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Thursday, April 24, 2014

10 Things You Should Know About Dating In Panama

True love. Is it worth it to take a chance at finding love in a foreign country? I did. And I just passed the 13-year mark with Marlene. Well, you can't fall in love without putting yourself out there and playing the dating game, whether it be in the physical world or in the online arena. So what's different about dating someone from Panama? Let's talk about that.

"I met Marlene in Alaska, when she was there visiting her cousin, and I just
couldn't let her escape back to Panama without me." -Chris (U.S.)

A lot of people move to Panama with a spouse, making them part of an adventurous couple ready to settle down in this Central American wonderland. For those people, this article might not provide much need-to-know info, but I think, in many ways they could still benefit from this, because many of the topics I'll discuss in this article have to do with how we conduct ourselves in public. Life in Panama is different, and by acting the way we did back home, we can sometimes ostracize ourselves.

Now, for single people moving to Panama, and maybe even some Panamanians in the dating game, I hope this article gives you some new insight on the mixing and mingling world of love and new friendships. Now, before someone writes in saying, “Wait a minute, Chris. You’ve been married for 13 years. What would you know about dating in this day and age?” Totally true. I have been married to my Panamanian wife, Marlene, for a long time. However, both Marlene and I, have worked in Panama. We’ve been around young singles and not-so-young singles, and we’ve heard all the stories, all the complaints, and all the expectations. You should hear some of the stories we’ve been privy too.

Through what we’ve both learned, we’ve compiled a list, and I want to share that with you now. These are in no specific order, and as always, I don’t aim to upset anyone, not Panamanian and not readers from any other country. I love Panama and its people, so in no way is this meant to insult anyone.  

Just like when I wrote my 10 Things You’ll Hate About Panama article, which you can read HERE if you missed it, and in my 15 Quirky Things About Panama, which you can read HERE, I’m sure I’ll have people write in saying they’ve never seen or heard of such things and that I’m full of it. Someone wrote that they’ve never seen anyone put ketchup on food here in Panama and wondered where I’m getting my info. So again, these are all things I’ve either witnessed myself or have heard from friends, coworkers, or family members. This is Panama For Real. Let’s get to dating in Panama.

Before breaking down this list of 10 things you should know, I think it’s important to say that I know what a lot of people are expecting me to add to the list. It’s no secret that men (and women) have moved to Panama and have been swindled by some money-hungry, gold-digging lover. It happens. But as with most things negative here in Panama, it happens all over the world, and that’s why I haven’t added the subject to the 10 things list, but will address it on its own.

If you flip through the TV channels and check out some of the reality shows, you’ll see that in the U.S. plenty of young women are going after older men with money. If you turn to the world of online dating, it’s easy to find Latinas searching for wealthy men, Russian mail order brides, Asian seductresses, and American escorts all looking for a buck. It happens everywhere and definitely isn’t unique to Panama. And it's not unique to women. Ladies are screwed over by young men trying to sleep their way to the top, all the time, and gay men and women encounter this situation too. 

When you think about it, it’s just a big game. If you’re an older, single guy here in Panama, trying to pick up a 20-something sex kitten, you have to know what you’re setting yourself up for. You want that sex kitten for a reason, and that sex kitten is going to get something out of it too. If you’re an older woman, searching for a young, muscle-bound stud, a boy toy, chances are, he’s got goals too.

"I'm a REAL Panamanian woman. I'm single and open to finding 
an honest, fun, and loving man. No games here." -Lupe (Panama)

And it's not just young men and women pulling this scam. Unfortunately, in this day and age, it's the haves and the have-nots. And there are plenty of people in Panama, and everywhere else, more than willing to date someone just because they think he or she has money. So just be careful. If you're out with someone you're freshly dating and they hint that they like a pair of shoes, okay, maybe you buy them a gift. But if it turns out they continuously ask for these "gifts" and every date seems to be a trip to the mall, you might want to stop and think about what you're getting yourself into.

That said, it’s important to note that Panama is full of lovely ladies and respectable gentlemen, more than willing to start an honest relationship with the right person. You, as a foreigner, just need to get realistic with your searching. You don’t go to South Beach in Miami and find the youngest blond with the biggest boobs in a string bikini, because you want to settle down and have a loving relationship, come on. And chances are, this bombshell doesn’t have her sights set on a 70-year-old man. 

