After three plus years of living in Panama I've come to realize there are some things that I still don't understand, and probably never will. The other day I woke up at 6am to the all too familiar sound of fireworks. Loud explosions of sound burst with color into the dark sky as I lay in bed thinking "why?" Never in my life have I awakened in the middle of the night thinking, "now's a great time to set off some fireworks." Never have I jumped out of bed, dashed out the front door with matches in hand ready to bombard the neighborhood with loud, obnoxious noises at the crack of dawn. Last night around eleven the colorful array of lights lit up our bedroom like a disco as we lie in bed snuggling. I felt almost guilty lying there ignoring the display outside our window. Doesn't one always stop what they're doing and watch when fireworks are happening? If everyone in Panama stopped what they were doing every time fireworks went off then absolutely nothing would be accomplished. And perhaps that's why nothing does get accomplished here, at least not in a timely manner. But seriously folks, fireworks are a way of life here and can and will happen any time of the day, or night. Panamanians LOVE fireworks and those of us that have moved here have come to accept them as part of everyday life, even if we question why?
Another peculiar thing to us foreigners is the Panamanian obsession with staples. Those little pieces of bent metal that get pushed through when a hand-held device is squeezed, the staple is a vital part of life here. Go into any office and surely the clerk will staple the receipt to the bill you just paid. When any purchase is made the cashier will put the item in a bag, fold it over and secure it with a row of staples across the top of the bag. After that she'll staple the receipt to the bag using three or four more staples. Just try and get the stuff out of the bag after getting it home. It's no small feat! Pay with a credit card and the cashier will staple the receipt to the charge slip before handing it back. Per capita Panamanians use four times more staples than anywhere else in the world. Ok so I just made that up but surely if someone, somewhere conducted a study on staple use, Panama would come in number one. So if your local department store is ever out of staples you know that they're being hoarded here in Panama.
Store bags are closed with millions of staples to ensure that the customer won't add other items into it as they exit the building. Security is taken seriously here and staples are just a little measure to help. Usually everything is bagged here, no matter how big or odd sized the item might be. Stores here have oversized bags big enough to hold trash cans, comforters and other large items. The bags are large enough to use as trash bags once we get them home, that is IF we can remove the hundreds of staples without tearing it. But the other day we were shocked by what happened in one store. Clyde's tummy was a bit upset and he thought eating some mints might help settle it. He picked up a small bag of starlight mints in a store and went to the register to pay. To our surprise the cashier stapled the receipt to the bag of candy and didn't put it into a bag. We looked at her in shock as she handed it back to Clyde with his change. Apparently she thought he was going to eat it immediately as one would do with a pack of gum or candy bar and felt no need to bag it. But for us this was a first in Panama!
The exception to this staple thing happens in grocery stores since they choose to tie the bags instead. Unloading groceries in our house involves a pair of scissors used to cut off the knots in each bag. Just recently here the grocery stores are getting into the sale of reusable bags like we have in the states. But the bag boys aren't quite sure what to do with them yet as they still use the disposable bags first, tying them tight then putting them into the canvas bag.
Speaking of security in stores, purchases are NEVER taken out of one store and into another. Instead there are locker rooms called "paqueteria's," where bags are left. Bags are held in cubicles and in turn we're given a number to identify the location until we return. It's a rather efficient system that annoyed us at first, but now we realize it's easier than carrying everything. Stern looking security guards stand tall in the front of every store making sure bags are not brought in. The same guard will give your purchases the once over upon leaving, making sure everything has been paid for. Throughout the store there are well dressed security personnel with walkie-talkies that carefully watch everything. A few months back one of the guards yelled at a customer that was taking pictures of the Christmas trees that were on sale. We don't know why that wasn't allowed but apparently it's not. But having worked in retail management for many years in my younger days I can appreciate the need for security since I've seen my share of theft over the years.
But as the years go on and we become accustomed to the ways of our new country. So perhaps one of these days I'll buy some fireworks and run outside in the middle of the night to set them off, never asking why.....along the gringo trail.