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Saturday, September 22, 2012

No bending the rules in Panama

Hey everybody,

I had a post ready to go today, but at the last second I decided to hold off on that one because I just got back from the El Rey supermarket in Villa Lucre and my head is about to explode. I try to put a comical twist on the everyday frustrations here in this great country, so I don't come across as negative, but man...sometimes that's hard to do. I love my wife (she's Panamanaian) and I love this country. Panama has a lot going for it, but there's something that drives me nuts here.

Panamanians don't bend the rules. They don't even try to understand the situation. In some ways, Panamanian workers are like robots, with little emotion or sympathy for their fellow Panamanians or for anyone else. Let me explain.

Today, I went to pick up money from Western Union. On a piece of paper I had the name of the person sending it, the control number, and the amount written down. That way I could just hand the paper to the attendant instead of trying to explain in my broken Spanish. I went to Farmacia Metro first. Their Western Union wouldn't be open until 4 p.m. for some reason, so I went next door to the El Rey supermarket. At the counter I explained that I needed to use their Western Union service, and I handed the lady the sheet of paper with all the information. She asked for ID. I gave her my immigration ID (which should be enough considering it's supposed to take the place of the passport).

She said, "No, passaporte."

I was prepared, having gone through a ton of issues with not having my passport handy, so I pulled my passport out of my pocket and handed it over. Then she starts examining my passport, checking it to the computer system, and then starts explaining something in Spanish that I couldn't really understand. Finally, I figured out that she was not going to give me the money. My passport reads "Christopher Michael Powers." The sender put my name as Christopher M. Powers. I explained to her that it's the same thing. In the U.S. we don't even really use our middle names. The letter M. stands for Michael. She refused, handing the paper and the passport back to me. I asked for the manager, and the manager was as rude as the attendant, rolling her eyes and saying that it has to match.

Ok, so some may say that it's my fault for not making sure the sender put my middle name instead of only the initial. This isn't the only time I've dealt with this though. Even the simplest things here, if they're beyond the usual, completely confuse Panamanian workers.

This is the El Rey where I nearly lost it

I was in KFC (Kentucky Fried Chicken) here one day. I don't usually order a chicken sandwich, but when I do eat one, I like to have a slice of cheese on it. The chicken sandwich doesn't come with cheese though. In the States, if you ask for cheese, they'll charge you a little extra for a slice of cheese. I'm very willing to pay the 50 cents or whatever it costs for a slice of cheese. Here, they just told me that it doesn't come with cheese. I asked if they can put cheese on it, and it was like I was asking for something out of this world. They refused to put cheese on my sandwich.

At my bank, Banco General, I went into one of the branches after having problems with their ATMs. Their system was down or something so my debit card wouldn't work at my daughter's eye doctor. I needed cash, but none of the ATMs were working. So I went into this branch to get $30 out of my account. I approached the counter, handed over my passport, and the withdrawal slip, and waited as the guy started comparing my passport to what they had in the system. Then he tells me I have to go to some woman's office. I go there and she starts telling me that my signature on the withdrawal slip doesn't match the signature in the system.

So I pulled out my passport again and showed her the signature on my passport. She explained that the signature on my passport doesn't match the signature in the system either. I had no idea what they were talking about. I just wanted $30 from my own account to pay the eye doctor. I asked to speak with a manager, who turned out to speak English very well, as if she were from the States. I explained the situation to her, and she was as rude as everyone else.

Finally, I realized that the signature they had in the system was from my original passport, which I'd used when I opened my account. I opened my account only about a year ago, but I used the passport I had at the time, which had been issued nearly 10 years earlier. I was 20 years old when I got that first passport. I'm 33 now. My signature has changed a lot. I told the lady I was a kid back when I wrote my name that way. So how were we going to fix this problem? I need to be able to get money out of my own account. She told me I'd have to go to the branch where I originally opened my account, and apply for a signature change, or something like that. I lost it at that point and started telling this manager how horrible their service is and whatever else I could think of to say at the time.

When I was finished venting she said, "I never said I wasn't going to give you the money?"

I was so pissed. Why would she put me through all that nonsense and then make a comment like that. Anyways, I got my 30 dollars.

The point I'm trying to make you're planning to move to Panama, be prepared to deal with these kinds of things. Do they happen in the States? Of course they do, but I honestly think if the Western Union thing had happened there, the attendant would have had enough analytical skills to think, "Hmm, this guy has provided me with the sender's name, the amount, the control number, and his passport. His middle name is Michael, but we have M. here in the system. Yeah, I'm pretty sure this is the right guy."