Getting Things Done – License Plates and the Long Saga of the Microwave

Sometimes getting things done in Panama can be … ahem … interesting. Do not ever count on anything being fast or easy. Sometimes it is, but now always.

Fast and easy was my car that needed new license plates. I went to the insurance office, waited while they pulled up my records and printed me the necessary documents, I wrote them a check, and done. Same for the inspection. Walked in, no waiting, done in no time. The next day I went downtown for the plate. Again, no waiting, paid, took the paper to the next window, they found my plate, I signed the book, and done.

Speaking of license plates, you get a new one every year, no stickers like in the US. The insurance is similar to the US except your insurance comes with a towing benefit, very nice. The inspection is quite funny. You park your car in the designated spot, they come out with a camera and take a few photos, and give you your “revisado” document. This year they didn’t even check the lights and blinkers. But, you need your insurance and title to get your revisado, and your revisado to get your plate so just go with it. Plates expire at the end of the month so don’t wait until the last minute, or you might wait in line with all the others who also waited until the last minute.

The not so fast and easy…  there is the saga of the microwave (get a cup of coffee and a comfortable chair). Joel bought one from the DoIt Center at the end of April, and it died recently. The Sunday before last I went to talk with my friends in the appliance department. Yes, it has a one year guarantee but you need the receipt (which we can’t find). But since we are on the frequent shopper program the guy at customer service can look it up and print a new one.

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We are standing at the customer service desk at the front of the store, watching the people come and go.

We go to customer service and wait, and wait for the guy who said he would be right back. A woman tries to help but can’t find our records. Another guy comes by but says he doesn’t know how to do that, so we continue waiting. Finally another woman comes by and informs us that the guy we need is at lunch. By now it is around 2PM and we decide to come back the next day.

The next day (Monday), the guy we need is at the customer service desk and prints our receipt. On it is a phone number and I am told this is the call center and I need to talk with them. I call, make it through two menus, reach a real person and explain what I want, get an answer I can’t understand, get put on hold, and then cut off. My friend Tomás at customer service bales me out and makes the call for me. I am told I need to take the microwave to Taller Acosta to be fixed. Tomás wasn’t given the phone number for the shop though, and the next 15 minutes are spent with him and others running around DoIt Center trying to find someone who knows where this shop is located. The customer service guy comes to the rescue and draws us a map and explains how to get there – in English! (who knew after all this that he speaks excellent English)

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Behind the customer service desk is the gardening department. They had a large selection of hoses!

We set off to find the shop which involved going through the most congested part of downtown, and finally find what we think is the shop to find it closed. It is lunch hour. We call it a day and go home.

The next day (Tuesday) we head out to the shop to find it closed again. I ask at the convenience store and am told that is not the shop. We need to go a few more blocks down the street. We find the shop which says nothing about Acosta except for a URL on the window that is something like serviacosta.com. I explain what I need, Joel fetches the microwave and brings it in. Oh NO, we don’t work with that brand. You need to go to the shop next door. OK, fine, so we go next door and wait. They get done with whatever they were doing in the back, come out and take one look at the microwave – oh no, we don’t repair that brand. You need to take it back to DoIt Center for a replacement.

(I told you that you would need coffee and a comfortable chair for this story. There is still quite a bit more)

We go back to DoIt Center to see the customer service guy. He can’t just take it back without proper documentation and authorization. He calls the call center and nothing is resolved. They need to contact the shop to find out why they wouldn’t repair the microwave. He is told they will investigate and he can call back after 3PM for their answer. He will call me to let me know what he finds out. I never got a call.

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The light bulb department, ceiling fans, all all other things for lights and electricity. They always have a small display of plants also to temp you as you walk by.

Wednesday, we bike down to the DoIt Center. The guy at the service desk is off today. I didn’t even ask the others if they knew anything about our case. I’ll just go back tomorrow. Thank goodness we live as close as we do.

Thursday, they guy was in but hadn’t heard anything. He says they are still investigating and he will call if there is any news.

Friday, wrong time. He was at lunch again. We have learned to use other methods of heating foods, and have realized how often we use the microwave without even thinking about it.

It is now Saturday. Should I publish the story so far, or wait for the resolution? Monday I plan to ask him if we can have our money back, or at the very least, would he please call again and try to speed things up?

Get another cup of coffee and go back to your comfortable chair.

I wasn’t out and about on Monday, but on Tuesday I stopped by and our guy was at the service desk. He hadn’t heard anything so he got on the phone. We wandered about, said hi to my friends, wandered back and he was still on the phone. After much conversation and me explaining how to find my house, the word is that someone will be at our house tomorrow to fix the thing. If they don’t show up I am to call the call center again.

