think moving somewhere else is going to change a lot of things. I never went to McDoo Doo’s in the States and I’m NOT going to go to one here. But I hate having to go all the way to Panama City for some tasty, spicy fried chicken. LOVE that chicken from Popeyes. Pio Pio just doesn’t cut it and KFC which is here in David, gets the same treatment as Mc Doo Doo’s. Didn’t eat it there won’t here, either. Same thing goes for Domino’s, Pizza Hut and TGIF,, all of which have a presence here in David.

#2. Adapting Will Be Harder Than You Can Imagine

I think this is something most new expats never really expect. Good old CULTURE SHOCK. It’s GOING to happen to you. There’s no way you can avoid it. You’re not in Kansas anymore. Again, personally, I haven’t been hit with culture shock here even though I’ve been “in country” for a year and a half. And I think I know why. About six months into my three year stay in France culture shock punched me in the gut. I wanted to leave. But I had a job that I said I’d do and I stuck it out. Things got better. Then, about six months after I got back to the States I experienced culture shock again. I wanted to go back to France so bad you can’t believe how much. But I didn’t have the money to do so, so I stuck it out and things got better, sort of. Now, I think having gone through two bouts of culture shock before I’ve simply learned to take things as they come. Things aren’t going they way you want them to? Well, TOUGH TITTY! That’s the way things are…DEAL WITH IT!

#1. You Will Likely Just Hang Out With Other Americans

This is definitely true for WAY TOO MANY GRINGOS who move here and settle around Boquete and Volcan. Not that there’s anything inherently wrong with that but it’s just not how I want to live here. Yes, as I said, I do have gringo friends here but, by and large, I avoid most gringos as if they had some kind of infectious disease. But that’s just me. Your mileage may differ.
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Filed under Culture Shock, Living Abroad, panama, Retirement, Retirement Abroad

Another One Bites The Dust

In the last month I’ve encountered three people (that includes a couple) who are packing up and returning to the Great White North. Their stories illustrate some of the common things that happen to people whose retirement dreams turn sour.

The three came to Panama and settled in Boquete on the other side of the valley from Potrerillos Arriba. In the last couple of years Boquete has been heavily promoted as being one of the premier spots for people to retire to when the wish to retire outside of the United States. It’s a place that was described by a sixth grader at a school in David as “Gringolandia.”  There are a lot of expats who have settled in and around Boquete many of them in gated “communities” where they are insulated from the reality of Panama and way too many of them don’t learn Spanish and are often an embarrassment when I see them in the local stores pissed off that the locals haven’t learned English so the expat’s lives would be easier. They’ve been taken in by the misinformation publications and sites like “International Living” who say “many of the locals speak English. NO THEY DON’T! Nor should they. The language here is Spanish and YOU should learn THEIR language, not the other way around.

Dealing with the language for the monoglots who only operate in English is one of the biggest reasons so many people leave. Of the three people mentioned earlier not learning to speak Spanish played a great part in their decision to return north of the border. I talked to the single man who was leaving. He is doing it for health reasons which is a valid excuse but part of his problem is he “can’t find a doctor, here, who speaks English.” Well, MY doctor here speaks near-perfect English. Also this gentleman is from Mississippi and his accent is so thick you can, as they say, cut it with a knife. Now, not to put down anyone from the great state of Mississippi, I had a problem understanding his speech and I’ve been speaking English since I was able to speak at all. He said he’d tried to learn Spanish but he was too old, which is another weak excuse although I’m sure that with his accent no Panamanian would have been able to understand his Spanish anyway.

The couple fall into the biggest category of quitters. Though they say they did all their “due diligence” before committing themselves to living here I think they deluded themselves. They read all the propaganda about how this is a paradise. They came down, looked around, found “Gringolandia” and bought a house. Then, not speaking the language, they became disenchanted and when “culture shock” landed on them with both feet they succumbed and are selling their house at a loss. Besides not learning to speak the language they didn’t do one of the most important things of all which is to have come down here and rented a place for at least six months to see if they could actually make the transition.

Not everyone can, nor should they, pack up their old way of life and move to a different country where the customs and language are so different. It takes a special kind of person to pull it off. It take a commitment that most people don’t possess. Of all my friends, relatives and acquaintances in the States I only know ONE who could pull it off and that’s because he has at various times in his life. Because of circumstances beyond his control he’s living in the States now, but in the past Bill’s lived for at least six years in France, three or four in Spain and spent, literally, years in Mexico and Guatemala. He speaks both French and Spanish. He’s a few years away from retirement age but it wouldn’t surprise me that when he hits the magic number he’ll drift south of the Rio Grande and be successful at it.

