A new friend here in Panama City invited Lief and me to lunch at the Union Club yesterday.
“The outdoor patio here is the world’s best venue for smoking a good cigar, drinking a glass of good rum, and enjoying the company of good friends,” our new friend said as we entered the club’s restaurant.
Indeed, the patio’s situation, overlooking the Bay of Panama, with a view of the city and the Amador Causeway, was inviting.
“Boy, if these walls could talk,” our friend continued. “The tales they could tell. This country has gone through such remarkable transformations. We lived under the boot of a dictator. We suffered through a U.S. embargo…during which we transitioned, it seemed like overnight, to a barter economy. The banks were all closed. You couldn’t withdraw your money. You couldn’t cash a check. So we all learned to barter with each other for the things we needed. We are a resourceful lot.
“The greatest transformation, though, has been in the past dozen years. We have reinvented ourselves again, this time so much for the better. Panama City today looks nothing at all like the Panama City I remember as a child…”
Then, later, during dessert, “You know, really, these Panamanians drive me crazy,” our new friend (who is Panamanian) remarked.
“They can’t say ‘no.’ They just can’t ever use the word. So they respond ‘yes’ to any question, any request.
“But that doesn’t mean they’re going to do what you’ve asked of them. Or that they’re capable of doing what you’ve asked. They may have no intention even of trying. They may know, at the moment they answer ‘yes’ to your question, that the real answer is ‘no.’
“‘Can you meet me tomorrow at 3 p.m.?’ you might ask one of them. ‘Yes, of course,’ they reply. But they can’t meet you tomorrow at 3 p.m., because they’re scheduled to play golf or whatever. They know at the time they agree to meet you that they won’t be there for the meeting.
“But they can’t say ‘no.’ They just can’t say it. So they say, ‘Si, si, bueno, hasta mañana…'”