A Gringo is Noticed

Today I encountered something I have noticed often. I cruise around town quite a bit on my bicycle. I may think I am only greeting some people I pass frequently, but I don’t realize how many other people notice my presence. I have met people around town who don’t look familiar but they will greet me and ask me where my bicycle is, or “el senior? (my husband)

Today I stopped to check out a “For Rent” sign and ended up talking to the sweetest, loveliest woman! She told me she was so proud of me for exercising and keeping healthy. She did notice though that I was coming from the north today when I usually come from the south. She knew I had visited the people across the street a few times. Her son who lives next door also told her he had also noticed “la gringa” on the bicycle a number of times.

It is kind of an odd feeling to realize a lot more people recognize you than you know about. We are used to being fairly anonymous in the US. In the cities especially, you can walk down the street and recognize nobody. Maybe you have seen someone before but you didn’t notice them so they continue to be strangers. David is actually bigger than Sarasota, FL where we lived before, but it is a more stable population. Many people have lived here all their lives. It is also a different culture where people talk to each other on the street, while waiting in line, and in any circumstances that bring people together. And, they talk about each other, not in a gossipy way but just to learn – who is that new person? When you are a gringa of a different color and size, you definitely stand out and people are curious about you.

As for the rental situation, I got a tour of the house and learned a bit of the life story of the landlady. She is 92 (I guessed late 70’s), has lived there for 21 years, and is the mother of 5 children. One of them lives next door, and a granddaughter lives on the other side so if she needs anything she has help nearby. But, she is very proud that she takes care of herself and her daily needs independently.

She is renting out part of her house (furnished) to a single person – a small bedroom, bathroom, large kitchen, and laundry/utility room. The renter will have their own private entrance, and will have use of the common areas like the dining room and the lovely patios in front and in back. There is parking for a car out front. She loves to garden and the front and back are full of beautiful flowers and plants, and the shade trees out back keep the patio cool. It’s a very nice neighborhood and she says it is quiet and safe, that nothing ever happens there. The price – $150/month. For a woman who can speak enough Spanish to communicate, and who needs an inexpensive and comfortable place, it would be fantastic.

Later in the day I stopped by to visit my friend Cedo. While I was there another friend stopped by  “I’ve seen you on your bicycle in my neighborhood”! We are not anonymous or unnoticed here.

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About Kris Cunningham

We live in David, Chiriqui Provence, Republic of Panama! This blog is about some of our experiences in our new country.
This entry was posted in culture, Miscellaneous, Panama and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

26 Responses to A Gringo is Noticed

  1. Allison Sherman says:

    Yes! That is exactly what I experienced the other day!!! It’s a very odd feeling. And here in the small town the ramp-up time to people knowing you is much faster. And when you are a party of 4, with two kids in the school. Reminds me not to do anything embarrassing in the grocery store when I think no one knows me!

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  2. Hugo Ernst says:

    That’s the way it was in small town America when I grew up, you didn’t do anything bad, because your parents knew about it before you got home.

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  3. oldsalt1942 says:

    I usually do my grocery shopping at the Romero in San Mateo (behind McDonald’s). It’s on the side of the street where the bus returning to Boqueron passes the supermarket. A problem, especially when the kids are in school, is that if I catch the bus there with my load of groceries it’s almost always full and I’d have to stand up the 20 or so kilometers back to my house. To avoid that I generally go to the bus shelter (caseta) on the other side of the street as the gas station (la bomba) where I catch a bus to the terminal for 35 cents.

    At the terminal when the bus for Boqueron pulls into its slot it’s empty and I can get a seat right by the door, tuck my packages under the seat and enjoy listening to my latest Audible.com book on the ride back.

    Last week while waiting for a bus to go to the the terminal a Boqueron bus came down the road. The driver saw me sitting at the caseta. He honked the horn, stopped on the other side of the street and waved for me to come over and get on. There were two vacant seats so I didn’t have to stand. That’s what it’s like living here where people notice you, and they ALL know I’m a gringo, too. I LOVE IT HERE! Something like that would never happen in Fort Lauderdale where I’d spent the previous 18 years before moving here.

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    • No, that wouldn’t happen in the US but I see things like this all the time here. I’ve seen buses go up driveways to pick up older people right from the door, or I think our neighborhood bus goes a few blocks off its route to drop Cedo at church on Friday afternoons. She has the driver’s cell phone number too. There is just a different level of caring and respect for everyone here.

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      • oldsalt1942 says:

        Indeed there is. I’ve had bus drivers pass my street on the way down towards el cruce, see me halfway to the street and have them stop and back up so I can get on. And it’s only a 60 cent fare for them! Going out of their way for older folks is quite common, too, and I’ve also seen them stop at houses along the route and drop off packages even though there’s no passenger on board. Also, there have been times when the bus will pull over to one of the fruit and veggie stands along the Interamericana for people to buy pineapples or get a chilled pipa (coconut with the top cut off and a straw stuck in it for the water inside. Did you know that the coconut water can actually be used as a blood expander in an emergency?)

