Panama Frustrations

Every country in the world has it's good things and bad things. I sure am enjoying the good stuff here. Two weeks ago I was again discovering the beauty of Panama, this time in the mountain regions. We stayed in the best hotel in David, Chiriqui (David is the capital of the province of Chiriqui), went to flower and coffee festival in a nearby city Boquete (which is a very popular retirement destination for Americans) and bought many beautiful flowers (orchids etc) and some tasty coffee which grows there plentifully. But - there are some frustrations I'm having as well and why not share it with the world. First of all time. It's polite to be late here. Even 30 minutes late is okay. One time at a business meeting a guy was 2 hours(!) late. He mumbled something about the traffic and everybody was fine with that. I can't imagine being late for something 2 hours in Europe. I am personally very punctual, so it is especially hard for me.

A useful characteristic to have in Panama is patience. Things can take a long, long, looooooong time. And they think that's fine. I though Dubai had prepared me well to take it easy and go with the flow. Wrong! Still a way to go...

Promises. When somebody promises something by some time, it doesn't mean much. If somebody tells you "I have this thing ready for you, come pick it up", my first thought would be "aah, it's ready, I can go pick it up NOW". Here it doesn't mean anything like that. It means the guy has the intention of getting it ready. And it's not just me who doesn't understand this stuff, Panamanians get fooled too, and they're not happy about it. So if they're not happy about it either, why not start being punctual and keeping promises? Of course, there are exceptions and it doesn't apply to everybody.

The way things are organized. Panama is full of bureaucracy, stupid rules that don't make any sense but people follow them to the point. For instance in the government side: I recently renewed my visa and had to experience a very ineffective system. You stand in (a huge) line, go to counter A, get forms, fill them in, stand in line, make copies of the form, go back to the line to counter A, give them the filled form - but they don't look at the form, but interview you instead asking the questions on the form (which you have now 2 copies of). You pass the test, are given an invoice, go stand in the line for counter B, pay some money, go stand in line C and make copies, go back to the line to counter A. And I missed some steps. All of this took 3 hours. Could have taken 10 minutes, if only 1 person would have done all of that stuff.

Another place to see idiotism in action in any mall. First of all you cannot enter most of the shops while carrying any bags. You have to stand in line to put your bag away to a place where they keep bags (don't know how to call it) before they'll let you in. Everything you buy, you get a receipt for and when leaving the store you have to show everything to the security guard along with the receipt and then the guard takes out a marker does a check on the receipt. Why oh why? Just today we bought a small table. I mean we told a guy in the shop we want this table. He went to the backroom, got one in a package (not assembled yet). He cut the package open, took out all the parts and put the package together again. Additional 20 minutes gone. I understand that the goal is to make sure all the pieces are there, but if the package is closed since the factory, what are the odds its not okay? The he filled out 3 forms and we needed to sign 3 different documents. All for a small cheap ass table. On your way out of course the security guard hassles you and makes a big deal out you not finding your receipt immediately.

And naturally every item you buy is put into a separate plastic bag. So every time you shop you will leave with 35554 new bags. Yay for the environment. They will also tie the handles into a knot or staple the bag and the handle together so its really inconvenient to carry it around.

It is also very okay in restaurants to be waiting for your food for 1 hour, getting something you didn't order and then they just say 'aah, oops'. No apology, no money back, no free meal. Customer service is notoriously bad in the country. And another things really bad is the selection of goods availabale at the stores. Things for kitchen, livingroom, whatever are all very much overpriced and very low quality. Panamanians have a taste for low quality crap. It seems to me that all the crap from all over the world is sent here and is sold off for a high price. It's like this exporter's dream. The wine selection is great, but at least half of it is undrinkable throat-burning liquid. Panamanians drink it happily and make sophisticated faces and gestures while drinking it. In a fancy restaurant a waiter offer you to sample a $2 wine like it's the greatest stuff ever.

Shops are full of fake stuff. You can buy fake books (plastic or tin things that just look like books that you can put on your shelf to look smart), fake-wood vases and whatever. People decorate the front yards of their houses with fake stones (made from plastic, just looks like stone). A neighbour of ours, an amazing jewelry maker told us that any middle class American has better art at home than rich Panamanians). He has seen people throwing away vintage very expensive French kitchen set just because it was old. And you can buy some expensive fake plates and cups instead.

And - this country badly needs an emissions standard. Any car that can move, can drive around. Every 5th car on the street has so much black smoke coming out of them that it blocks the sunlight. I am surprised how half of the cars on the street even move. The public transportation buses (US school buses from the early 17th century, or at least they look that way) make so horrible sound that it's like the end of the world is coming. They are called 'red devils' by the locals cause not only are the big, ugly and noisy, but also very dangerous in the traffic as they are huge and drivers visibility is limited.

And the general loud noise everywhere bothers me. The too loud music, the non-stop honking in the traffic and people yelling real loud.

The funny thing is that once I will leave Panama one day, I will miss all of these things.


Fidel said...

Peep, its so interesting to see points of views from foreigners like you. I am so clear that Panamanians have a weird taste for life and can blame it on the politics. Elite families of Panama who are (huge company owners in Hong Kong and World wide) move the government because they are the ones who finance it. Once they are done giving donations to the government campaigns and everyone is good to go for the next 4 years on multimillionaire business and power for the politicians who are in most part people who grew up with not a good (no education, nice home, etc) but plenty of charisma its when they forget about the masses... In Panama there is a poor education... I keep saying that the masses don't even know where they come from but in any case they follow TV and the soap operas...If they don't own a TV they follow the price of life (what ever its cheaper its the best). I dont really know where Im going with these thoughts but I hope it makes sense to someone... Fidel

Vern said...

Hi Peep,

don't you take some of the mentioned things too seriously? Are the procedures in the shops really as horrible? You know the reasons why they are doing it! If not, it is about stealing! And there are many restaurants with great service! I left restaurants in Germany and France because nobody came even to ask for my order within a reasonable timeframe. I spent entire forenoons at Gov't offices in Germany, Italy, ... and elsewhere. Is it really unique to Panama? And prices in Panama are much lower than in many other parts of the world! Enjoy life and think positive!