Traveling Back to the USA

We’ve been here over two years now, and it’s interesting the different thoughts that come to mind when I return to the USA. It’s the same trip back to the same country, but different things seem to strike me as noteworthy.

Of course there is the main thing that never changes. It’s wonderful to see my daughters and families in person. Email, Facebook, and video chats are great and keep us in touch but there is no substitute for actually being there. We all enjoy each others company and have a wonderful time anytime we are together. Now that they are in the workforce, and becoming homeowners and parents, it is even more exciting to see where their lives are going.

But, as for being in the country, I notice the transition takes a little longer every time. Everyone is still very tall. I am so used to walking out into a Spanish speaking world that I had to remind myself for the first 2-3 days to speak English. It’s cold! (duh, it is winter up there). I was better prepared this time though with layers, fuzzy socks, hiking boots, and my winter coat so I was much more comfortable.

This time I was especially struck by stuff. There are big stores everywhere, and they are all so full of things to buy. How many people does it take to buy all this stuff, and how much does each person or household buy? The stores are all new and shiny and clean and everything is labeled and beautifully displayed. Even the potatoes are scrubbed before they are put on the shelf, and the greens get misted regularily.

The cost of things is always a shock, and this time was no exception.. We have seen prices rising here, but I was surprised to see many things that we consider expensive and imported here are just as much there, and sometimes more. An ordinary trip to the supermarket for 2-3 days worth of food for 4 can easily run over $100. I have now had my reality shock and will not complain about the price of anything here! (at least until I forget prices there and have to go back for a refresher shock treatment).

The above are Safeway prices. The more upscale stores are even farther out of reach.

Everything is very clean and orderly. Grass is manicured. Streets are clean. There are road signs, cross walks, bike lanes, and smooth streets. With this, however, go all the rules. If you are building something, you can’t dump the pile of sand and block in the street in front of the house. If the neighbors are running an auto body shop in the front yard, someone will be over PDQ to shut that down. I know we give up a lot of that orderly life to live here, but I have come to love the free attitude. You do what you need to do and nobody fusses. And, in truth, very little of what your neighbors do is actually a bother.

One of the more main streets near my daughter's home. No one is out. We did see a number of people at the nearby park though on a sunny weekend afternoon, and the kids were enjoying the playground.

One of the more main streets near my daughter’s home. No one is out. We did see a number of people at the nearby park though on a sunny weekend afternoon, and the kids were enjoying the playground. Most of the time though, you are the only ones out and about except for the cars. 

People are IN their houses. There are some people out for exercise or walking dogs, but in general there aren’t people on the streets and front doors are closed. Here, always, there are people walking, biking, chatting, and playing in the streets. People often have their front doors open or are socializing on the front terrace or in the yard under a tree. So much of life is lived outdoors here, and dropping in to visit someone any old time is perfectly normal. In the USA everyone is so busy it can take days to arrange a time to visit a friend.

I did see some birds and flowers that we don’t usually see.

It definitely isn’t spring in much of the US, but since California has a more temperate climate it was nice to see some of the things I associated with spring as a kid.

I also have a shopping list every time I return, and it’s always something different. Often it is shoes or clothes (hard for a big gringa to buy in this land of smaller people), or some spice or little thing I don’t find here. This time it was bike gear (I want to go traveling, so a rack, panniers, tent, sleeping mattress, gloves, a solar charger for my iPad, and a new pair of shorts). My MP3 player bit the dust, so I bought another. I must have two on hand because I can’t live without my audio books. Oh, and fabric dye for my badly faded biking shirts, and another new shirt. Most of this was ebay or other on line purchases bought ahead of time for pickup at my daughter’s house.

My husband bought guitar strings because his spares had rusted through in the tropical humidity, and some other miscellaneous music related things. He bought a number of LED lights to cut down on our electricity use, and the light they put out is also much softer and more pleasant than our former florescent bulbs. We bought a timer for the fridge so it won’t be using power during the night, a new cable for an iPad charger… I think that’s about it.

There are things you just can’t predict. Everyone has stuff they ended up not using, and other things they wished they had brought. Everyone seems to have some thought about the transition to and from the USA that they weren’t expecting. It’s all part of the experience and certainly keeps life interesting!