The big hurdle for everyone who leaves their comfort zone in the States is, of course, culture shock. It WILL hit you. Just how long that will take before it hits varies from person to person but it is inevitable. Your success depends on how you cope with it and whether you can work your way through it or not. It hit me in France at about the six month mark and that’s about when it gets most people. I really wanted to leave, but I’d committed myself to doing a job and so I stuck it out and am glad I did. In fact, I was hit twice with culture shock. When I returned to the States after being abroad for nearly four years again at about the six month mark I wanted to clear out and thought seriously about returning to France. I didn’t, of course, but the determination to leave the States stayed with me until I could actually get things together and do it. I haven’t had a problem with culture shock here in Panama and I don’t think I will, having gone through it twice I know how to roll with the flow now and deal with things as they are.

It isn’t just moving to another country that can be a problem for people in their retirement years. Want a great deal on a nice sailboat? Go to places like the Virgin Islands, the Rio Dulce in Guatemala and other “destination” ports. There are plenty of boats there that are owned by people who dreamed of sailing around the world, bought a boat, sold everything and took off only to abandon their dream at their first distant port of call. Reality bit them in the pooper and they discovered that the “cruising life” is little more than repairing broken gear in exotic locations without the proper tools or the skills to actually do the job. Usually, though not always, it’s the woman who gives up first. I remember one woman in Guatemala who was forcing the end of the adventure because she couldn’t cope with the lack of shopping malls and places to get her nails done. I’m not making that up. That’s exactly what she said. Of course I think that’s stupid, but for her it was a valid reason for going back and who am I to ridicule her reasons. There hers and not mine.

I feel sorry for those people whose dreams lie ship wrecked on the bleak shores of reality but that’s how life goes sometimes.

Things are changing here in Panama recently. The 29th of this month will mark my first anniversary. The seasons are changing. After a long dry spell we’re starting to get rain on a nearly daily basis now. Not the drenching frog-choking gully washers of last year, but a couple of hours of the wet every day. Gas prices are over $4/gallon now which is driving up the cost of transportation and as a result food prices are rising and it’s hard for the ordinary Panamanian. Yesterday I took the bus down the mountain to do some grocery shopping. What used to cost 90¢ for the one-way trip is now $1.05.

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Learning Curve

Things I learned this week:

La Concepcion is not the place to go for grocery shopping. It takes two buses each way at a cost of $1.60. A bit cheaper than Potrerillos to David round trip which was $1.80. A shopping trip from Boquerón to David also requires two buses each way and costs the same as going to La Concepcion.

El Rey is the best grocery store for all around shopping. There are four groceries in the area: El Rey, Super Baru, Romero (affiliated with El Rey) and Super 99 (owned by Panama’s President, Ricardo Martinelli). El Rey is the only place that has Jell-O Chocolate Pudding Mix. Romero, on the other hand, is the only place stocking Grandma’s Molasses (an essential ingredient for a couple of bread recipes I bake) and Baru (named after Panama’s highest peak, an extinct volcano) is the only one that has Kikkoman soy sauce. I don’t like Super 99. It has nothing to do with politics. To me it’s a bit like the Winn-Dixie near where I lived in Fort Lauderdale. Every time I shopped there I felt like I needed to take a bath when I got home.
Just because you come up with something that seems like a good idea doesn’t mean you should try it out. But that’s part of what makes it a learning curve, isn’t it?

About three quarters of the way to the bus terminal in David there is a large Romero. From the outside it seems to be about as big as the Rey I was headed for. Shopping there would mean not having to take two extra buses, not that the 60 cents they’d cost makes any difference. Well, this store was better than the other two Romeros I’ve been in but still not on a par with Rey.

The problem came trying to catch the bus back home. There are only two an hour. I barely missed the first one so I had to cool my heels for half an hour. No big deal except the next one that came along was full to the brim as was the one a half hour after that. After 90 minutes I was able to get one of the last three seats on the Boquerón bus.