So you also don’t go to Panama, hit the casinos, and find the youngest, hottest, guy or gal with the tightest body. You have to look deeper than that if you want to find a good man or woman in Panama, just like anyplace else.

My Canadian friend, Michael, just moved to Panama and had an
unfortunate experience with dating. He's single again, ladies!

You’ll notice that I’ve included photos of single people and some couples in this article. Real people are out there. And the couples? These are all interracial couples (sounds weird to call it that), Panamanians who’ve met and have fallen in love with someone from a foreign country. So it can be done. These are people who are in committed relationships. So let’s talk about some of the stuff that makes these relationships work.

The list you’re about to read is the 10 Things You Should Know About Dating In Panama. Some of it might be a bit controversial. It might piss some people off, but none of this is fairytale. This is all info collected from single people out in the dating world. You may not agree with some of it, but I’m sure if you ask around, you’ll find someone who does. And as always, this doesn’t pertain to every single Panamanian or gringo or other foreigner, but it does apply to quite a few of them, lol.

Dress Appropriately – 

This is probably the number one complaint I hear from Panamanian friends. "Why do gringos always look like backpackers? Why don't they ever dress up?"

Now this is a pimped out way to dress for a date

I get it, trust me, I do. If your life back home was anything like mine (I wore a suit 5 days a week), you’re loving being able to throw on shorts, a tank top, and a pair of flip flops. And that’s fine if you’re just lounging around your home, chilling out in a hammock, or running in to the supermarket real quick to pick up some eggs. But if you’re going on a date, Panamanians would hope that you’d dress accordingly.  

“I went on a date one time and this guy showed up in shorts, sneakers, and a T-shirt. We were just going to the movies, but I wanted to dress to impress him and apparently he didn’t care to do the same.” -Lisette (Panama)

That’s a very real situation. Just because we’re in a place with a laidback lifestyle, don’t leave your manners back home. Whether you’re a man or a woman, if you’re going out on a date, it’s a good idea to dress as if their opinion of you matters. At least throw on a pair of jeans, some casual shoes, and a button up shirt or polo. And cologne or perfume is also greatly appreciated J.

You Might Meet The Parents – 

Unlike in the U.S., where we’re all itching to get out on our own as soon as we reach the age of 18, Panamanians will typically stay at home until they’re married. This could mean well into their 30s. It really doesn’t matter the age. If they’re single, they might still live at home.

"I met Alberto when we lived in the same building. He courted
me by constantly making me Panamanian derretidos." (Lilieth, Nicaragua) 

Now, this doesn’t apply to all Panamanians. I know plenty living on their own, but it’s very common here to share a home with your parents. I have friends who’ve left the home, one has even gotten married, and after the divorce, he’s back with his parents. This is a very family oriented country. So there’s nothing wrong with that. Sometimes it’s the opposite, and it’s the single parent moving back in with the child. I’ve seen that too.

How does this apply to dating? Well, first, you might unexpectedly meet mom, and second, you might not get invited in at the end of the date, not if there are family members waiting inside. Panama is huge on respect for the family. So make sure you keep that in mind.

Don’t Be A Wallflower – 

One of the biggest turn offs for Panamanian women especially, but it also applies to Panamanian men, is a date who doesn’t dance. Dancing is a big part of Panamanian culture. If you’re young, you’ll probably end up in a nightclub (still called discos here) with reggaeton, rap, and techno. If you’re a little older, you’ll probably be taken to a salsa or tipico club, so be ready to dance.

"Randy and I worked together for awhile. It wasn't until after I left the job that he 
got the guts to ask me out." -Anabell (Panama, Randy is from the U.S.)

The good news? It doesn’t necessarily matter whether or not you can dance. It matters that you try. Marlene used to get so mad at me because I didn’t want to dance. I always felt like people would make fun of me and giggle, like, “Look at the goofy gringo.” And they probably do. Now, I try to just get out on the dance floor and have a good time. Sure, there are times when I don’t feel like dancing, but Marlene will usually convince me.

If You Don’t Dance, Someone Else Will – 

I’ve written before about the “no shame” Panamanian men, and some women display. If a man likes you in Panama, he’s going to tell you, either with a whistle, a hiss, or a honk of the horn. And some women are the same.

