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Expat Advice: Culture Shock in Altos del Maria, Panama

Feb 27, 2015
Submitted by panamagrama

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Altos del Maria, Panama

A couple from the US had vacationed in Panama for years. They decided to move there and built a house in rural Altos del Maria, Panama. Life has slowed down tremendously, which took some time to get used to. But, they love the climate, fresh air and their new friends - both locals and expats.

What is the name of the city or town that you are reporting on?

Altos del Maria

Did you receive any cross-cultural training for your move abroad? If yes, was it before or after the move?

We visited this country prior to building our home here. Visiting and gleaning information regarding health care, taxing authorities, etc. should be considered prior to making the move.

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If they speak another language in your new country, do you speak the language? If yes, did you learn the language before you moved or while abroad? If no, are you planning to learn the language?

My spouse is much better with his language skills than am I. That said, get a phrase book and dig in.

Were you worried or concerned about culture shock before you moved abroad?

Not really. My biggest shock was my reaction to not being in a high pressured job situation any longer. In all honesty it took me about a year to stop running full tilt and learn to just relax.

How significant was the culture shock you experienced when you moved abroad?

Minor. As I stated earlier, we vacationed here for 10 years prior to building our home.

Expats often talk about going through the "stages of culture shock." Examples include the honeymoon phase, the irritation-to-anger stage, the rejection of the culture stage, and the cultural adjustment phase. Do you feel like you went through these or any other stages as you settled into the new culture?

My biggest adjustment was to living in a rural environment. No planes overhead, no street noises. I did have a time of it with our builder. Work ethic here is somewhat different than cities I have lived in.

What, if any, were some of the changes you noticed in yourself that might have been caused by culture shock? These might include things such as anger, depression, anxiety, increased eating or drinking, frustration, homesickness, etc.

I had extreme anger with the promises of a completed home by "X" date and the home being not being even remotely finished. If you plan to build, rent a place near and be available to the worksite daily.

What are some things you appreciate most about the new culture?

The open, friendly folks, not only the native persons but also the many, many newly acquired friends of all nationalities who have chosen Panama for their new home.

What are the most challenging aspects of the new culture?

Culture....hhmmmm. Disinterested sales personnel who seem to resent being at their post. Bright colors are welcome and plentyful. Another challenge is the general physical size of the locals...as it relates to finding clothing that fits. If you are female and larger than a size 8, good luck finding undergarments. For my husband and his size 12 narrow foot, murder finding shoes.

Did you "commit" any embarrassing or humorous cultural blunders? If you did and you'd like to share them, please do tell!

Giving our housekeeper and gardener a raise caused quite a stir amongst the neighbors. Inviting the "help" into the house and sharing the mid day meal was also considered a no-no. Having never had any sort of hired help, I didn't know the general practice of either not feeding or giving a sandwich to them to be eaten outdoors or in the garage. For the record, I still have lunch with them, cook some of their favorite American dishes and really enjoy their company. They help me with my "Spanglish" and I help them with their English.

Do you have any advice or thoughts about culture shock you would like to share?

Yes. The winds of summer blow all sorts of dirt and debris around. Since I live in a mountainous area that is relatively cool, we keep our windows and doors open. If you came from a climate that required constant heat and/or air conditioning with no outside air flow, get ready to man your brooms. That said, I would rather live in this paradise and dust and sweep a lot than out up with city noises, crime and the like.

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