“Take a number!”


I’ll have you know that after 8 years I’m finally adjusting to Panama.

It’s taken 8 years, but we no longer flush toilet paper.  Instead it goes into the discreet, or not so discreet, waste basket beside the toilet. Don’t freak out or decide that you are “definitely NOT” moving to Panama.  Much of the world does it this way and it makes sense given that outside of the city we are dependent on septic systems.  BUT, not to worry for those of you who’ve traveled on the world cruise with me and enjoyed my lecture about things your travel agent never told you . . . we do not have squat toilets and my left hand is not my “dirty hand”!

And, when it comes to customers complaining about me . . . “Take a number!”  See how much I’ve adjusted?

First, let me make something, in the words of Tricky Dick Nixon, “perfectly clear.”  Not only did I “not have sex with that woman” (an attempt here to offend BOTH “sides” of the aisle, both the “red” and “blue” in the US, equally knocking both a Republican and Democrat president of the US) . . . writing my blog is either (choose one) (a) a labor of love, (b) an exercise in frustration or (c) a waste of time.  1,205 posts . . . and I’m still at it, or crazy, or both!

I don’t always post on time, although, remarkably, I’ve generally been able to post every other day.  However, if I miss a day . . . unlike Don Winner’s Panama-Guide, you aren’t paying anything!  I keep in mind all of my loyal readers around the world and I do try . . . but sometimes it just isn’t possible.

Now . . . what inspired this diatribe:

From Don & Linda . . .

Richard.. please put us in touch with the owners.  In the meantime, Steve and Maria ask some very good questions.  Have you or are you going to respond to their questions.  Don & Linda

I had written about some friends who were selling their home and I thought, and still do, that it was a nice opportunity for the right buyer.  I do try to respond to emails and comments, and, Don & Linda, I will give the owner your email.

First, here’s the comment in question . . . and then I will explain why I haven’t responded and why I thought long and hard about whether to respond or ignore it, and if I responded how to do so graciously and without . . . well, you decide.

Richard, The house looks pretty messy. How well have they taken care of the property? You mentioned earlier that every roof leaks in Boquette. How is the roof on this place? I know they’re friends of yours, but how comfortable are you recommending this place? The property seems ideal to us…especially the privacy. Why are there bars on the terrace? Also a security system on the sliders. Is there a security issue in this neighborhood? You also said the property had a lot of potential. Does that mean it needs work? Thanks in advance for your help. We’re planning on retiring in Boquette in September and are sooooo very much looking forward to our move. Steve & Maria

I don’t know why, exactly, but this email rubbed me the wrong way.  I don’t want to make enemies with new neighbors who are moving to Boquete in September, BUT . . .

So I will try . . .

“The house looks pretty messy.”  OK, Maybe had you thought about committing that to the Internet your might have reworded it, but . . . we all have different tastes as to what we like, and how we like our living space to be since, after all, it is OUR space.  Some people like to collect and hang on to stuff and others like to get rid of everything.  What some folks like as “homey” to another may be “pretty messy.”  One person likes “lived in” and another like “sterile.”  Decorating tastes vary . . . as do budgets.  I recently posted an interior shot of another friend’s house that is for sale, and I’m sure if you paid full price and maybe offered them $200,000 on top of the listing price, which was about $790,000, I’m sure they’d be happy to consider selling it furnished.  Of course that price is a lot different from the $160,000 being the price of the house on which you commented.

“How well have they taken care of the property?”  You’ll just have to take a look when you get here in September, should it still be available, and make your own conclusion.

“You mentioned earlier that every roof leaks in Boquette. How is the roof on this place?” OK, I sometimes get carried away for effect.  Most every roof on almost every NEW house leaks, but eventually we all find and stop the leaks. Obviously we don’t just sit around and watch the water pour in.

“Why are there bars on the terrace? Also a security system on the sliders. Is there a security issue in this neighborhood?”  First clarification: the only “security system” on the sliders (????) I guess are the cats.  Second, before you even think about moving to Panama you need to read the  NEW ESCAPE TO PARADISE: OUR EXPERIENCE LIVING & RETIRING IN PANAMA!  I have no idea where you live, but I am assuming you have no crime problem in your city, and that you and your neighbors leave your doors open while you are away and at night and don’t have Brink’s security systems or at least a knock-off Brink’s sign on the front lawn.  And of course you don’t have guns, stun guns, baseball bats or pepper spray.