Wednesday – they didn’t show up.

Thursday (today) we go back to the DoIt Center. The guy we have been working with no longer works there. We explain our story to various people who try to help, and finally a manager comes to the desk. She says we should have gotten a change order from the shop when they couldn’t fix the microwave. We refuse to make another trip to the shop. She insists there is nothing we can do without the change order.  Can she get the guy who didn’t show up to fix the unit in their store because we aren’t taking it home again. She calls the call center, then calls the shop buy by this time they are closed for lunch. I offer to do our errands and return in a while when the shop should be open again. No she says, we need to go to the shop and get the change order. By now Joel is totally over it. We tell them the microwave is now their problem, and we walk away.

We have been without a microwave for about two weeks now and have decided not to replace it. We don’t need it to defrost things if we plan ahead better. We can reheat things on the stove or in the toaster oven. We used to cook veggies in the microwave but find we like them better steamed on the stove. Now we have one less thing taking up space in the kitchen.

I can end with a fast and easy story though… more or less. We went to Dolega to get plates for Joel’s car (you have to go to where the car is registered). We wait for our turn, hand the revisado with a copy and $35.10 to the lady, go back to wait, and are called to pick up a document confirming our registration. Joel was late and they didn’t have any more July plates, so we’ll have to go back later to see if they have some in.

There is no place where you can live without hitting some bumps along the way, and Panama is no exception. I have been told that Novey is much better about returns so if we change our mind about getting a microwave, we’ll go there.

I am thankful that we live close to DoIt (after these multiple trips) and I am very thankful I know enough Spanish to communicate because except for the Customer Service guy, no one spoke any English. Patience is a good thing to have. It’s a great life here in Panama and sometimes you even get an advanced class in patience. Without opportunities to practice your patience how would you ever improve? I’m thankful for all the opportunities over the years because I fail a lot fewer classes than I did years ago.

 

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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.
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40 Responses to Getting Things Done – License Plates and the Long Saga of the Microwave

  1. Jeeze…that was 11 trips for the microwave! I would of stopped at 3 and bought a new one at Price Smart.

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    • I know, but they are just down the street, and the next visit will surely resolve it…. But when we were told to go all the way across town, again, that was the last straw.

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    • Is Pricesmart good about returns and repairs? Thankfully this is our first experience with this so I guess we shouldn’t complain too much.

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      • rambalajunglelodge says:

        Pricesmart has horrible customer service also. Anyplace that habitually makes you wait in line for extended hours, then wait again to get your bottle of scotch will continue with this kind of “courtesy” in my opinion. Really are scotch drinkers the only ones who steal booze or what?? Seriously, they will honor returns but you MUST have receipt and be within whatever time frame the item has for return. Repairs are pretty much always a waste of time and a way to make you go away.

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  2. oldsalt1942 says:

    Love it…But this kind of stupidity isn’t just confined to Panama…

    As you know, I lived in France for several years. One day while going to the Post Office I noticed, down a side street in the old town of Antibes, one of those big rotisserie spits for gyro meat. Over there they use actual cuts of lamb instead of the processed stuff they call meat in the states. I made a mental note to go get one of those sandwiches some time since I love gyros.

    A couple of weeks later I remembered the place and at 12:30 I went over to get a sandwich. The place was CLOSED! In France nearly everything closes between noon and 2 p.m. INCLUDING places that make sandwiches. I mean WHO would want to buy a sandwich during lunch break except one of those pesky foreigners?

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    • Oh yes I’m sure, there ar things that don’t make sense and things to frustrate you anywhere you go.

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    • Jim Sullivan says:

      O-M-G! Sounds like a day at the post office. Are these people government workers, lol. Just goes to show that nothing is perfect but in the big scheme of things it’s just a small inconvenience. If nothing else it shows that we all need to know the return/refund policy of stores we do business with and that customer service is what we need.

      Liked by 1 person

      • LOL yeah, something like that. They seem to like a lot of documentation here to get anything done, and it’s always a good idea to have a couple copies of all documents while you’re at it. I could have walked away earlier but I kind of wanted to know what the experience was like and how complicated it could get. Now I know 😀 But yes indeed, no big deal in the big scheme, and being retired I have time and no boss at the office looking for me.

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  3. Love all of your posts. I have been following your blog and find it fun and informative. We are thinking of moving to David, soon. One question is, I have lots of small appliances in my kitchen here in the states that I love. Will i be able to use them there. Is the electrical the same, or can I get a converter. We will be having our furniture shipped and just wondering if I should bring my appliances or just buy there. Thanks for any help.

