5 Fun Facts to Make You Panama Savvy

Leia Schultz is a student at Hofstra University and an ISA Featured Blogger. Leia is currently studying abroad with ISA in Panama City, Panama.

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A lucky ñeque gets my apple core!

I have been in Panama for almost two months now, and I’ve learned pretty well how to get around.  While I obviously stand out as a foreigner, I try my best to behave like a native Panamanian when I’m out and about – it’s totally cool to see the astonishment on a local’s face followed by an appreciated grin when I can pull it off!  Here are five fun facts that I’ve picked up that you can use to make people believe you’ve been living in Panama for years:

1. Saying “Hello” – Doing this can differ according to what situation you happen to be in.  A friendly “Buenas!” is acceptable in most casual occasions, whether you’re greeting a taxi driver or just someone you’re passing by.  The traditional “Hola!” is also fine as an initial greeting, but it is just a bit more formal.  When a Panamanian answers a phone call, he or she will say “Halo” – like a version of the English “Hello.”  Whatever you say, it’s likely that you’ll be received with a smile.

2. Hey, Joven! – If you are a young lady like me, you will frequently be called “joven” by people who don’t you but are directing a comment towards you.  It’s a respectful term for a young woman who is not old enough to be a “señora” and not quite young enough to be a “señorita.”  So don’t be offended and think that Panamanians think that you’re a “young one,” being a “joven” isn’t a bad thing at all!

3. Kotowa and Duran – You could think of these as being the Starbucks of Panama.  You can find Duran Cafes and Kotowa Coffee Houses in multiple locations around Panama City and the surrounding areas, and each serve up an awesome espresso.  Personally, I prefer Kotowas because they have some delicious chai varieties and tasty pastries, but you can’t go wrong either way.

4. Fresh Fruit – Definitely take advantage of the variety of fruit here that you can’t find back home!  In Panama I’ve become obsessed with eating the freshest papaya I have ever tasted!  The pineapples and mangos are sweet and delicious, but if tropical fruit isn’t your thing you can find plenty of apples, plums, grapes, and melons.  Today for the first time since I’ve been here I found the first avocados (they’re fruits, seriously!) and I made some fantastic guacamole!

5. That Creature is a Ñeque – On one of the very first mornings I was in Panama I encountered ñeques.  They are tremendously awkward little creatures, appearing to be a mix of rabbits, guinea pigs, and giant mice!  They’re quite shy, but will eat apple cores and other bits of food that you toss to them.  It’s funny to watch them move: they kind of hop-skip around, kind of like squirrels do, and when they get spooked they take off at an alarmingly quick speed for such a silly animal.

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