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Some Unique Things About Panama

Updated on August 20, 2014

Only In Panama.....

I lived long enough in Panama, and I've been to sufficient other places to know how unique Panama is, and here are some things about Panama that can only be experienced there:

1. You are not rich, but you can afford a maid or two.

2. When there's no rice in the house, that means that there is no food in the house.

3. If an engagement/appointment with someone is at 8:00, that means you leave the house at that time, hence the saying, "Hora Panameña,"or, "Panamanian Time."

4. If you wanted to, you could swim in the Pacific Ocean in the morning, and in the afternoon, you could drive over to the Atlantic side and swim in the Atlantic Ocean, both in the same day.

5. You know what the Continental Divide is, and have been to it.

6. You've had Ceviche.

7. You know the meaning of "Laope," and "Whapinbuay!" (Laope is black slang for pelao [it is backwards] which means young boy) and Whapinbuay is black slang for What's happening boy!?

8. You buy 4 number lottery tickets every week.

9. You go for exercise either very early in the morning, or very late in the afternoon, to avoid the hot sun.

10. You know to complain to the taxi driver if he charges you more than a dollar fifty to take you to the nearest supermarket.

11. You know what "patacones," "yucca frita," "marañon de Curazao" and "mamones" are and you love them.

12. You know what sao is but you do not necessarily like it. (pigs feet, yecchh!)

13. The sound of a little high-pitched bell makes you think of the ambulatory push-cart ice cream man who also sells popsicles.

14. Possibly the only place in the world where you can buy a snow cone (with a condensed milk spiral topping) for a quarter.

15. You could have taken the bus downtown for a quarter, but you might not have had a seat.

16. You can afford to hire a seamstress or tailor.

17. Some stores and offices close at 12:00 noon and re-open at 2:00 pm to allow for an afternoon "siesta."

18. You know what a "tinaco" is. A tinaco is a garbage can. It is the only Spanish speaking place in the Americas that calls their garbage cans by this name. The name originated because in the early 20th century, the Americans owned a garbage pickup company called, Tin and Company.....and they had metal barrels that they would use to place outside each home for garbage pickup. The barrels said, "Tin and Co." The words stuck beyond the life of the company. They closed operations decades ago, but people still refer to garbage cans as "el tinaco." A simple colloquialism, but this example illustrates how words evolve in a language, and how different countries of the same basic language (in this case, Spanish) evolve different words for the same things.

19. If you want to return an item to the store because you changed your mind, they look at you like you are crazy, because it is just not done unless there is something really wrong with the item.

20. You know what "conflay" and "bistek" mean. (Corn Flakes and Beefsteak)

21. You have empanadas or sancocho for lunch sometimes. Sancocho is chicken soup with yucca and otoe (a root vegetable).

22. You know what "guacho" is. (a Panamanian version of Risoto: a mushy chicken and rice, almost like a thick soup).

23. You vacation in the "interior." (in the country)

24. There could be a pile of mangoes or oranges rotting by the side of the road under a tree because simply, nobody wants them.

25. You've seen a cashew tree and you know where the cashew fruit grows; on top of the fruit.

26. You love "chicha de marañon," which is a drink composed of the watered down and sweetened juice of the cashew fruit mixed with sugar. And no, it is not poisonous. I read once somewhere in an encyclopedia, that it was poisonous. What a bunch of hogwash. That is not true, else thousands in Panama would have already died, including myself.

27. You eat some form of plantain at least four times a week. Grilled, boiled, baked, or fried.

28. Wooden stake fences sprout limbs and branches in the rainy season.

29. Hurricanes never happen there.

30. Tornadoes never happen there.

31. Panama is the only place in the world that I know of that allows its bus drivers to artistically decorate their buses with whatever they want to...."The Diablo Rojos" is what they are called, and, sometimes the windows are all named with their favorite women's names, the backs of the buses are usually painted with the portrait of some famous actor or actress, and some display truly great artistic talent (others do not). This has just changed, because all of those "Diablo Rojo" buses were turned in and new larger buses were purchased. But if you were fortunate enough to ride one or to even see one in the recent past, you know what I mean.

32. There are virtually no racial problems in Panama, since the population is so mixed, you might just have as a relative one of the main racial/ethnic groups there: American (meaning of the Americas) Indian, Black, White, Oriental, or Hindu.

