Pedasi Is A Great Place for expats to integrate!
For a small town in the middle of nowhere, Pedasi has a pretty good sized group of foreign residents commonly referred to as expats (expatriates). In comparison with what I hear of other areas of the country, we integrate pretty well and are well received by the local Panamanians. For example, the mayor has invited us to participate in the annual Cart Parade, the police invite us to join in their neighborhood watch, and there are foreigners who join various committees. The degree of integration sometimes has a direct correlation to the level of satisfaction that people enjoy. People of all nations and backgrounds are drawn to the laid back vibe of the Pedasi community, and look forward to feeling like one of the “locals”. This is really not as hard as it seems if you break it down into bite size steps.
*Photo credit: Deb D’Arcy
Here are my five simple tips to integrating in Pedasi, Panama
1. Say “Buenas”
On our first trip to Pedasi, I went out for a morning jog through the streets of the town. As I passed the houses, almost everyone I passed greeted me by saying “Buenas” which is short for buenos dias, buenas tardes and buenas noches. Better than “Hola”, the greeting includes well wishes and you don’t even have to think about what time of day it is! The locals say ‘buenas’ when they enter a business, a restaurant, or if they show up at your house for any unexpected reason. They also wave at you when they drive by as if they know you. When you send text messages, you are expected to begin with a greeting not just cut to the chase like I used to. For the first several months, I would write my text then go back and add the “buenas” to the beginning so they wouldn’t think I was rude. Now, it just comes naturally! Try it… it feels so good!!!
2. Get INVOLVED
If your goal is to integrate, you may need to force yourself to get OUT of your comfort zone and participate in the diverse benefits of the community. It’s great to find your “tribe” among people who are similar to you, and easier here than many other places. But, the true adventure comes from trying new places, talking to new people and getting involved in as many opportunities as possible. In part, we are here to experience a different culture. And Pedasi/Azuero is the culture hub of Panama and the birthplace of many of their customs, so there are many events here and in Las Tablas to participate in throughout the year.
Volunteering is a great way to meet people with similar interests and regardless of language, you’ll have something in common right away. There are so many opportunities like Animal Advocates spay and neuter clinics, Teach PTY, Waved Foundation, Azuero Earth Project, and many more great NGOs or community events. You don’t have to speak Spanish to just be there, lend a hand, smile and show your support. You will learn in the process and meet some great people from Panama and all over the world!
3. Relax, it’s Panama!
One of the main draws to the interior of Panama is the sense of freedom and simplicity. People say it’s like going back in time! Most expats here have traded high efficiency systems, regulations, and the stress associated with them for “the simple life”. Without all the regulation, people (and even their dogs) are relaxed and happy! Kids play in the park and so far we’ve not gotten in trouble for loading up the truck bed with teenagers, dogs and surf boards for a fun afternoon at the beach.
Our perspective on what is important in life is totally different from the Panamanian worldview. Recognized as one of the happiest countries in the world, we have a lot to learn by observation. Coming from more advanced nations, we tend to be masters of efficiency and professionalism with a high standard of expectations of ourselves and others. When it comes to getting things done, the culture shock can be really difficult! In our home we have a saying “The easy things are hard and the hard things are easy”. Coming from a world where “time is money”, we get upset that they don’t respond to our sense of urgency and we have to patiently endure archaic systems and inefficient processes. Also, we like to plan ahead and they tend to pull things together at the very last minute letting mañana’s worries handle themselves. When you get the feeling like your blood pressure is going up, that’s a great time to count to ten and remind yourself why you came here in the first place. An integrated expat will learn some great tips on being patient, resolving conflict and keeping things in perspective just by observing. It’s like going through detox. Totally not fun, but totally worth it in the end.
4. Learn a little Spanish
Pedasi has a pretty great population of expats and Panamanians who speak at least some English. But, the majority of locals only speak Spanish. They call it a Language Barrier for a reason, and this may be your most challenging goal of all if languages do not come easy for you or if you are a natural introvert. When doing business, expect to pay more to find an English speaking specialist. So, in addition to enjoying life more and making better relationships, knowing some Spanish will also save you money!
Learning the language is also a sign of respect. The locals are friendly and patient, but they do grumble about how many foreigners do not attempt to learn. The best thing is to start as much as possible before you get here so you have a base foundation, then get here learn on the go!
Here are a few ways I have seen people learning Spanish
- Buena Vida Language School
- Duolingo or other language apps
- Butterfly Spanish YouTube channel
- Audiobooks on Audible while driving
- Reading menus and signs
- Try to learn a Palabra Del Dia- a word of the day
- Use Google translate app
- Listen to Spanish music
- Watch Spanish TV or movies with English subtitles
- If you aren’t married, try to date someone who speaks Spanish… seems to work well!
However works best for you be sure to step out and practice! You’ll figure out the difference between libro, libra and libre after you say them wrong a few times.
5. Make friends with Panamanians
Really some of my absolute favorite times have been spent with our Panamanian friends. We’ve been in their homes and they have been in ours. Some speak some English and others don’t. Some expats are afraid that they will be taken advantage of, but really I feel that our Panamanian friends have been more generous with us than we have been with them. It’s not as hard as you think to find things in common if you just look for it and open yourself up to the potential of a deeper relationship. I will never forget my 38th birthday when I came home from work all tired and was surprised with a full Panamanian dinner and cake. Our friends were there, they sang happy birthday en Espanol. It was awesome! Those kinds of generosities stick with you for life.
Whatever you do, just laugh, relax and try to enjoy the experience! Whether you live here for a month or ten years, get the most out of your time living abroad in Panama!!!
Do you already live in Pedasi? What tips do you have for newbies?