WINTER IN PANAMA

8 Culture Shocks I Face Returning To The U.S.

I recently returned to Panama from a two week trip back home to Louisville, KY and every time I go back I face a little bit of culture shock. None of these are serious cases of culture shock but are just some of the funny things I’ve noticed when heading back to my old culture after being accustomed to my Panama one. Here are the 8 most difficult things I deal with:

Greeting People Is Awkward

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In Panama my brain is on autopilot to mumble “Buenas” when getting into an elevator full of people and “Hasta Luego” when exiting. This will get you strange looks to say the same in the U.S. and I had to constantly remind myself to either say “Good Morning” or keep a cold stare straight ahead and not acknowledge the person.

I also run into trouble with greeting friends, acquaintances, and new people. In Panama I always give a girl a kiss on the cheek with kind of a half hug and a guy a handshake. In the U.S. I face a moment of panic as I realize my brain is on autopilot, going in for the cheek kiss, and then my greeting becomes an awkward half hug / cheek kiss / handshake.

I’m Stuck

In Panama City I use a combination of walking, bus, metro, taxi, and car hailing phone apps to easily and very cheaply get around the city. I’ve never driven a car here and I probably never will because the public transportation suits my needs.

 

Most of the U.S. was designed for people with cars in mind so when I head back home to the suburbs of Louisville, KY I am kind of stranded there without a car. I have to be dependent on other people to drive me around because I checked and the nearest bus stop is a 30 minute walk away and it only passes by twice a day. I also can’t rent a car because I’m not 25 and I’m not on my parents car insurance so I can’t drive their cars. I was so thankful for Uber to finally launch in Louisville during this last trip, but it was always $25 for me to get home from the bars each night when I’m used to paying $5 – $7 to use Uber in Panama.

Prepaid Phone Service Is A Challenge

In Panama you can a prepaid SIM card for your phone from a street vendor, chino, a few other random spots, and the actual cell phone stores. It’s too easy and extremely cheap. The SIM card also pretty much lasts forever even if you don’t use it.

In the U.S. it always took me at least hour to be at the store to set up a prepaid account and I had to do this every time I visited because it expires if you don’t use it after three months. I did finally find a “loophole” after almost three years of doing this that I cover in this article.

I’m Back In The Land Of Customer Satisfaction

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The U.S. just wins with customer service compared to Panama and is one of the culture shocks I do look forward to.

Negotiating Taxi Rides

During my first trip back to the U.S. after living in Panama I decided to try negotiating a taxi fare like I always did in Panama and it actually worked twice in one night! I haven’t tried doing that since then but I was proud to show off my newly learned negotiating skills to my friends.

It’s Way Too Cold

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The weather was awesome during this trip to Kentucky because it was just starting to transition into fall weather, but still felt like a mild summer. This is not how it goes during my annual Christmas trip where the temperatures are below freezing and snowing. It’s always a good reminder of one of my top reasons to continue living in Panama.

Stuck On Panamanian Time

In Panama, unless you specify be there at 8:00 pm American time or we are leaving without you, people will typically show up around 1, 2, 3, or more hours late. I’ve developed a little bit of the mañana attitude myself and it’s nice being able to arrive to a place at my convenience and blame it on traffic (which is usually true). Going back to the U.S. means getting back into the habit of stressing out about time.

No One Documents The Night

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As soon as I became friends with Panamanians my tagged pictures on Facebook skyrocketed to several thousand. Panamanians love to take tons of pictures of their night and have no shame in asking strangers to take several until they get the right shot. I always have confidence that when I go out with my Panamanian friends we are going to have several awesome photos the next day.

Americans love taking photos of themselves as well – it’s where the #Selfie song was born, but at the end of my two week trip in the U.S. I only had 5 pictures to prove it.

What are some of the culture shocks you have when returning home? Leave a comment below:



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  1. Brandon

    hahah so true.. I live in Amsterdam and i same for me:
    That moment when U2 is in Amsterdam and i understand you..
    Time: I used to show up 2/3 hours later in Panama, here dutch people are really serious about time.. if they say 8pm its 8pm .. i had to get used to be on time.. its still a bit hard though and i cant blame the traffic cause we use bikes here to go anywhere 🙁 ..
    – Bikes : Here in Amsterdam I use my bike to go from home to any place, home to the city, home to the market or the club.. when im Panama i have to take a cab or someone has to pick me up… its so annoying haha
    Weather: so this was my first summer in Europe and its over already and for me it wasnt even Summer.. one of the best days was like 26 and thats like a cold in Panama City.. 🙁 I was expecting more like 32-35 degrees .. we had good days but nothing can compare the summer in Panama, thats deffo one of the things I miss the most of Panama and Carnavales 🙂 cheers

  2. JM

    I recently moved back home (to Panama) after several years in the US, and I have to say that I faced several of those culture shocks in reverse! Especially the ones about greeting people, traffic, customer service and panamanian time!

  3. Mia

    Thanks for the warning! I’m going to Louisville next week, and was hoping to get a pre-paid card as easily as I can get it anywhere else in the world, but apparently not. I hope the weather is still balmy tho, I only have my Panama clothes to wear… lol.


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