33. The banking area in the center of town is the only place in the Americas where you can have a numbered account.

34. Panama has unique poisonous golden frogs in El Valle.

35. Panama has some square trees in El Valle. They grow square because they have four main roots and when the seedling sprouts these grow and turn into the corners.....

I can think of at least 100 of these....unique things about Panama. I'll keep posting them as I remember them.


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    • maricarbo profile imageAUTHOR


      4 years ago

      You are wrong, Allen. The Tin and Company story is true. It is not a figment of anyone's imagination! I remember seeing the words on a can. Your story also has validity, though. But ask yourself, why is that word not recognized in other Latin American countries to designate a garbage can? Why only in Panama?

    • profile image

      Allen Jones 

      5 years ago

      My mission this week is to dispel the urban legend that the word tinaco is derived from a company called Tin & Company. Tinaco is a word which in most countries means a reservoir for water (holding tank). In Panama it has come to mean garbage can, but the part about Tin & Company - the figment of someone's imagination.

    • patbess profile image


      7 years ago

      It showed that you have very in depth knowledge of living in panama especially about the timing issue. Great information. Thanks!

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      Are you sure you are not a Pana? I love my country too...I live in the USA and in Europe, but I miss my Panama I will return there when I retired. I am sure my dollars will go further...You are all welcome in Panama we are free spirits and very accepting people.

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      Wow, that was a really good list. I love that you've come to know so much about my country, it's awesome! Just one thing you had wrong, the Guacho is actually made with pork not chicken and the other important thing, it has to have guandú =D

    • profile image

      ruth hernandez 

      8 years ago

      I was there for the first time in the latter part of October and I must say I loved every bit of the country. I have a Travel Agency and I am promoting this destination to my clients.

      Of all the Central American countires I have visited this is the one I would love to promote and live there if I could. So many benefits for American retiries. Everthing you want is here.

    • profile image

      victoria Martin 

      8 years ago

      nice list! i have been living in panama for 6 weeks and can already relate to most of the things on your list. my biggest fear is that i am going to be run over by one of those buses though...

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      I'm really pleassed you liked my always are wellcome here...let me know when you are coming, my friends.

    • profile image


      8 years ago


    • profile image


      8 years ago

      If you are missing the panamanian food there is a wonderful place in Fayetteville NC named Mi Pana please visit wen youca gon on the web to see some of the foods

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      omg u inprest me is how many thigs are in panama that i never knew before

    • maricarbo profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago

      Stew, it is a very nice place to retire.

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      Love it!!! You nailed just about everything that is unique about Panama. I've been to other places in Latin America as well, but Panama is special in so many ways. I'm jealous of all of you who have lived there.

    • maricarbo profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago

      Dear BKCreative,

      I love life in Panama. It truly is a fun place to live. Maybe you should visit sometime.

    • BkCreative profile image


      9 years ago from Brooklyn, New York City

      I would love to see the square trees!

      Interesting about not being rich but having a maid or two. I was reading that it was common in many cultures and that's because if you have money you are supposed to share the wealth - not hoard it. Actually, I like the idea and we can all use a little help.

      I can forget it in NYC where a fat paycheck has nothing to do with what is left over after you pay Federal, State, and City taxes, sales taxes, property taxes, then the high rents, etc. etc.

      Great fun info - thank you!

    • maricarbo profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago

      PAMark I cannot find your articles. Where are they?

    • maricarbo profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago

      Speaking of Guandu, there are many different kinds of it (Gongo beans), and it is very nutritious and good to eat in rice...being a great source of protein, and that would be another unique thing about Panama, "Arroz con Guandu." Colorado, Pintado, etc....are the different types. Can anyone think of another type of Guandu?

    • guanduboy profile image


      9 years ago

      How about:

      YOU need to convince taxi drivers on taking you to your desired destination.

    • maricarbo profile imageAUTHOR


      11 years ago

      I would like to say, bring me back some guandu!

    • PAMark profile image


      11 years ago from Victoria, BC Canada & Boquete, Panama

      I lived in Panama for two years and return regularly however, it's been over a year since my last visit! I miss it so much. Fortunately I'm on my way back in a few weeks. Thank you for reminding me of all the things I love about Panama.


      I would love your comments/feedback on my Panama Hubs!

    • MrMarmalade profile image


      11 years ago from Sydney

      You have made me excited. What a lot of things about Panama I did not know.

      Thank you


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