About Kris Cunningham

We live in David, Chiriqui Provence, Republic of Panama! This blog is about some of our experiences in our new country.
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16 Responses to Traveling Back to the USA

  1. Allison Sherman says:

    Thank you so much for posting that! I was going to ask you about how it felt. I was wondering when my shopping list of “must get this from the USA” was going to diminish. I think it’s part of my adjustment, that I want some comforts of home rather than the often-times frustrating hunt to find the same item here. I was thinking the same thing about the stores in the USA (and scrubbed potatoes!) and the streets and how different they are from here. So interesting. I enjoy the “you don’t have to be perfect” here.


  2. Sunnymikkel says:

    Please let us know if the timer on your refrigerator cuts back on electric use without effecting the contents, especially things in the freezer compartment. Gracias


    • Everything seems to be perfectly normal. We were talking today though, that one of us should get up in the middle of the night to be sure the fridge is indeed going off. Every morning though it is cold, there is ice, nothing seems to have changed.


  3. Kevin says:

    Hi Chris, I thought you might find this article about turning off fridges at night useful. It was published in the U.K. so it refers to pounds not dollars but the message is the same. Cheers, Kevin.


    • Hmmm… it doesn’t sound like it is useful at all. Interesting, thanks for the article. We will have to give this some thought and keep an eye on our consumption.
      Hello, and greetings to your wife!


      • oldsalt1942 says:

        If you’re going to turn ANYTHING down it should be your water heater. You’re burning electricity to keep water hot 24/7 and you don’t use hot water but a few minutes in a day. Water heaters are the biggest energy waster in your home.


        • We have a gas on demand water heater here, and I almost never use it. We always thought about putting a solar water heater in our FL house but never got around to actually doing it. Joel used to turn his on, wait 15 minutes, take a shower, and then turn it off for the rest of the day.


  4. Sunni Morris says:


    It is winter here in the US, so we always have our doors closed then. I don’t imagine people in the US are as relaxed unless they’re retired and have all day to do what they want. I know how sold you are on Panama and that’s great, but I just wanted to say something in defense for the people living in the US. People don’t hang around outside much “under trees” when it’s cold outside. It’s never cold in Panama, so it’s understandable that residents would be outdoor year round. There are lots of people out where I live when the weather is warm because people here are into outdoor activities in a big way.

    I can agree with the other things you mentioned. Food is sky high, but I would expect veggies to be washed in a super market. A roadside stand would be different.

    Yes, I know we have regulations out the wazoo. You could never get away with dumping things in the street.



    • We lived in Florida before moving here and most people didn’t even know all of the neighbors, let along socialize outside. Of course where there are cold winters everyone is indoors, but even in good weather I have never seen the same kind of lifestyle as here, not in NY, Kansas, Arkansas, Tenn, or Florida, nor in Seattle area or northern CA where my kids are now.


      • Sunni Morris says:

        I guess I lucked out then because the neighbors around me are all pretty friendly. We look out for each other and help if necessary. I guess maybe it’s too bad I’m moving in that regard.


        • That would be really nice! I’ve heard about that, but haven’t experienced it myself. I think the closest I’ve seen was in small town Midwest life where people had lived for their whole lives and everyone knew everyone back through many generations. As an “outsider” though I wasn’t included in that circle.


  5. Kris, I’ve already started my list for our trip back to the states in May. I’m going to add a frig timer to my list. Great idea. I get so overwhelmed with the choices in the states. I’m definitely going to a fabric store where I can buy some pretty bordered material to make some simple pull-over skirts. Finding different fabrics here is difficult. I enjoyed reading this post and feel the same way. I like the conveniences of doing business in the states, but I hate the traffic most of all. Glad you’re back home.


    • Check the article that Kevin shared above about timers for the fridge. It may not be as useful as we thought. If you want fabric, come visit me here! We have lots, and it’s cheap. Or even better, I should get some and come visit you!


  6. oldsalt1942 says:

    Air conditioning and television killed the neighborhoods in the United States. One of the things I love about living here in Boqueron is that when I walk to the bus stop about 100 yards away from my house three or four people are sitting out on their porches and give me a nice “Buenos dias, Richard…” On the way back to the house it’s not unusual for them to invite me to sit and chat a spell. We both say this a lot, Kris, and it’s SO true…THINGS ARE DIFFERENT HERE.


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