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Monday, November 4, 2013

Panama's week of patriotic festivities

Hi everybody,

I just want to start by saying thank you so much to everyone who has visited the new site at and for all of the support, the super sweet emails, and the rapid growth of my subscriber list. I'm so excited about all this. I promise not to bother the subscribers. You probably won't hear from me any more than once every two weeks and that will only be to share any new posts or info we've posted since the last e-letter. No sales BS from this guy. I hope you've had the chance to  check out the videos as well as it seems some people haven't noticed they're there on the site. If you want to take a quick look at any videos, check out our Youtube channel at:

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I love this blog so I'm definitely going to keep it going, but you'll also find these blog posts on the PFR site's blog if you'd rather read them there. I think that blog looks a little big cleaner, but this one is easier to operate, so I like writing the posts here, then copying them to that site. 

Alright, back to today's post. Today is the day of Panama's Patriotic Symbols. It used to be Flag Day, but they changed it last year so that it now includes the national anthem and the emblem as well. This whole week is practically a week out of work/school for most Panamanians to celebrate Panama's many independence days and patriotic festivities. The parades have taken to the streets and everyone is having a great time. My kids don't go back to school until Wednesday so they're definitely happy. You wouldn't believe how quiet the streets are right now and how easy they are to navigate (in Panama City) with half the population gone to the interior of the country for the long weekend. Marlene turned to me last night at the dinner table and asked, "Do you hear that?" 

"Hear what?" I replied.

"Exactly," she said. 

It was super quiet. No honking horns, no loud music blasting from taxi windows, and not even the sound of barking dogs. The dogs must have headed to the beach too. 

Panama flags are for sale everywhere

Panamanians are very patriotic. Anytime there's a major futbol/soccer game involving the Panama team, nearly everyone on the street is wearing a red jersey or T-shirt. And it's normal to see cars displaying the flag on the day of any game or around any patriotic holiday.

A patriotic family in Santa Elena

The Day of the Dead, or Dia de los Muertos, is November 2nd, but doesn't show up on many lists of Panamanian holidays. It's definitely a day that's taken seriously in Panama though. It's the day people pay their respects to loved ones who've passed away. I made the mistake of driving past a cemetery on Saturday, the 2nd, and I got stuck in traffic for about an hour. 

Marlene paying her respects on Dia de los Muertos

On this day, you'll find vendors selling flowers in the medians of most streets and along the sides of the roads that lead to the cemeteries. A lot of people go to Colon to pick up more affordable fake flowers. My mother-in-law came home with bunches of fake flowers to take out to some of her family's loved ones. 

Flowers on the way to the cemetery

As much as it seems like a sad holiday, people seem in good spirits headed to the cemetery. Vendors are set up outside, selling everything from raspados (snow cones) to my favorite coconut ice cream to hot dogs and sodas. 

Vendors in front of the cemetery on Santa Elena

I'll never forget my first year in Panama and the first run-in I had with these holidays. Here, the Day of the Dead takes place the day before the first of Panama's independence days. Their day of independence from Colombia is on the 3rd of November. So, when my wife said to me, "Tomorrow is Independence Day." I went in to my good ol' boy American mode and thought, "Well hell, what goes with Independence Day? Barbecue and beer of course!" I was excited to celebrate my first Panamanian Independence Day. So I headed to the supermarket. 

In the supermarket, when I went to grab my beer, I noticed there was masking tape marked in an "X" across the entire beer and liquor shelf. I figured they must be doing some sort of construction and it was their attempt at keeping the liquor on the shelf if it shook or something. It was a stupid thought now that I think about it, but at the time it seemed to make sense. 

When I got to the cash register, the cashier looked at me like I was crazy and took the beer from me and set it on the side. With no Spanish speaking ability, I had no idea why she'd taken the beer. So, I asked in my best broken up Spanish, what was going on. I didn't understand the answer. But I took the beer and placed it back onto the conveyor belt. 

The guy bagging my groceries started laughing. The woman took the beer away from me again. I was thinking, "Hmm, is that beer not for sale? Did I take it off of some sort of display or something? Do I need to grab a different brand of beer?" 

Finally a manager came over and tried to explain to me, in Spanish, what was going on. At some point, one of the customers behind me finally said, "No alcohol on Dia de los Muertos." Turns out, on the Day of the Dead, out of respect for the dead, you can't buy alcohol. I felt like such a dumb ass. 

This year, at the Rey supermarket in Chanis, they posted signs 
instead of the masking tape "X" like previous years.

I went home and said to my wife, "Not being able to buy alcohol today would have been some good information to have before I made a complete ass of myself." She'd been in the U.S. with me since we got married when she was 18 and I was 20, so she'd forgotten all about it. 

No beer on November 2nd

I've learned my lesson since that embarrassing time back in 2009. Now I make sure I pick up my beer in advance. Or I just wait 'till the morning of the first Independence Day and do my shopping then. Just thought I'd fill you in on this handy piece of information so you don't make the same "gringo" mistake I did. 

Thanks for reading, and don't forget to check out