So it’s back to Plan A which is to do the four bus shuffle. At least if I start my return trip from the terminal it’s a lock on getting a seat. And it’s not a problem if I have to wait a while. Most of the little kioskos sell 30 cent scoops of a decent chocolate ice cream and I can enjoy it while watching the passing parade of Panama: school children in their uniforms, Indian women in their native garb and just the ordinary people of the country. I love the terminal. Anyone coming to visit me, even if they rent a car, will have to spend an hour or so there.

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Filed under Boqueron Panama, Culture Shock, Living Abroad, Retirement Abroad

Culturally Discombobulated

Culturally Discombobulated is the name of a blog written by a Brit transplanted to the States and dealing with the phenomenon of “Culture Shock.” Culture Shock is something experienced by everyone thrust into living in a foreign country as opposed to just visiting. The other day I remarked to a gringo neighbor that I haven’t been going through that here in Panama. I think it’s probably because I went through all the symptoms when I moved to France and now, here, when things don’t go as they would in the States I just shrug it off. Been there, done that. After all, I’m not in Kansas any more, Toto.

In Anthony Windram’s most recent post he writes about missing foods he grew up with that are either unavailable to him in the States or if they are to be found at “British” food stores they are only to be had at extortionate prices. I can attest to the culinary jonesing for comfort foods from my time in France.

Of course France is a gourmand’s delight, don’t get me wrong, and the food is one of the many things I actually miss about the country. There was, in Antibes, a “foreign” food store catering to us non-natives. Most of the store’s inventory catered to English, Irish and Australian tastes since they made up a large portion of the expat community there.  There was a decent selection of American stuff, too. We were able to buy Old El Paso taco seasonings and taco shells and refried beans along with a limited choice of Chef Boyardee goods.  Why anyone would want to buy a can of those soggy raviolis when made-fresh-daily ravioli with a fantastic assortment of fillings was available at several nearby charcuteries will forever remain a mystery. One item I found delightful at the store, having lived in New Orleans for so many years, was Dixie beer. Unfortunately in cans and not the beloved long-neck bottles.

When I left for France one thing I didn’t want to leave behind was my Crystal hot sauce…the only one to use on popcorn…so I packed away three of the largest bottles of the spicy red liquid I could find only to discover on my first visit to the local Carrefour grocery store that Crystal was prominently stocked on the shelves.

One thing I found rather disconcerting, though, was my craving for foods I rarely bothered with when living in the States. Worst among these was Kraft Macaroni and Cheese. When one of my brothers asked me what I wanted for Christmas I told him Kraft Macaroni and Cheese. Send me some of those chemical packets of cheese sauce. Keep the macaroni we had plenty of pasta in France. He and his wife sent me three dozen of the packets. I tried it and I was right…the stuff is horrid.

However, one of the bar maids at Chez Charlie’s Pub, a hangout for English speaking expats in Antibes, was a New Orleans native named Jane. Odd thing was when I was living there Jane and I used to go to the same music venues and when I went to the laundry as I’d be sitting outside reading a book while my clothes were being done if I looked up I looked at Jane’s front door though we wouldn’t meet until years later in France. Every now and again when paying up my bill at Charlie’s instead of leaving a cash tip for Jane I’d leave her a couple of Kraft cheese packets. She absolutely LOVED the stuff and appreciated it more than a few francs left on the counter.

Another odd phenomena happened when I returned to the States after a four year absence. I drank a bottle of root beer one afternoon and then I couldn’t get enough of the stuff. I went on a root beer binge that lasted for a couple of months after that first frosty glass.

Here in Panama, probably from its long association with the U.S. and the growing number of gringos choosing to spend their dotage here, lots of what we think of as “comfort” foods are available at the supermarkets. Yes, Kraft Macaroni and Cheese is everywhere as are such staples as Jiff and Peter Pan peanut butter though you’d gasp at what they cost. I avoid most of it for locally produced stuff, but in some cases there aren’t acceptable substitutes as far as my pallet is concerned. I’m sorry, but Maggi tomato paste just doesn’t hold a candle to Hunts or Contadina.

One of the things I missed when I left France was the wonderful availability of fresh produce. After several years of buying top quality fruits and veggies at the open air market returning to Stateside supermarkets where the produce is all shrink wrapped in plastic it was a real bummer. Here in Panama while good produce is available in the supermarkets, and none of it shrink wrapped, the best stuff is to be found at roadside stands. Imagine a wonderfully ripe, succulent and fragrant pineapple for a buck each. Tomatoes actually taste like tomatoes. I’m eating good again.

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