Good manners are everlasting, have no boundaries, and are not limited by time, space, nationality or language. They transcend from one country to another, translate well into any language, aren't lost with age, gender, or by the amount of money in one's bank account. Yet as simple as they are, they're also so simple to overlook.
As gringo minorities living among foreign people we try even harder to treat the locals with the respect they deserve, and expect the same. Today after our Spanish lesson in the gringo-land of Coronado we stopped at a grocery store. As today appears to be some sort of payday for the locals, the lines were long in the store. Since we had only two items, a pineapple and some bananas we made our way into a line with a sign that read "15 or menos," meaning 15 or less. The Panamanian woman in front of us had a cart full of groceries. With another women standing beside her I assumed she was going to play the old game of dividing up the groceries between them. This according to some would make it ok to take up space in the quick checkout, while others waited behind. We patiently waited our turn just as a women in front of the 15 plus culprit decided she'd forgotten something. She moved herself out of the line and went back to pick up something else. Upon her return she found herself behind us and started explaining in Spanish that she had been in line and should be allowed to go in front of us since she only had two items. Quickly we showed her that we too only had two items, and made no attempt to allow her to move ahead of us. Perhaps if she had said prior to leaving the line that she needed to run and get something, and asked us to hold her spot, that would have been different. Ok not that we would have understood all of that with our limited knowledge of Spanish, but she could have tried.
Good manners, etiquette, common sense or whatever you want to call it, is a necessary part of life no matter where you live, or who you are. We see gringos here in restaurants sometimes treating the waitstaff as lower class citizens. Still others tip them excessive amounts of extra money, flaunting their wealth. All of us gringos that live in foreign countries stand out in the crowd and those that flaunt their riches or wealth are targets for crime. Some of the restaurants here add a small tip on to the bill making it something the server automatically gets, and is not based on the quality of service they provided. Understandably the locals make little money compared to the U.S. or Canada and should be rewarded for good service, especially since we gringos can afford to throw an extra dollar their way.
There is a misconception among the locals that all gringos that have moved to Panamá have extra money to throw around. After all we surely must have an abundance of money if we could afford to move here? As we make friends with Panamanians along the way we mention this simple fact. Some are shocked to hear that we moved here because we don't have much money. Other's are under the assumption that everything is better in the U.S. We assure them that not everything is better but everything is more expensive. Yes, we Americans make more money but we also spend more, borrow more, live more lavishly and want everything now. Even our Canadian friends here tell us that they weren't able to borrow money and have extensive lines of credit like us Americans.
A friend of ours met up with another gringo new to Panamá in a local restaurant. The newcomer left the waitress a 40% tip whereas most locals don't tip at all. Those of us that live here usually leave a 10-15% tip more like we did in the states. Next our friend took the man to a local bar where he quickly made friends with the Panamanians. He proceeded to flaunt his riches by buying drinks for about 30 of his "new friends" in the local bar.
We chatted with a visiting family recently who had trouble with their rental car. After the car broke down they took a cab back to their hotel, a fifteen minute drive and gave the cab driver $40.00. Taxi's are cheap here and prices are compiled by "zone" without the use of meters. A driver will be able to tell you upon entering the cab how much the ride will cost. These people never asked how much the cost of the ride was but instead just handed the driver an overly high amount of cash, and even asked if that was enough. By the way the taxi ride should have cost a lot less and this taxi driver probably now assumes that gringos are rich and have extra money to throw around.
My point here comes back to that old Golden Rule of "do unto others." That way of being we've had pounded into our heads from infancy that we should treat other people the way we'd like them to treat us. This simple little rule has spanned decades, withstood the test of time and applies to every human being alive today. As we make new friends here in Panamá we try to leave with them a good impression of North Americans. We hope they find us to be warm, friendly, sincere, fun, and poor just like them, as we meet up....along the gringo trail.