What is Weird?

It’s natural that when you move to a different country, there will be things that seem weird. Maybe the language isn’t quite what you learned in your textbook, or the food has unfamiliar ingredients. There are birds and bugs you never saw before, and the locals  go about doing things in ways that make no sense.

But, now that I’ve been here almost six years, I’m find things more and more weird when I go back to the US. I’ve become accustomed to Panama and I’ve never lived in Seattle or northern California, the places I visit now to see family.

There are bike lanes everywhere, clearly marked. There are traffic lights everywhere too, and buttons to push to trigger the pedestrian crossing signals. If there are no signals and you look like you want to cross, any car that comes along will come to a complete stop. That always startles me! I wouldn’t mind bike lanes here, but drivers are generally considerate so riding with traffic and crossing streets on foot works out fine. I think we could use a lot more traffic lights though.

I also notice how neat and orderly everything is. It must look like a mess here in comparison. We have weeds by the road, potholes, dogs and chickens running loose, and sometimes larger animals. I’ve written about this not too long ago. It’s very much a “don’t sweat the small stuff “ feeling which may not look as pretty but I find easier to live with.

I play bass and often practice with YouTube videos. In the US there is an ad before almost every video. Sometimes you have to wait for the “skip this ad” thing to come up, or sometimes the ad is short and you just wait it out. I can never tell which it is without glasses, so I’m always missing a start of the song because I’m pulling off my glasses. *sigh* When you spend hours playing and replaying videos it adds up.

There are hundreds of channels on the TV, but very little that’s interesting to watch. And the ads, they are relentless! There are so many for prescription medications. Do people go to their doctors “I want that from the TV!” It must happen or they wouldn’t keep running the ads. I can’t compare US TV to Panama though because we don’t have ours hooked up here.

Shopping still feels easier in the US. I feel like I have everything I need here, but sometimes you have to hunt and things are found in places you wouldn’t expect. In the US every Safeway is pretty much the same, and every Target, Walmart, and CVS, and displays are always attractive and orderly. I notice it especially in the produce department. Everything looks perfect and there are little thunderstorms with sprayers to keep the produce moist. There is a huge variety of choices! Here we have carrots, and sometimes they are funny shaped or have other oddities even though they taste great. In the US, there are carrots, all perfect in bags, or individually, or would you like the little bitty ones for snacks, or a variety of orange, white, and purple ones, full size or snack size, organic or not? Would you like cow milk, skim, low fat, whole, or soy milk, almond milk, coconut milk, pea milk? I’m not kidding, there was pea milk! I always see new products I’ve never known about before.

There is also on line shopping. You can buy anything you can imagine and in a couple days it will be at your door. Or, you can even get Amazon items hand delivered in a few hours. Here in Panama, shipping costs and takes time. It really makes you think before you order something which may not be such a bad thing.

Speaking of shopping, I did quite a bit for things to bring back, and for family dinners and odds and ends. I used a credit card and never once was I asked for a signature or ID. Here we are always asked to sign, and we often need to show ID. It felt weird in the US, like I could be anybody with anyone’s credit card and go shopping all day long.

I’m still always bothered by the sense of isolation though. I went walking most days and the only people who talked with me or even made eye contact were the homeless people. (There are a lot of homeless, a subject for another day). If I greeted someone the reaction usually told me that they thought I was strange and intrusive.  Unfortunately I think the political climate in the US now is only making this worse and we are less inclined to talk to “strangers”, especially if they look different from us.

And planes…. there always seem to be planes in the sky. Here in Chiriqui  a contrail is so unusual that one sparked a huge discussion on Facebook!

Either place though, life goes on and things get done. I just find it interesting to think back on what caught my attention this time.


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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18 Responses to What is Weird?

