Mishaps and adventures of a cross-cultural Gringa in Boquete

This post is also available in: Spanish

Part II of Spanish integration with Habla Ya

By Evelyne Meyer

“Relocating to Latin America is not an easy task. First, learn the language – then learn to understand the culture,” says Evelyne Meyer of the Habla Ya Spanish Integration School in Boquete. This is the second and final part of an online article she wrote that has been adapted for The Visitor.

I moved to Panama about four years ago, and I have generally learned to adapt to Panamanian culture. I speak Spanish now, but I have noticed that what you are trying to say can easily be misinterpreted if you don’t say it in the right tone or use the right words. I’ve often rubbed someone the wrong way without wanting to, even made them cry.

A friendly introduction

Sometimes we blame these situations on the “language barrier,” when it may be the “cultural barrier.” I am European, and even compared to North Americans, we can come across as very abrupt when we are writing an email or asking for something. We get straight to the point, and often forget the “hello how are you” at the beginning of our sentence, but that doesn’t mean that we mean to be rude. This is something I’ve learned to change since I have worked at Habla Ya, and I am now always sure to be extra polite.

Author finds her

Latina-paced groove

The second difficulty is the pace of life in general. I have always had zero tolerance for anyone slower than myself. Living in a tropical country such as Panama has made me slow down a bit, and has taught me to take a breath and appreciate life as it goes by. I don’t have to walk so fast all the time, besides it would just make me sweat. I now take a full hour for lunch. At the end of the day the work gets done regardless.

For the newcomer

So we must accept this new rhythm of life, because stressing over it can give you an ulcer. And at the end of the day, who lives better? Sometimes we may be right, but I often believe our own ignorance is what makes us think that we are better.

Find the Gringa! Author Evelyne Meyer is successfully integrated with her team in Boquete.

Find the Gringa! Author Evelyne Meyer is successfully integrated with her team in Boquete.

Granted, in the so-called developed countries there is always a well-engineered system in place for everything, especially when it comes to customer service! But how many times in the first world have you been frustrated by call center representatives reciting the same lines with each client? Sometimes you don’t even get to talk to a person anymore.

In Panama things work differently. You will be treated as a human being, rather than a robot. People may work a bit slower here, but they will be flexible. If you ask for a favor, someone will help you out even with a task they are not trained to do, whereas in Europe, for example, you will just be told “that’s not my job.” I would much rather live in a place where some rules can still be bent.

Perfection does not exist! If you have relocated to Central America, then you have made a conscious choice to live a different lifestyle, so don’t expect others to adapt to you but try to adapt to them instead.


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