Culture Panama

The cultural differences between Europeans and people of Central America are so big that you could write an entire book on them. Below are a few choice items:

Politeness: This is a very important point in the interactions across Central America. In Panama, when meeting either a man or woman for the first time, offer them a handshake (one hand). Close friends or relatives give each other a kiss. Male family members give each other only one hand, often accompanied by an embrace, an abrazo.
If someone appeals, even in situations in a shop or bus, start your conversation with a greeting. A simple buenos días or buenas tardes, accompanied by a smile, does wonders. Your greeting will be matched by a greeting from the counterparty. Then begins the actual conversation as normal. If you enter a common space, such as a restaurant or waiting room, it also common practice to offer a general greeting to everyone in the room. A simple buenos días or buenas tardes is ok.

Macho behavior: Although women hold increasingly important positions in politics and business the Latin American machismo culture is still pervasive. This is the myth that characterizes men as strong and women as fragile. A macho male attitude and pride are often exhibited as a local man trying to gain the attention of a woman. Unaccompanied women often get plenty of (unwanted) attention. If you DOdo not appreciate this, it is best simply to ignore it. You can minimize these problems by dressing conservatively. Wearing a wedding ring can also help. Avoid dark places and lonely beaches if you are alone. Obviously there are enough 'ordinary' men here too!

Clothing: Make sure you look clean and well groomed for the people of Central America. This is important. Even poor people are doing their best to look good. Since you have the money to travel all the way from Europe to Central America you are in the eyes of local people rich. You win respect if you dress nicely. This does not mean that you should wear your most expensive Armani outfit to go onto the streets. Jewellery and expensive jewellery you better leave at home. Do not dress too revealing, not everyone is appreciative of this. Shorts are for both men and women, well suited to the beaches and in some coastal towns. Swimsuits should only be worn in swimming pools and on beaches. Many local women swim with a shirt over their bathing suits (often to reduce male attention). Dress discreetly when you visit churches, out of respect for the local population and its culture.

Shopping: Traditional Panamanian crafts are the cheapest at art markets. In Panama City is the market Balbao. The market Panama Viejo is also recommended. The most famous article is of course the mola, a complex piece of textile work made by the Kuna Indians of the tribe. Molas are, except in those markets, also available from vendors at the wall along the sea in Casco Viejo. Besides molas you can buy carved stone nuts, animals made from coconut and palm baskets made of woven fibers. El Valle is a small market with many smaller art soapstone sculptures. In Panama is the world's largest free trade zone, the Colon Free Trade Zone. In addition, a number of malls - American style, including Multi Centro, Albrook Mall and Multi Plaza Pacific. Prices vary from mall to mall. Albrook is relatively inexpensive, Multi Plaza with its clothing designer boutiques is on the pricey side. In general, Panama is a good country for clothing, cosmetics and consumer purchasing.

Bargaining: Bargaining is customary in Panama but only when buying souvenirs and art objects. Food from the market and shops have a fixed price.

Music: Salsa (a mix of folk, r & b, rock and jazz), the Panamanian specialty. The best known performer is Ruben Blades. Salsa music can be heard around most of the country. In Bocas del Toro on the Caribbean coast you can hear reggae with Spanish lyrics. Calle Uruguay in Panama City is the place if you want to dance or something to drink.

General: Always remember that you are a guest in a country where one simply has different manners. This is not abnormal, you're just acting differently!

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