Thursday, September 13, 2012

Life in Panama: Patience



This is what happens if you pay with a $100 bill in a grocery store in Panamá, if they don't first moan and ask for a smaller bill, already aware of the extra work this will require. There's a form and signatures and a manager and a semen test, a phone call to your mother and a measuring of one's penis. 

Everything takes longer here. Well, everything except the demand for payment. Restaurants operate within their own world. Store employees specialize in texting and chewing gum and exchanging the latest bochinche (gossip). Transitioning from Virginia (where time is suspended in the mid 1990s) to New York (where walking quickly and with a purpose helps many new residents drop poundage while traversing the town) to Los Angeles (palm trees, cocaine, and leisurely strolls) to Panama, where nothing is ever urgent, has all made me a more patient person. 

I've learned the value of deep breathing when I notice that tightness and mounting anxiety upon encountering a worker operating in what I'd consider an illogical fucking stupid fucking lazy bitch ass way, I am learning to shrug it off. 

Monday, I was presented with a completely different spin on things from an American with an entirely different experience in Panama:


well, shit.

Several valid points raised. When I look at it from that (unpretentious and understanding) point of view, it takes me back to Cultural Anthropology class back in Los Angeles. When discussing cultural variances, the bra-averse Dr. Wolfe told us:

Remember, cultural practices that are new to you aren't weird. When you travel and encounter and judge a new behavior, your natural reaction is to look at things from your own ethnocentric point of view. Take off your American eyes and try to understand the practice and the culture. You'll be better for it.

This is a daily struggle, especially when interacting with people from so many walks of life, education levels, backgrounds, and corners of the world. When I ask the store employees for something that would be easily locatable with a quick check of a computer system or stockroom and they mechanically respond with "NO HAY" (there isn't/aren't any) without apology or concern, I will be sure to consider her long commute and the vast income disparities and try not to wonder whether any of that matters as she's still getting paid to do a fucking job that she accepted by coming to work.

work. in. progress.


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