Judy, from Miami writes: “Is it true English is spoken everywhere in Panama?”
Sure, if by “everywhere” you mean the expat social. Let me ask you, is it true everyone in Miami has pink flamingos on their lawns? The easy answer to your question is no.
Judy, just because you can order beef burritos from Taco Bell, and like to fantasize about your shirtless Latino gardener, that doesn’t mean you’re ready for Panama. Learn a little Spanish before you leave town.
I suggest “Papi, darme lo que quiero.” would be a good place for you to start.
I read the same propaganda over and over before I arrived in Panama. That it’s easier to live, adapt, and connect with people in Panama because more people speak English. It made sense to me then.
America had a long standing relationship with Panama, so one could expect to hear English spoken. Even Panamanians joke that their city is like Miami except there’s more English spoken. But I’m thinking “English is spoken in Panama” is part of a tourism marketing plan.
Because I’ve been here three years. And (with exception of my travels in Bocas), I can count on one hand the people I’ve met who spoke English. They were mostly professional people: my lawyer, banker, Realtor, doctor, dentist. Not the man on the street.
On the street (taxis, shops and restaurants) I rarely encounter anyone who knows more than a few words of English. Now maybe that’s because they just want to torture poor Cojito; giggle at his primitive Spanish. But I suspect it’s because only the wealthy can afford to learn in Panama.
That’s certainly my girlfriend’s story. She knows thousands of English words. She remembers them from high school and working on an American military base. But after high school she couldn’t continue her education because her family was too poor – eight kids, no house, no money, no dad poor.
Like so many of Panama’s young women, she went right to work doing whatever shit job she could to help the family. While she recalls quite a bit of her schooling, god forbid you actually try to speak any English with her. Her pronunciation sucks.
I encourage her to learn (I also encourage her to wear shorter skirts). But I don’t think anyone should speak English to make my life easier (I do however think my girlfriend should wear shorter skirts). Spanish works for me. I didn’t come to Panama to speak English or chill with gringos. I’m here to learn. I need immersion.
So, should you decide to visit Judy, no worries, Panama’s an international city. At the Hotel California the lobby is often filled with Jews dressed in heavy black suits, and speaking Hebrew. I could easily conjure up Tel Aviv or a diamond market in New York.
There are Indian shops in Central (and Dorado) that might make you think Calcutta (actually, Corundu makes me think of Calcutta). There are many wonderful Chinese markets and shops as well. There’s one around the corner where I buy dried Panda testicles (Don’t ask.).
And yes, there are enough Macdonalds, Wendy’s, and Dunkin Doughnuts with Spanish speaking counter help, so that if you close your eyes Judy, you might really believe you’re back in Miami.
-Cojito @ Panama After Dark.