This applies to dating too. Don’t be surprised to see men staring at your date (or women).

If you're afraid to dance, take a salsa class

A friend told us about one night when she was at a casino, with a guy she’d been dating for awhile. They were having a great time, dancing the night away to the live band. When they finally took a break and sat down for a second, a guy immediately approached, completely ignored her date, and asked her if she’d like to dance. She was surprised because she’d had men look at her and flirt with her and stuff, but it was the first time she’d been approached like that while with her boyfriend. She turned the guy down and had to calm her boyfriend down, who was not surprisingly pissed.

So, back to the dancing thing. This guy had been dancing with his date and someone still tried to step in, so imagine if you’re just sitting at a table, and your lady looks bored (or your man). There’s a good chance someone might come along to turn that frown upside down.

Don’t Be Afraid To Speak Spanish – 

My Spanish still stucks. I’m very well aware of that, but I’m forced to try all day, every day, in order to get my point across. I understand that some people are embarrassed to try (I still am sometimes), but if you’re on a date with someone who speaks very little, if any, English, it will be so much appreciated if you just try.

"The moment I met Tom 17 years ago in Japan, I knew he was trouble."
-Virginia (Panama/U.S., Tom is from the U.S.)

So don't be afraid. If your date laughs or giggles a little, they’re probably not making fun of you. It’s usually because they find it cute that you’re trying. It’s the same when someone tries to speak English around you. I used to love my wife’s accent and found it not only cute, but extremely sexy when she’d try to speak English. Now, she’s great with English (and still sexy honey, don’t worry) and I hardly notice an accent.

If you’re at a dinner, try to use a little bit of Spanish when glancing over a menu. What better way to communicate and flirt a little than having your date help you with your language skills? Plus, after a couple glasses of wine, you might even find it a little easier to roll your Rs.  

Watch Out For That Latin Jealousy

For a place where the people seem shameless, there’s definitely no shortage of jealousy.  Panama is full of hot women and handsome studs, so don’t let your eyes wander when you’re with your date. You can try and play it off all you want, but they’ll probably notice and it’s not the best way to get the ball rolling. It’s no different form any other place in the world, really. If you start your date by checking out other women (or men), that’s keying your date in on the fact that you’ll probably continue doing it throughout the relationship.

"Gay relationships in Panama can be a bit confusing and difficult because
Panamanians are so sensitive and jealous. I haven't found my soul mate yet, 
but I'm still in the process of searching." -Phablo (Guatemala, living in Panama)

And unfortunately, Panamanian men aren’t know for being loyal to their women. It’s a fact, a sad one, but true. I know people in the States and in other countries cheat on their spouses, but I never heard about it there the way I do here. I’m always hearing stories about cheating spouses, and most of the time it’s the double-dealing husband. So Panamanian women expect that. It’s up to you to show them something different. And trust me, if you set off down an unfaithful path, you’re going to see a fiery temper fly.

Here’s Whatsapp -  

Right now it’s Whatsapp, but in the future it could be any text messaging service or hot phone application. Whatsapp, if you don’t already know, is a free app you can download for your Smartphone. It allows you to chat with other people, I think anyplace in the world (I text friends and family in the U.S. all the time), as if they were right here in Panama. It’s hugely popular here.

What does that mean? It means you might end up speaking to your date through text messaging over the phone instead of actually speaking. It’s just the way things are here. So it’s a good idea to download the app ahead of time to make it easy to communicate.

"We met while working together in the U.S., and moved to Panama last year.
12 years of marriage and still going strong." -Alyce (U.S., Juan Carlos is from Panama)

Something to add, don’t be surprised to see your date text messaging during dinner or a movie. I know, I know, it’ unacceptable. It drives you crazy. And it’s not a good sign on a first date (or any date for that matter), but Panama is ridiculously plugged in. Everyone, and I mean everyone from age 12 (or younger) to age 70 (and up) has a Smartphone and is constantly checking it.

I mentioned on Facebook just the other day that I was shocked to see a girl on the back of a motorcycle, chatting away with both hands while the driver zigzagged through traffic. That girl must really trust her thighs.

