This weekend we traveled as a group to several locations around Panama. Between these excursions and my experiences in Panama City, I have learned a lot about the language barrier. More specifically, I have discovered that how Panamanians respond to those who don’t know Spanish is very different from how people in the United States respond to individuals who don’t know English. Overall, I have noticed that the people here in Panama are much more understanding and willing to help those who struggle with the native language.
One example that comes to mind when I think about this from a North American standpoint, I think of a situation that occurred in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania that made national news. The owner of Geno’s Cheese Steaks refused service to individuals who did not order a cheese steak in English. While this seems like a simple situation, it has a meaning from deeper than what it appears to be on the surface. It shows that North Americans are far less tolerant of people who don’t know the native language, in our case, English.
To compare this idea to Panamanian culture I think about the conversations I have had the last few days. At restaurants, servers have been extremely patient with me in terms of getting my order correct and helping me learn the words in Spanish. For example, I really don’t like onions so to order my food without onions I now understand I just have to say sin sebolla (without onions). I was able to pick up on this quickly because the people have been so helpful. During our two most recent excursions the Panamanians have been really understanding and have taken their time explaining things to us to make sure we understand. While this was not something I previously knew about Panamanian culture, it doesn’t come as a complete surprise. Panamanian culture is built around relationships and helping others, even complete strangers. Thus, it is not hard to believe that Panamanians are far more tolerant than North Americans when it comes to language barriers.
– AJ Bucci