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    • Hi and thanks, glad you enjoy the blog.

      If you are shipping furniture yes, I would definitely bring your small appliances. You may not be able to find the same things or the same quality here and I think you could pack them in with your furniture without it costing you extra (ask your moving people though).

      The electric is the same here. if you have surge protectors you might want to bring them too. We have lightning and occasional power flickers.

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    • I was talking with my husband… if you are shipping I think it goes by volume, not weight, so put in as much as you can. Bring favorite tools also. People complain that they can’t find the same or equal quality here. Sheets, towels, linens, the same, and musical instruments. Just keep in mind that it is a hot and humid climate. Leather does not do well (it molds) and some wood doesn’t work either. I heard about someone watching their Ikea furniture disintegrate before their eyes.

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    • Robert&Helen says:

      I have been working all my life in I’m- and exports. A 40 ft container can have 60m3 meters or 24,000 kilos. A 20ft container 30m3 or 20,000 kilos. Furniture is always by the m3. So shipping any small appliances do not matter. Ship it to Colon by the USA company and do the rest by local people to bring the container to Chiriqui and charter some local guys to offload it and carry it into your home. If you want the USA shipper to give an all ing price they will charge at least a profit of 30% on the local transport and delivery.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. rambalajunglelodge says:

    We have lived without a microwave for years Kris and don’t miss it at all. The Do It Center has by far the worst customer service and the only thing they do right is employ a bilingual customer service guy at the front which actually gives one the impression that they give a shit about service. Do be deceived though they don’t. This is evidenced by the always understaffed checkout lines for one thing. While not perfect, I like Novey much better and their service is far better. It is run by a woman incidentally. On a positive errand note though: I had great customer service also at the vehicle registration office in Dolega, the Carcel Cowboy Store near El Rey, Casa Batteria and at Optica Vega all this week. Then we also stopped at El Rey, and Baru and as usual found the various odd items we needed and found the checkout to be smooth and friendly. Do It should take a lesson since we vote with our money and do actually believe our time is of value! I think It is challenging to live where no one values time; theirs or yours, thus often cannot understand why you get frustrated when it takes a week to resolve something we could resolve back in the US in an hour or less! I think on the whole customer service is improving here.
    PS After only 4 trips to the vehicle registration Office in Boquete I finally managed to get a tag and correct names on all documents!
    PSS Last year at Christmas Baru had guys singing and playing guitar in the front of the store near the checkout line to entertain you while you wait in line. Pretty special!! Can’t wait.

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    • We have had very good customer service in general, so this is an exception. But we also have never tried to return anything either. At DoIt though, the second bilingual guy we know at customer service is now gone so anyone who doesn’t speak Spanish is going to have a hard time. Ever since I went to Myrla in appliances when I first arrived to outfit an entire house, we have been good friends and Tomás back there has also been great to me so my experiences in DoIt have been very positive up until this.
      I have heard that Novey is much easier to deal with in situations like this, so I will keep that in mind for the future.
      What does the Carcel Cowboy Store do? I go by there all the time but could never figure it out.
      Yes indeed, time is not valued like we are used to, and time is not money. I doubt all the fussing we can muster is going to change that though.
      I love the music at Baru! We try to shop in the morning when it’s calmer but have run across the musicians occasionally. It changes the whole tone of having to go to the supermarket.

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  5. Robert&Helen says:

    I lived in Spain and the Caribbean. Same thing. We bought a car in January 2015. Plates valid till June 2015. No plates in june 2015. Got a 3 months receipt. Every 3 months no plate and a receipt.
    Finally in June 2016 the new plates.That was in Dolega. I rather have these inconveniences instead of the ridiculous taxes in Europe.

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    • Joel drove around with papers instead of a current plate for months last year too. I did fine with my car in David, but they were out of bicycle plates at the beginning of the year so I biked around with papers for a month until they got more in. Someone told me that if they don’t get enough metal to recycle, then they can’t make enough plates and this shortage happens. And, someone else on Facebook said they order plates for next year for everyone who renewed on time this year. Joel was late last year so that’s why they don’t have a plate for him this year. Other people were going out with plates so they aren’t totally out, at least not at the moment.

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  6. ME BE in Panama says:

    There’s something truly ironic about such a long, drawn out trek for an appliance that’s supposed to speed things up. Maybe it’s a metaphor for modern life? Good story in any case, Kris. See you soon.

