Expat Advice: Culture Shock in Boquete, Panama

Nov 17, 2015
Submitted by Inpanama

Boquete, Panama

An American who moved to Boquete, Panama encourages newcomers to arrive with the attitude that you are willing to make adjustments to your expectations and keep in mind that things will be different than you expect, you'll thrive here!

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


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

The only cross-cultural training I received was from reading about the local culture, norms and attitudes.

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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?

I spoke very little Spanish when we arrived; I have been taking lessons for the past few months and find it easier to communicate now, since not everyone here speaks English.

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

Not really - we have traveled extensively, so expected at least some of the differences.

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

If you arrive here with the attitude that you are willing to make adjustments to your expectations and keep in mind that things will be different than you expect, you'll thrive here! Please don't expect the local population to adjust to your expectations - arrive with an open mind, be willing to embrace the differences, and be adventurous!

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?

Absolutely - initially, we found the differences charming and delightful. As time goes on and you have needs you want met, it becomes a bit more frustrating to understand the "manana" attitude here, but you have to be willing to accept those differences and adjust to them. Do we get frustrated? Of course! But if you understand that Panamanians find it very difficult to say "no", you can adjust how you ask for things and make sure you understand that time and commitment have a different meaning here.

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.

Culture shock can affect people differently. Personally, I haven't found culture shock to be much of an issue, but friends have been very frustrated by both the attitudes here and the language difference. Panamanians have different priorities, and if you can adjust to that you'll do well. Family, faith and fiestas are the Panamanian way!

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

I appreciate the dedication to family - it's refreshing to see entire extended families spending time together and enjoying life!

What are the most challenging aspects of the new culture?

The difference in attitude regarding such things as appointment times - even if you agree to meet at a specific day and time, if a Panamanian has a family event, another appointment or just decides not to come, they may show up an hour or two late or the next day. You need to be prepared to schedule and re-schedule without getting too frustrated!

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Comments about this Report

May 10, 2017 23:37

She is absolutely right about not saying "no"., even if it is the only right answer. Panamanians are positive oriented and saying "no" comes hard. One has to ask the right question in order to get a correct negative answer. Ex, the car won't start vs the car cannot start. Either way, the car is not going anywhere, but giving hope that the car will start eventually. But placing the blame squarely on the car, which is incapable of defending itself. So if you can overcome this culture shock, you will really enjoy living in Panama.

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