I’m struggling to improve my Spanish. Meantime, I’m struggling daily in all kinds of other ways, too.
I walked out of a shop in the mall the other morning, with armloads of packages, and the door alarm beeped. The security guard standing nearby motioned me over…and then spoke to me in very fast Spanish that I couldn’t comprehend at all.
“¿Usted habla inglés? No hablo español,” I responded.
The young man stared at me.
“I’m sorry, but I don’t speak Spanish. I can’t understand what you’re saying.”
I held out my packages for his inspection, but he seemed reluctant to take them from me.
“Lo siento, pero…”
“He’s asking what’s in the bags,” came a woman’s voice from behind me.
“He wants to know what you bought.”
“Oh. Serving bowls and platters.”
The woman spoke in Spanish to the young man. They jabbered back and forth a few times. Then the young man smiled and waved me on.
“Muchas gracias, señora,” I smiled to the woman.
“You’re very welcome,” she smiled back.
I’ve maintained for years that it’s possible to get along in Panama City without speaking Spanish. I know it’s possible, because I’m doing it.
Sometimes readers and friends who come to visit chastise me: “You said that people in Panama City speak English. That’s not true!”
Well, I didn’t say that every single inhabitant of Panama City speaks English…
Years ago, when we shared the news with friends and family that we were planning a move from Waterford, Ireland, to Paris, France, some replied to say:
“Paris! Why would you want to live in Paris? The French are so rude, and they really don’t like Americans.”
We ignored those claims…and so should you. Sure, some French are rude…just as some people everywhere are rude. In fact, though, as a group, the French are probably more polite than most.
Do they really dislike Americans? Not in my experience. In the four years we spent in Paris, I had not a single encounter to support that claim. I made French friends who were interested in my point of view…just as I was keen to know what they thought about things and how they viewed the world.
Much of your experience of a place develops from what you bring to the place.
And, bottom line, it’s only your own experience that matters.
If you move to Panama City, say, or to Paris…don’t expect everyone you meet to speak English. Many do, but you can’t count on it. If you’re not up for the challenge (and, yes, sometimes, the frustrations) of living in a place where the people speak a different language than you do…don’t move to a non-English-speaking country.
“How can you stand Panama City?” some people ask us now. “It’s so hot.”
“How can you stand living in Ireland?” people asked us regularly throughout the seven years we lived full-time on the Emerald Isle. “It’s so gray and damp.”
If you don’t like hot, don’t move to the tropics. If you don’t like gray, drizzly, and chilly, don’t move to…
You get the idea.
As a theoretical matter, I don’t like gray, drizzly, and chilly…at least not all the time. But I remember fondly our years enjoying Irish country life.
And, sure, it’d be nice if Panama City were a bit cooler and a little less humid…
No place is perfect. It’s all about what you’re not willing to put up with.
I’d say that unsafe is unacceptable. Beyond that, you have to make your own choices.
Boquete, Panama, has for years been touted as one of the best places in the world for retirement living…with near perfect weather. A friend in the country last week visited…and decided to change her plans after two hours in the place.
“It was windy and chilly,” she reported. “I couldn’t wait to get out. I’d intended to stay a night or two, but, after walking around the town for a couple of hours, I just didn’t get it. So I got back in my car and drove on.”
Does that mean you should take Boquete off your list?
Does it mean that the weather in Boquete is always windy and cold?
It means, again, you have to make your own judgments.
You’ve got to find a way to filter and process all the conflicting information you’re going to hear and read about any place you might be considering.
Ireland is cold and damp. France is a maddening place to try to do business. Panama City is hot and dirty.
On the other hand, it’s hard to beat green and rolling Irish hills as a first view of the day outside your bedroom window.
Paris is the most beautiful, romantic city on this earth.
Panama City is a frontier of opportunity as we head into 2009.
But here’s the real point: Don’t take my (or anyone else’s) word for any of it.
Get up and get moving. Go see for yourself. Then make up your own mind.