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    • LOL yes, interesting way of looking at it. And in this modern life when we have so many conveniences to speed things up, why are we constantly busy? well not all of us. Some of us are retired in Panama 😀

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  7. Whoa! 11 trips? I think I would have taken the microwave to a local repairman and skipped the guarantee. Our weed eater broke and fortunately it was still under guarantee. We shipped it to the mainland, it took about two weeks and they fixed it and shipped it back. It was a miracle!
    Now, my iPad screen looks psychedelic and I’ve only had it a little over a year. I am going to take it to the mainland and see if someone can fix it. I still believe in miracles. lol

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  8. Carole says:

    You definately have a lot of patience, taking so many trips. We don’t use a microwave, after awhile you won’t miss it. I have to go and get new plates for my car, something new they are doing. We had the same plates for 10yrs, now they are changing them. Hopefully I won’t have a long wait. Usually it doesn’t take long, but switching plates I am told is taking longer.

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    • New plates here in Panama? We have been here four years and have been issued new plates every year. Once we learned the process it never has been difficult. I remember in the US though we got stickers, renewed and paid on line and the stickers arrived in the mail soon after.

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  9. We had a one trip experience with Do-It in Chitre. We had a ceiling fan that did not work. It took 7 employees to try it and confirm it did not work. Then it took 2 assistant manager to sign off the return and finally, the Store Manager signed off. Then we got a chit to use on a future purchase. Of course several of the people had to stamp the return at least 3 times each. It had so many stamps, that you could no longer read the document. TIP

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  10. Gary says:

    Even with the headaches, you still found some silver lining. i’m planning a 2nd October exploratory trip for a Panama retirement. Hotels indicate they are in Boquete but …. Where Boquete is on the map seems to be more of a suburb. El Tropezon and the area around Alto Dorado seem more like the town center. Any suggestions on parts of town or hotels to stay at. I’m looking for $40-60/night range (there seem to be quite a few) to get a feel for the area ? I don’t need the Taj Mahal, just clean, comfortable, non-smoking room for sleeping. Thanks in advance for any info you can provide.

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    • Hi Gary. I live in David, not Boquete so I’m not a good one to ask about what goes on up there. Boquete is a little town in the mountains and the city center of Boquete is only a few blocks long. There are “suburbs” or outlying neighborhoods like Alto Dorado which include some stores and businesses along the main road but aren’t town centers. Unfortunately I’m not familiar with the hotel choices up there but as long as you don’t end up in a backpackers party hostel you should be OK (and even that might be fine if it’s quiet at night).
      Do any of you Boquete people following this post have any better advice? If so please jump in!

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      • Gary says:

        Kris,
        I plan to visit David on my trip. I’m looking for hotels there also. Any suggestions ? I’d also want to check out the rental and purchase market in David. Suggested areas would be greatly appreciated.

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  11. Perhaps the saga with the microwave (what an ordeal) is the Universe trying to tell you to stop using a microwave? While I would personally find it very difficult to live without one, being a working slob who relies on Trader Joe’s frozen dinners when she gets home after a long day at work (I wouldn’t eat any other frozen dinners by the way – only Trader Joe’s will do), I have heard/read that microwaving food isn’t really good for the food – apparently it destroys some vitamins – particularly the B vitamins.
    I have friends in Germany who’ve never owned a microwave, and wouldn’t think of using one. My daughter in California has a friend, a young man she’s known from high school summer camp days, who heats everything that needs heating up, on the stove – for the same reason I mentioned above. It’s possible, and plausible. For now though, as long as I’m still a working slob, microwaving is the order of the day.

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  12. jim and nena says:

    Hola Kris,
    Now you understand a bit of why Panama is like it is. There is virtually no expectation of anything changing for the better. No one in any store, other than the owner, will authorize any situation that involves refunds, or exchanges. Since the store owner is never around and no store employee dares call him, they just stall until the client gives up.

    In the case of electronic devices, it is usually just easier to ask around for a repair shop to get it fixed. There are many hole in the wall places that do good work, they may not look like much but they can work magic on appliances.

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    • That reminds me of the roadside car repair shacks in India that could work miracles with a broken down car far from a big town or city – and get you on your way again. They were often so ingenuous their improvisations were wondrous to behold. We were once sent on our way with a coconut shell covering an overheating fuel pump – it worked, the car ran for five more hours until we got it to “civilization”.

      Support the local mechanics, repairmen, artisans – making do has its own rewards, for all concerned.

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    • I should have done that, but I kept thinking certainly on the next visit it will be solved. After all this time of doing without, we have decided we don’t even need it. And, it made a great story for the blog 😀

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