Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Open Mouth.....Insert Money.....

Getting "gringoed" is a term we apply to Panamanians charging foreigners one price for something, and charging locals a lower price.  They assume we all have lots of money, and to them we do, since the locals typically make around $400 a month.  A good example happened to us just the other day when we went to have our teeth cleaned at a new clinic in nearby Coronado

Here's how you brush your teeth!

The Arrocha Dental Clinic named after the large pharmacy chain here opened a new office in the shopping center that houses Novey, a large American type of hardware, house wares store.  For a few months now a large sign sat in the front of the parking lot to the mall announcing the new dental clinic's prices.  Cleanings, fillings, and extractions for only $15.00 so we  thought we'd give it a try.  Typically in the past two years we've paid around $25.00 for cleanings here and the idea of saving some money even made Clyde want to get his teeth cleaned.

We stopped by to inquire about appointments and were told to come back the next morning anytime, since no appointments were necessary for cleanings.  The brand new office was painted bright white with graphics of large, red flowers painted on one wall.  A matching large flower sat in a vase on the floor, tying together the decorators theme of the room.  Twelve black chairs provided a place for potential patients to park their butts while waiting to see the dentist.  A sweet, young lady sat behind a desk decorated with a fake bamboo front.  She called the dentist on her cell phone and explained that he was next door browsing around the new, pricey specialty store that had just opened.  A few minutes later in walked an older, well dressed gentleman who we assumed was the dentist. 

Frenos = Braces
Calzas Blanca = Teeth Whitening
Limpieza = Cleaning
Extracciones = estractions

Clyde decided to go first and I could hear some of their conversation in Spanish from behind the partitioned wall.  The dentist turned on easy listening music in English which made it hard for me to hear what was being said after the cleaning started.  After about 20-minutes Clyde reappeared wide eyed with a strange look on his face, sort of like a little boy who had done something wrong.  It was my turn next and I quickly walked into the next room and took my place in the powder blue dental chair.  The room was large, painted white with a second blue chair to my left. The dentist wore a white lab coat,  gloves and a white mask which made it even harder to understand his Spanish. First he pulled out a fake set of teeth and brush and proceeded to instruct me how to brush in Spanish, to which I just nodded.  He carefully put a folded paper towel under my chin, covered it with a heavy bib and topped it off with yet another paper towel.  Apparently he knew he'd be giving me a shower along with cleaning my teeth using the ultra sonic water thingy. The water ran down my face, arms,  into my collar and continued running down my blouse drenching me the whole time.  It reminded me of my days as a hairdresser when I'd soak clients accidentally while washing their hair, so I understood and wasn't upset about getting wet.

The dentist spoke no English and we were interrupted a few times when his wife came into the room asking him if he wanted "carne," beef....or "pollo" chicken for lunch, which seemed rather unprofessional.  He tried to explain something about an old filling that needed to be replaced, although I had no plans of returning since he seemed rather rough just doing a cleaning. When I was done I rejoined Clyde in the waiting room.  As we were paying our $30 Clyde said to me in English, "he told me I have 8-10 cavities and need crowns."  He went onto say that the dentist also told him to find a new toothpaste since the one he's using isn't working. The dentist instructed him to drive into Panama City and explained where he'd have to go for a special toothpaste, perhaps at the dentists office there?  Really now?  Do we look that stupid?

SEE!  My smile is perfect!
(No these are REALLY not my teeth!)

After all we've lived here now for two years and have gone for dental cleanings every six months, just like we're supposed to. We've had a few cavities filled whenever necessary, so how could Clyde possibly have ten teeth that need fillings now?  As for toothpaste, ALL of the toothpaste sold here in ALL of the stores is Colgate.  There is NO other choice,  although there are different varieties and flavors, but still all of it is made by Colgate.  And I suspect should we be stupid enough to drive 90-minutes each way into Panama City we'd probably just find yet another variety of Colgate toothpaste.
So even here in Panama some of the dentists try to make more money by scaring patients into believing that they need more work done in their mouth than they really do.

Gringo beware that if it seems to good to be true, then just maybe it isn't.  And within the expat community people talk and share stories, so he probably won't be around for long.  As for that new specialty store mentioned above, it's a smaller version of the Riba Smith grocery chain in Panama City. The chain is known for having some of the American imports that we miss or crave, although they do come at a cost. We strolled into the new store in Coronado, excited that just maybe it would save us a trip to the city for those hard to find items. Last time we made the drive into the city to visit RS it was for Tahini, since we wanted to try making hummus.  As we entered to Coronado store I noticed a nice package of strawberries and picked them up to check out the price, but when I saw $10.00 on the ticket I quickly put them down.  It was a familiar US brand name although I couldn't tell you what it said right now.  And the berries looked plump and red, unlike some of the other imported strawberries sold here, but still wasn't worth the price to us. But we have to remember that strawberries aren't native to Panama which explains the price.  The rest of the store was filled with high priced other stuff, and nothing jumped out at me as something I'd longed for, so we left empty handed.

But as long as more gringo's move to Panama prices will keep rising since the locals seem to know, or at least think they know what we're looking for. Eventually Panama will become like Costa Rica, a place that used to be cheap enough to retire to until too many moved in and prices went up. So in the meantime we'll avoid buying Sara Lee Cakes, Ben & Jerry's Ice Cream and other pricey imports and stick to the local brands that we'd never heard of before packing up and heading out.....along the gringo trail.

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