You Said 8 o’clock (ish) right? – 

I can hear my Panamanian friends groaning on this one, but come on guys, it’s so true. Tardiness is just part of Panama’s maƱana attitude. Everything is super chill and relaxed here, which is one of the main reasons you’re interested in Panama, right? I mean we all come here hoping to escape some of the stress and work-before-life mentality. Well, that relaxation carries into all parts of life here.

"I met this devil dog at a Farewell party, we started hanging out with no expectations, 
and love just happened. We've been together 4 years now. Couldn't be happier." 
-Dafne (Panama, Brendan is from the U.S.)

If you’re planning a party, you need to know that if you tell people to show up at 7pm, no one will arrive until after 8 (if that early). I found this out when I threw my first big birthday bash. I worked at a call center and invited almost everyone in the building. I think the party started at 9pm or something like that. At 9:30 I was standing in my empty living room thinking, “Damn, this sucks.” The neighbors were having a hoppin’ party down the street. Why was mine so dead?

By 11pm my party was almost out of control. I had people on the back balcony, stuffed into both living rooms, and out in front of our house on the street. 

I tell you this because you need to know ahead of time that if you tell your date to be ready, or to meet you, at 8pm, expect them to be ready at 9. It’s not meant to be disrespectful and it doesn’t mean they’re going to stand you up, it probably just means they haven’t arrived yet, and it’s as simple as that.

Push Buttons – 

I don’t know whether you kiss on the first date or not, and I don’t know how many dates you’re going on with your potential suitor, so I have no idea of knowing how it will end up. Let’s say things escalate and you’re both all hot and heavy, looking for a place to do the ditty. We’ve already established that there’s a good chance you won’t be able to go back to their place and I know nothing about your place. Maybe you’re staying in a crowded hostel or maybe you have kids at home with the nanny. For whatever reason, you’re looking for a place to wind down your date.

If you’ve ever seen those buildings on the side of Transistmica or Avenida Domingo Diaz or many other places, the ones that look like cheap Vegas hotels, and didn’t know what they were, they’re called Push Buttons. They’re basically in-and-out, convenient places for people to have a secret rendezvous. They're not whore houses as some people seem to think. You'll need to bring a date with you.

This is a push button

When you drive in, you’ll see a bunch of open garage doors. Just pull your car in, park, turn off the ignition (seriously, people have been nervous and ended up dead from leaving their car running in the garage), and push the button to close the garage door. That signals someone inside that you want a room. Prices differ, depending on the type of room (you pay more for the fancier ones) and the amount of time you want to use the room. I think the average for a cheap room is about $12 for two hours, something like that.

The attendant will take your payment through a slot in the door and then you can enter. You never see the attendant and your car is secure in the garage, so it’s all secret and discreet. I’ll write more about this some other time, but I just thought you should know, in case you’re nearing the end of your date and you’re either being driven into a push button, your date mentions it, or it’s your idea altogether.

Using Protection -

I have to be careful with this one, because it might upset people. I won’t say that EVERYONE in the U.S. uses a condom during sex, but I can tell you that it seems that NO ONE wears one here. Ok, I’m sure some people do, lol. 

However, I've heard some wild and crazy sex stories, from people with no shame, blurting out their adventures for all to hear. Sometimes, after hearing these insane hook up stories, I'd say, "Please tell me you wore a condom.” The reply was always something like, “Ha, what? No.”

This was the reply when talking to male and female coworkers, gay and straight. I met a guy one time that was dating one girl, sleeping with another girl, and had just hooked up with a 3rd random girl. None of these 3 girls knew what was going on. Was he wearing a condom? Not with any of them.

I was talking with Marlene about it, when planning to write this post, and she said the exact same thing, that she was blown away by the amount of people not wearing protection. These are young college kids and business professionals, young and older.

Condom directions on our hotel nightstand in Las Tablas

So, whether you’re dating someone of the same sex, or the opposite sex, this is something you need to keep in mind. I’m not going to sit here and preach to people, but seriously, for your safety, for the safety of your date, and to make sure there aren’t any more single mothers out there, you should seriously think about using a condom.

If you’re reading this article, and you’re not someone who goes without protection, ask around. You might be shocked to find out how many people are going at it completely naked. 

Well, that's it for the 10 Things You Should Know About Dating In Panama. I'm sure some of you out there could easily come up with more. If so, fill us in in the comments section below.

Thanks for reading and thanks to everyone who sent in photos for this article. You guys rock! 

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