Bought these at a road side place for $12 for all three
Shopping is quite an experience here. Lets start with Panafoto, a huge store similar to Best Buy in the states. We went there to buy appliances (or linea blanca as they call them here) since we heard that they would deliver to Capira, 45 minutes away from the city. First we met a salesperson Michelle who spoke only a few words of English but was very sweet. We picked out a refrigerator, stove, on demand hot water heater, and split unit air conditioner. The microwave was free with the purchase of the fridge. Michelle tried to explain that they no longer had free delivery but her fiance worked for a delivery service and he could take care of this for us. After Michelle was done with us we had to go downstairs to meet with her manager, an Indian man that did speak English. After chatting to him we had to go pay for the stuff, then to another window to pick up the paperwork on the stuff to be delivered.
The next day we went back to buy a rechargeable vacuum and had to go through the same deal again. The salesperson entered the purchase in the computer, we were told to go to the cashier and tell her our name. She charged us for the item, then we were sent to the pick up counter. The man at the pick up counter went out back to get the item. He brought it out and proceeded to open the box, pull everything out to show us that it was there and it worked. Then he put the item in a huge bag, stapled it closed and walked us out to the car carrying the item. When you are walking into one of the larger stores, you are not allowed to bring bags in. There are special places to "check in" your purchases from other stores. There are also security guards at each entrance and exit to make sure you follow these rules. Yes, we are in Panama where "prevention" is the rule.
We found some great cheap deals at the mall. We found lamps for the bedroom for $4.99 each, some decorative vases for $2.99 and some other stuff. The check out is this large circular desk with many people working inside it and customers standing around the outside. After they rang up our purchases they proceeded to package each one carefully. The vases were ceramic so they got pieces of cardboard to wrap around each one, and taped it together on all sides to form a box. They did this with each and every item. Then every item got put into a HUGE bag. These bags are so big we have kept them to re-use them as trash bags. Once the stuff is inside the bag they staple the bag closed many times so we can't add to it while leaving the store. This all takes time but they are very patient and very careful with the stuff. We have heard that pretty much nothing is returnable here, so I guess that's why they take the time to wrap it and show it before it leaves the store.
It also helps that there is lots of help in all the stores! You ladies will understand that makeup is divided up into companies such as Maybelline, Cover Girl etc just like in the US. However, here in front of each section there is a well dressed woman sitting waiting to help. And there are aisles of hair dye for sale, many brands I've never heard of since they have imports from all over the world here.
The larger grocery stores have appliances in them, as well as furniture, towels and sheets, garden and hardware supplies and a fully stocked section of hard liquor. The registers in grocery stores look just like the one's in the US except that the carts DO NOT fit through the checkout lines. After the cart is empty and the groceries are on the conveyer belt someone comes over and takes it from you. Then we have to walk through the very narrow space (probably no more than 18 inches wide) to the other side. There a bag boy bags the stuff and put it into a carry out cart and walks you to your car. Every place is full service here!
Every grocery store also has a pharmacy which consists of a counter with someone behind it. Some stores have a small section of products in front of the pharmacy, but most everything is behind the counter. This includes stuff like contact lens solution, tylenol, calcium supplements, hydrocortozone cream and anything else you might find in the pharmacy department.
Produce is different here since not all fruits and vegetables are grown locally. Lettuce was pretty sad looking but we bought some anyway. And there were no packages of salad mix like we're used to either. Tomatoes and cukes seem to be a different variety then the US but still taste good. Celery is a little bitter. Strawberries were pricey and didn't look too good, but they are imported. We are also able to purchase fruits and vegetables from the locals at thier stands all over the place. Local fruits and veggies include pineapple, bananas, papaya, mango, mangerines, lemons and limes, coconut, yucca, potatoes, carrots, peppers, onions, etc.... We bought some veggie that we don't know what it is and Clyde could barely cut into it. Not sure what we'll do with that yet.
Pre-packaged convenience products are a thing of the past for us now which is a good thing. We've eaten our last Lean Cuisine frozen dinner since we saw only one or two varieties of this in the store and it was twice the price of the US version. Frozen desserts were few as was ice cream and sherbets. We did buy what we thought was strawberry sherbet and it seemed to be ALL fruit. It was very good! Unlike the US that has huge sections of candy and cookies, here there is only a small section of candies at high prices. Cookies also are pricey if we want the US varieties, but the local ones are cheap. For about $1.00 we can buy a package of cookies with 12 individually wrapped packages inside. Perhaps they do it this was because of the high humidity here. Since we are both "sweetaholics," it's good that they don't offer much for sweets here. Now that malls DO offer all the US sweet shops like Cinnabon, Dairy Queen, Duncan Doughnuts and more.
Panama also has NO door to door mail delivery and eventually we may choose to get a post office box. Bills will be paid either online or in person. But even in this tiny village that we live they DO pick up the trash several times a week. Each house has a cage on a post in front of it and that's where we put the trash. An ice cream vendor came by on foot the other day and Clyde bought a few fudge pops for 50 cents a piece.
I had a hard time finding oatmeal in the grocery stores since it was not with the cold cereals. They have a section of "creamas" made with corn. It appears to be something like Cream of Wheat but made with corn and flavor added. We bought a few single servings for 23 cents each but have not tried them yet. I found the oatmeal in the aisle with the creamed cereals. Also no protein bars, no egg whites either. We have found canned tuna but most of the canned fish is sardines. I needed some deodorant and found a very small section of that also.
We still have not been able to find a paper towel holder that hangs. Also can't find a thermometer to see what the temperature is outside. Maybe since the temperature stays the same year round here there's no need for one. We did print out a conversion chart so we can start learning temps in celcius instead of farenheit. Right now it's 77 F or 25C winds 3-5 mph and sunny. Chance of showers today is 40% with the high expected to be 86 F. It's pretty much been the same everyday! Some days feel more humid than others. The mornings are just perfect, the afternoons get warmer and the nights cool off nicely.
We had our appliances installed yesterday so Clyde is not whining today taking a cold shower. Now we can also cook which is not a selling point for me, and do laundry. Have to wait on someone else to install the air conditioner though. Clyde is getting used to the heat, he bought a fan to use while sleeping, and he thinks that the a/c will freeze us out so we may have been ok without it. But it will be nice to know that we have one if we're suffering.
We are hoping to get the car today that we bought, but we won't hold our breath. Headed into the city again to look for Spanish Panama, the school where we will take Spanish lessons. We will go into the school for one month, 4 hours a day for 4 days a week. They also do a few field trips outside of the school to introduce students to the culture and food of the area. There we will also meet other ex-pats (ex-patriots are people who left their home country to live in another country) who are struggling to learn the language too.