Day 8 of our trip was supposed to be filled with relaxation and a casual trip to the mall on our day off. The sun was beating down over us and endless walking made our stomachs rumble with cries of hunger. When we arrived to the mall – Albrook’s – we were shocked to find a plethora of fast food joints and quick eateries that would promptly satisfy our nagging appetites. Unfortunately, what seemed to be a quick fast food experience was one of the longest endeavors we managed on our own in Panama. Little did we know that while we were expecting progress in a timely manner, everyone else was running on “Panamanian time” — a phrase that signifies an expectation of tardiness or a relaxed pace. As students and tourists from the United States, we were unaware of this norm in Panama and quickly frustrated by it. After all, coming from the US where everything is “fast and easy,” what else would we expect?
When considering the terms used to describe the United States and its status in the globalizing world, words that often come to mind include “advanced” and “first-world,” but also “fast” and “endurant.” Growing up in America, we are always on the move, on our mobile devices and often never sit down and take a minute to breath. In Panama, the scene of time and movement is very different; people seem to be taking time in their activities and moving with more detail. In the book Panama, the main character’s grandfather Edgardo was notorious for being late and taking time in his activities. Similar to Edgardo, the majority of Panamanians are laid back and disregard time sensitive affairs. Even in the carry-out line at the fast food joint in the mall, I was appalled at the waiting for 30 minutes to stand in line and pay for food; but eventually came to realize that it is the nature of Panamanian culture.
Similarly, my interactions with Panamanian students demonstrates their approach is far more laissez-faire than the average American. My intercultural interactions with Panamanian natives has shown me that taking time in the simple pleasures in life make growing up and studying a lot more significant. As ‘estadounidenses’ we are consistently taxed with the idea that we always need to be on the go, consistent, and timely, but forget the simplicities in taking time to enjoy life in general. When I return to the states, I will consider living on Panamanian time once in a while!