culture shock panama

Reverse Culture Shock – A Return to North America 12

confused dog head tilt


So…it just dawned on me (no it hasn’t, that’s a lie). I’ve been out of North America for over a year and a half now. Haven’t even been back for a border run. But being in Panama City is really like being in any major US or Canadian city. There’s plenty of options for:

  • places to eat
  • shopping
  • urine smells on certain streets
  • popular metro/subway and bus systems
  • traffic jams
  • talking to people whom I have no idea what they’re saying so I just smile and nod and say “yeah” or “si” and then receive a confused dog-like head tilt in return

Anyway, we’ll be heading to FLA, and NC, then up to ONT and over to BC for some house sitting gigs for the next several months.

As we return to North America and re-integrate ourselves with the North American way of life, I wanted to write this apology in advance (sorry, I’m Canadian and we apologize profusely for some reason, sorry aboot that, eh!)

Sorry if…

I say “Back in Panama” more than you want to hear it. Expats and travelers tend to say; “Back in The States”, or “Back in Canada”, or “Back in the USSR”. I’m guilty of saying 33.33 % of those phrases occasionally. Well, it’s the same when we come back to North America. We’re going to notice things that are different. “Oh, you only have ketchup on the table? Back in Panama there was hot sauce instead of ketchup”. Yup…gonna be annoying. You’ll see.

Sorry if…

I walk into a doctor’s or dentist’s office, or onto a crowded bus, government building, or any place where there’s a long line mixed with people sitting, and I say “Hello” to everyone in the room. Walking into any one of the said scenarios above would produce a reason to say “Buenas” here in Panama, so when those scenarios present themselves, we say “buenas”. Imagine that, being nice and saying hello to other people. 

Sorry if…

I look at a menu and ask;“where’s the ceviche”? It might take me a while to stop asking. Just bear with me. Or just tell me a place I can regularly purchase ceviche. Preferably at the same price I got it for back in Panama.

ceviche panama

Mmmm. Ceviche.

Sorry if…

I mistakenly put used toilet paper in your bathroom garbage. I’m probably like, 99% sure it won’t happen, because like Canada, plumbing in Central America has come a long way since the invention of the internet, sliced bread, and Betty White’s birth year. Most Canadians now have running water and have moved on up from their globally warmed igloos, just as Panamanians no longer live in straw huts. Gotta love stereotypes.

Sorry if…

I toss in one of these stellar Latin American phrases out of the blue. They’re just fun to say. Especially #1 on that list. Or if I’m surprised at something, #7 is also convenient. And my wife, Cheli, likes to use #4 quite often.

Speaking of my wife…

Sorry if…

Shelly refers and/or spells her name “Cheli”. We’ve just become accustomed to seeing/hearing it, and it’s kinda fun!

Shelly, Cheli, whatevs.

Shelly, Cheli, whatevs.

Sorry if…

When I need to take a take a taxi I want the best price. So if we have to ask a few taxi drivers until we get the price I’m looking for, so be it. Oh right, metered taxis…what a concept! You have no idea how good you have it in North America – although you probably do pay out the arse! Back in Panama there are no metered taxis and it’s a whole negotiation game, which is probably cheaper in the end, but at times can be annoying…annoyed by hearing “Back in…” yet?

panama taxi fare

Non-negotiable taxi fares?

Sorry if…

Occasionally, and randomly I blurt out “Wow, that’s expensive”. Although I’m sure many things will be trade-offs in price, some things will stand out as expensive (like taxi fares). Most likely clothing though, which I’ll probably need to buy pronto because shorts, flip-flops and tank tops won’t cut it in the frigid north.


Will definitely miss those beer prices!

Sorry if…

I’m not up for driving right away. Might be a good idea to not let me drive right away either. I’ll probably drive in the middle of the road to avoid bad pavement, potholes, or a cattle drive. I’ll cut people off randomly because I want make a turn RIGHT NOW, so I should just turn RIGHT NOW and to hell with the rest of you. I’m turning. Watch out. Because I have the bigger cajones, hombre!

Oh, and if I do drive I may end up honking my horn as I pass someone, come to a roundabout, drive in the roundabout, or decide to let someone in who is driving on the shoulder and has run out of room on said shoulder. But in North America they’ll get all Road-Ragey on me for having the audacity to use my horn. You see, back in Panama you honk all the time to let someone know “here I am!”…Okay, that whole “Back in Panama” thing has got to be getting on your nerves by now, right?

Sorry if…

That by not letting me drive I’ll be riding shotgun, so don’t be completely shocked if I crack open a cold one for the ten minute drive home. Shut up, you’ve done it too.

beer me.

beer me.

And still with the driving…If we get pulled over by the police or immigration we only have $20 on us. Trust me on this one.

Sorry if…

When we’re at the grocery store I don’t have any reusable cloth grocery bags. I’m quite used to receiving an abundant supply of plastic bags when I buy my groceries. And don’t expect me to rush to start bagging my own — there’s usually a bag-boy for that.

Sorry if…

I forget to tip. Anyone remember the movie Reservoir Dogs, when Steve Buscemi (Mr. Pink) says “I don’t tip”? Yeah…what a concept. I mean, I tip…but I don’t tip. What I mean is that in Central America tips are TIP-ically (<-cleverness right there, eh?) included on the bill.

Some other things you’ll need to forgive me for in advance:

Sorry if…

  • I adjust myself in public

    grab your junk

    Because I can

  • I complain about the cost of North American cell phone plans compared to Panama’s cell plans
  • I complain about the cold weather (actually, this is a right all Canadians are born with)
  • I don’t signal my turn
  • I carry quarters just in case I need to use the bathroom
  • I day-dream in the grocery store line because I’m anticipating a long wait
  • I follow the “if it’s yellow, let it mellow” rule
  • I am late, walk slowly, or doing anything slowly for that matter, because…mañana, dude!manana attitude
    Mañana dude!

So, as we brace ourselves for a return to North America and wait to experience our reverse culture shock, we’ll be reminiscing about all the good things…back in Panama.

And that concludes my time writing for PanamaDude. I hope you’ve enjoyed the show. If you’ve followed along you probably know I had two main goals:

  1. To provide laughs, smiles, and joy to both expats and people thinking of moving to Panama, hence the Thursday sitcom-like “episodes”.
  2. To find a positive in the most negative and seemingly terrible situations and/or events here in Panama. Things are never as bad as they seem when you try to find a positive.

When you move abroad you will be challenged. How you react to those challenges will define you and your experiences. I’m a better person for having lived here, and both Cheli and I have a better understanding of things we want in life. There are WAY too many people to thank for their generosity, support, and love, but if you interacted with us in any way, either online, in person, or telepathically, then it likely includes you!

See you around, maybe.

PS: We’ll probably be back in November 😉

PPS: If you don’t already, you can follow our other blog about our experiences of life with less stuff at

PPPS: Sorry if…there were too many PS’s.

shelly and al

Later dudes!

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