The Kalu Yala Blog

Tidal Wave of Culture

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June 10, 2013

by Jonathan Goodan
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As stated in previous blogs, most of us living in the city are surrounded by sights, sounds, and even smells unfamiliar to us. Everything we experience when we leave the apartment evokes use of our senses in a way we’re not used to. This very experience is one of the reasons why so many people travel. For those of us who embrace these new experiences, the transition has been smooth. For others, there have been instances where simple differences in culture have been misconstrued as offensive or rude behavior (not saying that this type of behavior doesn’t exist).

Probably one of the first differences we saw was on the roads. Use of stop signs and turn signals has been replaced with use of the horn. Also, since taxis here don’t have meters, the price you pay for one depends on your negotiation skills. Pedestrians have very little rights, so we’re lucky to have a grocery store within a couple blocks.  In any other city, buying a bicycle would seem like a great idea, but here, you’d pretty much be asking for an early funeral.

Food Stall

Checking out a roadside food stall

Here are some other noticeable cultural differences:

-the food

-strong police presence (some strapped with automatic weapons)

-hundreds of little places to eat on the street called fondas

-tipping done occasionally

-saying thank you isn’t always necessary

-kissing on the cheek when greeting

-barking/hissing at girls on the street

-lots of kids playing soccer

-punctuality and “fast” food non-existent

Our ability to adapt to this new culture will ultimately lead to our success in the city. Although some of these new ideas may not be in line with our own personal beliefs, it is essential to acknowledge them and become informed in order to be more well-rounded individuals. Two months of living amid Panamanian culture will definitely give us new perspectives on each of our home cultures.

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