Tuesday, December 9, 2014

An Afternoon On The Town.......

One day last week we were in need of some groceries and I insisted that Clyde take me out to lunch before shopping. Off to our favorite cheap restaurant we went, which coincidentally IS inside a grocery store. "CafĂ© Caney" is a large, cafeteria style restaurant that's attached to El Machetazo, a local department store chain but on the grocery side. With a choice of maybe ten different meats and many more sides, there's something for everyone.  But first we had to figure out just what each item was before making our final decision.  Usually on "Viernes" or Friday they have a delicious, lightly breaded, fried fish, but yesterday, "no hay," in other words, "they didn't have any." We saw a variety of "pollo"....chicken and "puerco" .....pork, some of which was pink and resembled ham but the clerk said it wasn't "jamon."   We selected something that looked like a boneless pork chop although it went by some other name.  Pork chops here are called, "chuleta," and this was not that but something else. The girl dished out two pieces of meat which we knew was enough for both of us to share.  We added some sides.....potato salad for Clyde and a Greek salad for me and as always we drank the free water that's offered.  Our whole bill came to a whopping $4 and some change......a cheap, tasty lunch for two in Panama.

Next I wanted some gold shiny ribbon to tie onto ornaments for the Christmas tree, so upstairs we went to the fabric department in the same store. Quickly I found what I wanted and waited at the cutting table for the clerk to come over and cut the ribbon for us but no one ever showed up. Nearby the fabric department is a counter that does gift wrapping along with sales of gift cards.  With Christmas just around the corner there was a long line of customers waiting to have packages wrapped for FREE. Clyde went over to the gift wrapping desk to ask them to call someone to the cutting table.  One of the women told him in Spanish that she would be there as soon as she finished wrapping the package she was working on.  We waited......and waited.....and waited what seemed like an eternity.  The women carefully, and ever so slowly wrapped the box neatly before adding a bow, card and whatever else the customer wanted.  It must have taken here 20 minutes or more before she came over to cut my ribbon.  The pretty gold ribbon was just 15 cents per meter and we asked for 10 meters since it was so cheap.

Frustrating as it might be, Panamanians are the most patient people in the world and nothing, I mean nothing makes move quicker or hurry at anything.  But this trait IS what makes most gringo's fall in love with Latin American countries.  The mere fact that the locals are laid back and seem to live life at a much slower pace then the rest of the world.  Yet it eventually turns into a frustration of every day life here and just something that we have to get used to.

Downstairs we paid for our ribbon and a few groceries at the register. Like so many others, our cashier was amused by our credit card that proudly displays a photo of Clyde and I smiling nicely.  Apparently credit cards here don't offer the option to put a photo on them, something we find a great security bonus.  As usual the cashier showed the card to the baggers and other nearby cashiers, all smiling and making comments about how nice it is to have our photo on the card.

During the transaction before ours the cashier dropped something into the folds of the chair she was sitting on. Without getting up she searched, felt around and did everything she could to retrieve the coin without moving off of the chair.  You see cashiers here ALL SIT at their registers and they WILL NOT move for any reason.  Perhaps they're told when they get hired that IF they move off the stool they will be fired?  Or just maybe there's a special breed of Panamanian that's born with chairs permanently affixed to their butts and they're destined to be cashiers? Whatever the case may be if your ice cream doesn't make it's way down the conveyor belt the cashier WILL NOT, for any reason get up to reach for it.  That my friend is the job of the customer to make sure that ALL of the groceries move along the conveyor belt.  Once the items are scanned by the cashier the baggers on the other end will bag the groceries and tie the bags shut.  On the rare occasion that a cashier does not have a bagger she will NOT bag anything that's out of her reach, but instead it will just sit there.  Typically in Panama EACH cashier will have 3-6 bag boys that stand around, eager to help who we think only work for tips from the customers. And these bag boys will take your groceries outside to your car, a taxi stop or even to a bus stop for a small tip in return.

After lunch we jumped into the car and headed off to the town of San Carlos, about ten minutes away for our produce.  A tiny co-op sits in the center of this busy village that's loaded with local produce, beans, meats, eggs and other stuff at low prices since it's where the locals shop. Typically we spend maybe $10-$15 for enough produce to last a few weeks.  Such items include cabbage, carrots, onions, bell peppers, cucumbers, tomatoes, egg plant, celery and fruits such as bananas and pineapple. 

Our next stop was a local "panaderia," or bakery where we could get some ice cream.  At first it seemed strange to us that a bakery would sell "helado"..... ice cream but why not?  We've all enjoyed cake with ice cream at birthday parties so why not merchandise them together?  The prices per large scoop are 80 cents for one or $1.30 for two, served in a Styrofoam cup.  I choose "cereal" which is called that cause it's sprinkled with a grape nut type of cereal throughout. Clyde wanted his favorite "fresa" or strawberry but the closest thing they had was neapolitan so he went for that.  Unlike the vanilla, chocolate, strawberry that goes by the name neapolitan in the states, this version had all three flavors swirled together.....not a pretty sight, but he ate it anyway.

Then off for our usual grocery shopping experience which has become normal to us after living here for three years now.  Some oddities in the grocery stores here:  whole chickens are sold with the feet and head.  Milk is sold in boxes and not refrigerated, although the usual cold version is here too. Eggs are displayed on a shelf near the produce in one store and near the meats in another, but are never refrigerated. This time of year raisins and other dried fruits are sold near the fresh produce since they're used for holiday baking.....fruit cake is popular here and rather tasty.  Dried green tea and other herbs are sold in the pharmacy as well as the tea aisle.  Panamanians go to their garden when ill instead of the pharmacy. Herbal teas made from scratch are widely used here to alleviate all types of ailments. Just heard about a remedy for colds from a friend who heard it from a local.  Take 7 mango leaves from a tree and boil them in 1- 1/2 cups of water. Boil until it reduces down to a small amount then drink it as a tea.  It will stop a cough help the person sleep though the night.

Yesterday was Mother's Day in Panama along with the Feast of The Immaculate Conception.  Stores everywhere had racks displaying nightgowns and pajamas for 99 cents for Mama along with mugs and other silly little gifts. But the day is really all about people going to visit their Mom's since family values are a big part of everyday life in Latin cultures. As for us gringo mother's and father's alike we wasted away the afternoon hours socializing with friends over sangria. It was CASA (Coronado Area's Social Association) Kickoff to The Holidays Party at our friend Louise's house. Everyone enjoyed some adult beverages as we watched the sunset over the palm trees in her backyard. Another end to a great day in Panama with friends......along the gringo trail.


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