I often get the question, "What do you love about Panama?" I can answer briefly: Everything is beautiful. To the question, "What are the differences between the Netherlands and Panama?" I can also answer briefly: Everything. Not because I don't feel like answering or want to exaggerate, no, really everything is different.

I looked around me during my trip in Panama to see if there are similarities. But actually no. Some things are the same, but no. The culture, the food, the nature, the architecture, the electronics, the objects. Everything is different. No doubt I am forgetting categories, but really everything is different.

Grocery shopping is not quick in Panama. You talk to everyone. Everywhere are vendors from the lottery that is drawn twice weekly on TV. If it's too hot to walk, you call the cab. 1 minute later it's there. You obviously don't wear a seat belt in the car. Cabs don't have them in the back seat. The bus travels at more than 100km per hour and overtakes on the right. In the buses you can hear typical music of Panama.

The food is totally different. There are many products that are not for sale in the Netherlands. Mangoes are given away for free in Panama because of the surplus. You can possibly look for a supermarket in April or May, but at the vendors on the street it is not for sale. In the Netherlands, you pay between 2 and 4 euros for 1 mango. Another difference is that you can buy drinks at different stores. So even at the greengrocer or pharmacy you can buy Coca-Cola. By the way, at the pharmacy you can also buy statues of Mary.

The buildings in Panama are also different. The churches and many houses have holes in the walls with blocks to get rid of the heat. There is a screen for the windows though. The luxury houses or stores do have glass windows, but that is for air conditioning. I am looked at in amazement when I tell them that I have to pay to heat my house. The houses are built about 30 to 40 centimeters higher. This is because in the winter (April-December) there are large streams of water. The gutters in the road are also sometimes a meter wide and very deep. The water can then be drained well.

Speaking of the roads, pedestrians do not have the right of way. A pedestrian has to think twice before crossing. Another aspect is that cars have colored lights or sirens. The villages are all along mostly 1 road. You don't often have to turn off on the main road. The road runs right through the middle of the villages. If there are people walking along the road you honk to let them know a car is there. At night you drive with high beams. If you are lucky, the oncoming car turns off its high beam for a moment. Fortunately, these roads are not busy. You meander through beautiful nature. I don't recommend anyone with car sickness to go to Panama. You are thrown in all directions. The curves are not indicated as in the Netherlands. Indicating sharp turns is much higher. Otherwise, you need a sign here every two to three hundred meters. Also, only sharp descents and ascents are indicated. And not with percentages. I think the government has better things to do. When you see those signs, you have to turn on the turbo.

Another difference is the electronics. Besides the fact that there is not 230 volts but 100 volts, many devices are outdated. In the Netherlands we often have the newest phone, or a somewhat older model. But in Panama a phone that was released 6 years ago is super modern. Often not everyone has a phone. A phone is a shared object in a family. The power also cuts out regularly. When I tell them I can count on my fingers how many times the power has gone out in my life, they are surprised. In Panama, they can't count on 2 hands how many times the power goes out in 1 year. So the refrigerator doesn't have much food. So you have chances that it goes out and then the food spoils. And if the power goes out the whole region is without power. So also the transmission towers and the water plant. After a while without water a generator is turned on, but there is no water pressure at all. With the little bit of water you can just flush a puddle, or take a (frugal) shower. But without soap. Chances are, the pressure drops again. Often at night the lights flash. Not because the lights are bad, but because there are voltage spikes. The great thing is that when the power goes out everyone goes out into the streets instead of watching television. It creates fraternization.

When I look at the objects, or their uses, there are not many similarities. Yes, they know a knife, a fork and a spoon, but the combination that you have 2 pieces is quite unique. Often you eat a fried chicken with just a plastic fork or spoon. It's not really possible to eat a cooked chicken with a spoon, no that's for the rice and beans. Panamanians use their hands a lot. Etiquette is something only the (corrupt) elite know.

There are many other objects we know in the Netherlands, but not in the same way. Cars they also know, but are in poor condition or an unusual model for the Netherlands.

As a summary, I can say that really everything is different. That's what makes it so wonderful. It's a world of difference. Because everything is old, worn out, in bad condition or in Dutch terms not worth repairing makes it so free. You don't have to secure anything, there's nothing to steal. People are happy with what they have. They need money to buy food or to live. But a lot of money doesn't make people happy. I generalize, there are people in poverty or seek their happiness in drugs. But when you hear the story of a child of extremely poor parents being happy with her new bicycle, it is fantastic. Small detail, the bike had no handlebars, tires, pedals, chain etcetera. No, only with a rusty frame from the river are children happy. Nobody has a bike, the girl does have a new bike she can play with.

As a Dutchman I can say, don't worry about the unimportant things. And unimportant is a pretty broad term. Some things that we are used to or find normal are only found in countries that have been looting the countries of other continents since the golden age. We call countries Third World countries or developing countries, but we lack the interconnection with many individuals. It is a big selfish cultural problem. We live primarily for ourselves. The other and Other often does not come first. In Panama, yourself is last.

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