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Panama: Communication Styles

2017-05-27
by Goinglobal

Because of its diversity of ethnicities and cultures, it is always a good idea to follow the host’s lead when it comes to acceptable behavior. What is acceptable to one culture in Panama might not be to another. Generally speaking, Panamanian culture is formal, and it is important to show respect and consideration to others.

Communication Styles  

Upon first meeting, it is most appropriate to address a person with ‘señor‘ (for males), ‘señora’ (for married females) or ‘señorita’ (for single females), plus the last name. Most Hispanics have two surnames: one from their father, which is listed first, followed by one from their mother. Only the father’s surname is used when addressing someone.
 
Professionals holding a degree are referred to by mentioning that degree. Thus, terms like ‘Licentiate’ (Licenciado/a), ‘Engineer’ (Ingeniero/a), ‘Doctor’ (Doctor/a) and ‘Architect’ (Arquitecto/a) usually precede the individual’s name, and often only the title is mentioned. Exceptions are determined by company culture; in the public sector, it is common to use these.
 
Some women maintain the tradition of taking their husbands’ last name preceded by ‘de’ when they get married (e.g., Sara de Martinelli or Señora de Martinelli). For official purposes, women keep their maiden names, which are a combination of their fathers’ and mothers’ last names. Thus a woman named Sara Arosemena Blanco married to Juan Martinelli could use the name Sara Arosemena Blanco de Martinelli.
 
Common courtesies used when meeting someone include mucho gusto and un placer (both meaning ‘a pleasure’).
 
Panamanians are warm, animated and cordial. They tend to touch each other when conversing and maintain close proximity. When greeting in an informal setting, a single kiss is given on the cheek, while handshakes are used in business situations. For phone calls and written correspondence between family and friends, common closing greetings include un beso (‘a kiss’) or un abrazo (‘a hug’).
 
Appropriate conversation topics include family, hobbies, Panama’s tourist attractions, the Panama Canal, local, international, social or economic news, new investment in the country, free trade agreements, soccer and other seasonal sports activities. Topics like race problems, politics or religion should be avoided.
 
Panamanian nationals are usually very hospitable, but they will not invite others into their homes until a personal relationship has developed. If you are invited to a Panamanian home, you should bring a small gift, such as candy or chocolate, a bottle of wine or flowers. If your hosts have children, bringing them a small gift also will be well received.
 
Panamanians are conscious of public image and reputation; they avoid conflict and often will agree with someone to avoid embarrassing the other person. 

Language Skills 

The official language in Panama is Spanish, but there also are a number of indigenous and foreign languages, including Hakka, Arabic, Hebrew, Ember, San Blas Kuna, Teribe and Epena, but their usage tends to be localized.
 
Because of the widespread presence of North Americans in Panama, English is spoken fluently by about 15 percent of the urban population, mainly among middle- and upper-level managers or other elite businesspeople. While most businesses use Spanish as their general business language, English is used in some businesses, particularly those with an international focus. It is rare, however, to find English-speakers outside the capital city. Anglicisms and slang have made their way into informal Spanish in Panama. 

Vocabulary 

Below are some helpful words and phrases in Panamanian Spanish and Latin American Spanish. 

Panamanian Spanish: 

Juega vivo, difficult to translate to English, but literally meaning ‘play alive’ or ‘play sharp,’ is a term one will encounter widely in Panama. It refers those who might take advantage of a situation, or ‘look out for number one.’
 
Tranque – much traffic, many cars on the street.
 
Ayala vida!/Ayala Peste! – Expression of surprise, used whenever necessary
 
Estar enredada/do – very busy, with a lot of work to do
 
Yeyé – somebody with a lot of money; elegant and popular
 
Chuleta – exclamation used when something wrong or unexpected happens
 
Chifear – to ignore somebody or a particular situation 

Latin American Spanish: 

buscar empleo – to look for employment
 
buscar trabajo – to look for a job
 
carrera – career
 
contratación – hiring
 
departamento – apartment
 
desempañar – to perform
 
empleo fijo – permanent job
 
jornada semanal – working hours per week
 
manejar – to drive a vehicle
 
permiso laboral – work permit
 
trabajo, empleo – job, work
 
visa laboral – work visa 

False Friends

Asistir does not mean to assist, but to attend
 
El campo means the countryside and not to go camping
 
Un compromiso means a commitment, not a compromise
 
Contestar means to answer (in reply) and not to contest (a bill)
 
Despertar(se) means to wake up, not to be desperate
 
Embarazada means to be pregnant, not embarrassed
 
Un éxito is a hit or success, not an exit (salida)
 
Fútbol means soccer, not American football
 
Recordar means to remind or remember, not to record
 
Ropa is clothing, not a rope
 
Sensible means (emotionally) sensitive, and not sensible in the sense of being rational or pragmatic
 
Sopa is soup and not soap (jabón)
 
A useful website for further vocabulary is http://www.businessspanish.com/(link is external).

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