  1. Robert&Helen. says:

    As I have been a Dutch expat for almost 30 years, West Africa, Spain, and the Caribbean. I know that when you visit your home country you feel somewhat as a stranger. All advantages can be a disadvantage and visa versa. Ifyou go to Europe you will see very good public transport, high speed trains and not many people living on the streets without social welfare. Anyway the USA spends a hack of lot of money on the military industrial complex and NASA. I think the midterm elections will cause a lot of riots. That happened also with the Roman Empire.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Its interesting times, for sure and I’m also curious to see what the midterm elections will bring.
      I think I’ve always felt somewhat a stranger in my home country, and never expected to feel so much less of that here.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I’m back in the land of conspicuous consumption right now and I couldn’t agree more Kris. I was startled when someone looked the other way when I said, “Good Morning.” They thought I surely must be talking to someone behind them and they were actually surprised I spoke to them. However, they did smile politely and respond in kind. And I am in Iowa where acknowledging each other used to be commonplace. This trip was the first time I rented a car at ORD and drove across IL to IA. One of my first thoughts was, “Has it always been this spacious?” It seemed that 3 cars would have easily fit where there were only 2 lanes. And BUSY… everyone is still in a hurry, pressed for time and extremely busy here. That has not changed. Great post, thanks!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I know things can be different in different places, but I’ve never lived anywhere where people routinely greet people they don’t know. I lived in KS for a long time but maybe I missed the friendlier times you remember in Iowa.
      Yes, space! You’re right, lots more and definitely busy. There would probably be mumbling about someone just hanging out in a hammock in their carport. They could be DOING something!
      I hope you are enjoying your visit 😊

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Sherry Felix says:

    It takes years to adjust to a new country. Then the old one feels foreign. I know, my family moved around the world a lot. I want to move to Panama but my husband is not adventurous enough to do it.


  4. Barbara Legener says:

    Great post.I love it that Panama feels like home to you while “home” now feels foreign. You’ve definitely adjusted well. We are coming to visit in April to see if Panama can be our new home when we retire. I know it takes time to settle into a new place, at least 2years for it to feel like home. We shall see. I enjoy your posts.


    • It will be interesting to see how you feel here.
      It felt like home rather quickly for me, faster than anywhere I moved in the US. It helps that the people are super friendly and welcoming.


  5. jim and nena says:

    Hola Kris,
    I am smiling and thinking of Nena every time we visit Panama. She arrived in the US with me in 1971. She learned English from watching soap operas while I went to work and college. We started a family and she had no family nearby to help.
    Leap forward to today. She has her own car, handles everything on her own and each time we visit Panama, SHE is the one yelling at the crazy drivers (in Spanish) and rhetorically asking why everything in Panama is so messed up. We come to Panama to visit family and old friends, so for me it is an escape from the rush of living that is common in the US. It takes me about 2 minutes to adjust to the slower pace, but Nena sees it as Panama not making the most of its opportunities.
    As for the isolation in the US, we don’t experience it here in Fort Worth, but if one ventures to Dallas, there is a different vibe when greeting people on the streets. In the stores in Fort Worth, we routinely have conversations with folks while in the checkout line or just shopping in the aisles. Dallas is more “big city” so that could be a factor. I notice the same thing about David vs Panama City so maybe city folks are more focused on themselves and not others?


    • I hear Panama City is different from the rest of the country in terms of friendliness and just being nice to each other, though I haven’t noticed a big difference in the little time I’ve spent there. But yes I think big cities tend to make people prefer more boundaries.
      Funny, it sounds like Nena has “gone native” from all her time in the US. The drivers can be a bit nuts at times but they are also more considerate than many in the US. People may not get as much done here or as quickly but I find the slower pace easier to live with.


  6. panamax007 says:

    Unfortunately I think the political climate in the US now is only making this worse and we are less inclined to talk to “strangers”, especially if they look different from us.


  7. panamax007 says:

    In addition communication media reporting opinions instead of news. Bonito Dia!


  8. Scott says:

    I was raised in the Bahamas, my first time to the US, as an 8 yr old young man, scared the bg’s out of me. Fast food, traffic, people who avoid you, and the list goes on. I moved back to the US for work as an adult and, over time realized the lifestyle in the US simply is not my cup of tea. Convenience has it’s price, for sure. Our electricity was once shut off for 3 days in California – I’ll bet I talked to a dozen people who had no idea what to do…READ BOOK WITH A CANDLE….rofl
    My wife and I recently mentioned how the US has gone from 700 sq ft homes on average to 3200 sq ft home now. 3200 sq ft!? Seriously? I would have lost my brothers and sisters. lol I think expat living reminds us the government shouldn’t be counted on for anything other than a safe country. Healhcare, secondary education, and earnings should be left to the private sector. That takes care of all of the entitlement BS. America has created a serious welfare problem, you don’t allow people to become dependant upon government – for anything – EVER.
    We’re currently living in Baja, Mexico, moving our primary residence to Panama in the next few yrs. I’ve always loved it there. It was majestic in the 70’s (as was CR).


    • When you live in the US all your life you believe what you are told and what everyone else believes. You don’t realize there are other ways of living until you experience something different. With this broader view you can decide what will suit you and your happiness the best. For me also, this works.


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