Panama: New normal

by Jennifer Venter July. 23, 2018 969 views
Panama City behind the ruins - modern vs history

Panama City behind the ruins - modern vs history

Eight months has passed

I look back on those first few days when everything was so strange, and Spanish went WAY WAY over my head. I now giggle at how big my eyes were and how very crazy it all felt.

Now months later, things seem so much more normal and natural. We still learn new things and our Spanish everyday.

The other day we were discussing how we took some things for granted in our own country and decided to make a list of those things vs the Panamanian way :

Rubbish collection

· We live in a more rural part of Panama, thus the government does not collect the trash so private individuals (Panamanians) collect the bags on certain routes per week for a certain cash amount per bag. I honestly don’t know what they do with the bags but I am very grateful for them coming each week.


· In more rural areas, there are septic tanks or perhaps nothing. You need to ask some hard questions when renting or buying a property. In certain and often many places, you are not permitted to throw your toilet paper down the toilet, so bins are provided for this. I actually found a rather interesting website which is dedicated to where to put your paper, which makes for rather strange interesting reading. In Panama, you will soon learn what the process is when you enter the bathroom stall whether in a home, hotel, restaurant or airport.

Hot water pipes (in house)

· Our rented house does not have hot water pipes, so we have to use an urn for hot water in the kitchen or boil a pot/kettle. Now I need to plan when I need hot water for washing dishes or cooking.

In the showers, we use shower heads called ‘widow makers’ or ‘suicide showers’ which heats the water within the head. Rather a scary concept but the process works very well. Newer modern homes often have gas heated geysers for the kitchen and bathrooms.


· I am sure many of you have gas stoves but I was brought up using an electric stove which I continued to use into my adulthood. I was always told gas cooking is amazing but never really saw the need to swap over.

In Panama, there are only gas stoves (that I have seen to date) so I had to learn super quickly how to cook with one and boy OH boy am I now hooked and cannot imagine going back to electric.

Street address

· In our area, we do not have street names or addresses so if you want to have something sent to you it has to go through a freight forwarding company. If my Husband wants to order parts online, the parts are shipped to Miami * and then forwarded to a shop in our local Panamanian town (50 mins drive away). This shop charges a handling fee per package. Else we receive everything via email. When people ask for my postal address, I just say sorry I don’t have one and wait for their shocked response. I remembered vividly when I told my Sister and her whatsapp responses was "WHAT ??????"


· One of the biggest adjustments we had to make living in Panama (coming from South Africa) was to sit on the other side of the car to steer the vehicle and then to put a cherry on the top, to drive on the right side of the road. This took some practising especially since I kept on trying to pull up my handbrake which I realised was now my car door.

A few months later, it is like old hat. I actually found myself watching a British show the other evening, and saying to my Husband in all seriousness why are they sitting on the wrong side of the car. We had a good laugh at that one. Funny how one’s sense of normal, becomes normal very quickly with practice and an open mind.

Another interesting fact : The car’s horn in Panama is used for a few reasons namely : (a) I am passing you so be aware, (b) hey get out of the way, or (c) hola !

Rainy Season bring a wide range of green green and more green

Rainy Season bring a wide range of green green and more green

Getting things you want or need at the shops easily

· Most things and food stuffs can be found relatively easily in Panama but certain things you just cannot get here so you need to order on line or buy when you are travelling overseas.

For example, yarn/wool in Panama can be found but it is a terrible quality so if you are a keen knitter such as myself then you will need to order online/import or ask a nice friend to bring over in their suitcase.

Easy access to shops and cafes

· Our nearest town is 50 mins away (with no traffic) so you need to plan your shopping, banking and necessities carefully

Car parts

· Some car brand parts can be obtained in Panama whilst others not at all, so these need to be ordered online via the Miami route (as mentioned above *).


· The primary language and in many parts of Panama the only language is Spanish so if you want to do anything you need to learn Spanish very fast or rely on Google Translate and sign language.

Google Translate is good for the most part but certain words in Panamanian Spanish are different from the Mexican or Spain Spanish so one has to be careful. Plus you must have your pronunciation 100% correct else you will not be understood.

Clothes and shoes sizing

· Since clothing & shoes come from all over the world to Panama, sizing is all over the place so every time I want to buy something I have to try it on – not negotiable.

Being able to work

· I have been working since I was nine years old, so now not being able to work is very frustrating. It literally feels like your hands are tied. When you move to a new country you need to follow their immigration and work permit laws, and that is just the way the cookie crumbles, enough said.

Drinking tap water

· In Panama, the water from the tap is untreated and thus not safe to drink. We filter all our water and even wash vegetables/fruit using filtered water.

Police check points

· In my old country, I think I went through two check points in my entire lifespan, but since living in Panama, I now go through at least 2 to 4 or more police check points each day. These check points are mainly checking your drivers licenses, number plates and in some cases for drug smuggling since Panama is a relatively short drive between Colombia and Costa Rica. Enough said there too.

Cellular Signal

· In our area in Panama, the cell signal is generally quite good but there are times when there is little to none. This is something you get used to and work around using carrier pigeons and smoke signals (I am kidding of course).

In Conclusion

At the end of the day, you can let all this newness, these changes break you OR you can rise above it and learn the new ways and better yet embrace it as your new normal.

Let me know in the comments below if you have any questions, big or small. Or perhaps tell me what has become your new normal.

Much Love


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Maryna Woest 2 years, 7 months ago

Love love love this blog...we also love learning new things and people...we are settling in quite nicely in Coronado...

2 years, 7 months ago Edited