How we use the word “gringo” and why it’s important

Imagine this scene: (it happened last Sunday)

I’m walking along the questionable sidewalks of Panama with my sister and dad. Suddenly my sister stabs me in the side.

“Did you hear that?” She hisses. “What?” I said. “Those guys.” She said. “They said a bunch of Spanish and the word “gringos.”

Yes. It happens a lot. Like I’ve written before, I was self-conscious in the U.S. and I am trying to get over that here because self-conscious gringos will not survive in a country where white skin is semi-rare.

Not just a noun

Those guys were using gringo as a noun. My family and I are “gringos.”

But “gringo” is also used in Panama as a┬áverb.

Two weeks ago I was shopping in a fruit market with some friends. One was an expat named Fred. After buying two pineapples, Fred pulled me aside. “I think I got gringoed,” he whispered. In other words, overcharged.

So yes. White skin means money, in Panama. So the pineapple that costs $.60 for a Panamanian with jet-black hair and brown skin may cost you $1.50.

Some expats even send Panamanian friends to stores, markets, etc. to make purchases, because they get much better deals.

Many things here are not labeled with prices: backpacks, fruit, taxi rides, umbrellas, tourist stuff, shawls, etc. If you have to ask for a price, you could get gringoed.

Use your limited Spanish

If you are a gringo living in Panama right now, you will want to read this story:

Recently my father traveled to Costa Rica. He was trying to get a hotel. The lady quoted him $53.00.

My dad doesn’t know a lot of Spanish, but what he knows, he uses. Wondering if that was a good price, he said,

“Pensarlo.” (I think he was trying to say, “I’ll think about it.” In reality it translates to something like, “think about it.”)

But even that little Spanish worked. The lady made a phone call and dropped the price to $25.00!

(I was once in a similar situation as my dad, about purchasing a jacket. I decided to think about it, and said so. I started walking away and the seller cut $10.00 off the price.)

Panama prices

Living in Panama is supposed to be cheaper. Maybe it is, maybe it’s not. If you want to live like you live in the U.S. (Fast Internet, beautiful house, U.S. food, etc.) you won’t be living cheaper. It may even cost you more.

But one way to live cheaper here? Don’t get gringoed. (Have’t quite figured out how to avoid it though – barring dying my hair black and my skin brown.)

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