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        • Yep, I’ve taken Cedo to the bus terminal so she could put a sack of cow food or other item on the bus for delivery at her farm in Cuesta de Piedra. Time is just different here. If it takes a minute for someone to hop off and buy a snack, it doesn’t matter but it does matter that someone is happy and has their needs met.
          I have heard that coconut water can be used as a blood expander, though I certainly didn’t see that in the US! Try getting that past the FDA. I love chilled pipa and it’s supposed to be very good for you, and very good for fluid replacement when you are thirsty.

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    • Wow, that is great! I really miss the sense of community that you and Kris are describing. Even in somewhat small towns, it’s becoming hard to find…

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      • In the US we are all so busy keeping our nose to the grindstones and running at double speed. Here family and friends are the priority, and relationships with others. Are you in Panama, or headed this way? I can’t remember, but if you’re not here I hope you will get to experience this very soon.

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  4. Sandra Mejias says:

    That happens in our town because the panamenian people like to know everyone around them and we are friendly with the foreigner and always try to help people as much as we can. We enjoy making people feel welcome.

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  5. Kathy says:

    I find that same experience in Dolega. It’s nice to be known in a small town where everyone is so friendly. That is the type of town I grew up in, in Maine, And it’s a small world. Tilden and I lived in Englewood, FL, just south of Sarasota. Smaller and friendlier. I hope some day we get to meet you and Joel.

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    • I remember Englewood! My work took me down there occasionally. Yes it is very nice to live with such friendly people. You are just up the road from us here. We definitely have to get together sometime.

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  6. schuttzie says:

    How really nice that the Panama people are so lovely and friendly! I think many countries will take notice of others that aren’t locals. We used to travel to Jamaica and now Puerto Rico often and stayed in off the beaten path neighborhoods. Everyone always seem to know our comings and goings and way at us. We vacationed in Manasota Keys, FL which is close to Englewood and it was so quaint and lovely island feel. Biked every morning 🙂

    I love your blog! Blessings abound~

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    • I think people here are just more aware of each other, and also spend more time outdoors. It’s probably only natural that people notice foreigners. I remember Manasota Key, lovely place, beautiful beaches too.
      Glad you enjoy the blog! Thanks for visiting and taking the time to comment 🙂

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  7. Kris, this is a great post. It does feel strange, at first, to be in the minority. I only experienced that one other time in my life, when I taught school in a predominately African American community. I’ve learned to always try to set a good example because we definitely stand out on our little island and everyone knows who we are. Our first Christmas on Ometepe Island, I received one present from my neighbor. She gave me a bra because she thought I didn’t own one. lol Happy bicycling mi amiga. You setting a wonderful example of friendliness and caring for your Latin community.

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    • It’s not only being in the minority, it’s being so noticed. But, I think it is also a culture of being aware of each other and caring for each other. Yes indeed though, we must behave well because we are noticed everywhere we go.
      That’s funny about your Christmas present 😀

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  8. Kris, I love it when you touch on topics like this one that really give a feel for the people around you and your relationship with them … seriously considering moving to this area for a new experience and simpler way of life … I also love to see Panamanian’s respond to posts! That’s so awesome, and they seem so very kind …

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    • People told me about the cultural differences in Latin America but it’s one of those things you really have to experience to understand fully. The people are so kind and friendly, and such a pleasure. I hope you can come here and experience it yourself.

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  9. Hugo Ernst says:

    After reading these comments, I regress to 69, 70 & 71 when my now ex wife and I lived in a Greek village on a isolated island, a mile or so from the island where Jackie Kennedy lived, (if I remember correctly there were only three American women on our island) when out walking we could always here the word “consinies”, which we knew meant Foreigners. We were getting mad at them, for always talking about us. Later when we got to know someone that was bilingual we found out that they were commenting about how beautiful and colorful her clothes were. LOL.. Pays to learn the language….

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    • LOL Yes indeed, it helps to learn the language for many reasons. But, a Greek Island? That sounds like another amazing experience. I’ve seen pictures of how beautiful it is in that area, not to mention the culture, history, food, art, etc etc

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  10. Laurene Van Engelen says:

    I just love reading your blog!! I wish my plans were for an immediate visit. I’d snag that rental on a minute!! Life on a bicycle is exactly what I’m looking for! Be safe and keep riding.,,,and writing!! 🌵

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    • Thank you so much! Maybe that rental or one like it will be available when you get here. Many people use a bicycle as their only transportation. If you can rig it so you can get the groceries home it can be done. Drivers are used to bikes and pedestrians in the street so they are very considerate.

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  11. Cara Parker says:

    A terrific commentary on how we as ex-pats stand out. A reminder to conduct ourselves with the highest integrity as guests in Panama.

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