Yes, bars on the windows and porches are a feature throughout Latin America.  Why?  Well let me give you a number of answers that have been suggested by my Panamanian friends:

a) “We like to feel we are living in birdcages!”

b) “It deters burglars” as of course do the guns many Panamanians keep in their homes.  And FYI, it is easier to get a weapon permit than it is to get a permit for a chain saw!  But, whatever you weapon of choice, you’d better be sure that you understand the law about using it.  For example, if you decide to use a baseball bat, we’ve been advised that you’d better aim for the knees and not the head.

c) Chiriqui was a Noriega stronghold and in the Noriega days his “Dignity Battalions” would break in and take whatever they wanted, so the bars are a holdover from “the Dictatorship.”  That might explain things in Panama, but certainly not throughout Latin America.

d) And this one I think comes closest to the truth, “Having bars implies that you have lots of valuable stuff that thieves would like to steal . . . whether you do or not..”  Ordinary Panamanians rarely invite non-family members inside their home.  Visits and conversations are normally, with few exceptions, carried out at the gate.

We feel safer in Boquete than we did in Southern California where they had that new head-piecing thing called drive-by gang-banger shootings.  There is no perfect place . . . except maybe where you live now . . . but on the whole Boquete is quite safe.

“I know they’re friends of yours, but how comfortable are you recommending this place?”  You want a guarantee?  If so, I need to tell you that in Panama guarantees aren’t worth the paper on which they are printed.  I’m no longer a REALTOR and I’m not selling anything.  If you’re interested take a look, check it out for yourself, do your due diligence and make your decision.  I think it’s a nice home with “potential.”

“You also said the property had a lot of potential. Does that mean it needs work?”  I just told you I’d been a REALTOR – OK?  As it is it is not my personal style, but with minimal effort I could make it into a place that would reflect my personal style.

I soooo very much hope you read my book Escape To Paradise: Living & Retiring In Panama and particularly Chapter 4 “Visit A Leather Bar”.  Your future happiness in Boquete depends greatly on your ability to accept and thrive on change and things being different from that to which you are accustomed.

There: that went well!  Or at least I hope so!  Not sure in retrospect why I lay awake last night worrying about how to respond.

More letters next time . . . I busy working in Boca Chica leaving at 5:30 am and getting home bushed at 4 pm, so I do apologize.  Please email all of your complaints to bobama@whitehouse.gov.

9 thoughts on ““Take a number!”

  1. Hi Richard. I get a kick out of your blog and enjoy reading your stuff. Were moving to panama in July with our son. We live in FL, but decided to jump off the cliff and try something new. We are going to rent in Casco temporarily until we find something more affordable. Our son is going to attend Balboa Academy in Clayton. We hope to move further out panama city once our son completes high school and goes off to college. Hope to meet you in the near future.

    Sent from my iPad

  2. Oh, I just read all the way down. My goodness. They sound like a lot of fun. I think your answers were terrific and thanks for them. We had 3 couples look at the house today by the way. I put a notice in ning and several forums. Two seemed very interested. We’ll see what happens. We really do appreciate your help and your friendship, Richard. You’re a really great guy!   Squirt

  3. The house is just what I’d be looking for if I were ready to move. So what if it’s not staged and decorated by Pottery Barn? It seems someone will have to lose their North American consumer ways if they are going to be happy living in Central America. By the way, iron bars around the veranda are a great idea – you can leave the house doors open to cool it down at night and even when you are out!

  4. You handled that very well , I love your sense of humor. Not only does it come shining through in your book, but on here as well. Keep posting on your blog as well. My husband & I enjoy them immensely. Hoping to be snowbirds in Panama.

  5. Richard, I sincerely apologize that my questions bothered you so. In no way did I mean to cause you or any of your readers offense. I obviously worded my curiosity wrong; and for that, I’m truly sorry. I publicly apologize to you, your readers who may have also been offended by my remarks, and to your friends who are selling their home should they have also been offended. Please forgive me if I appeared arrogant, or stuffy in any way. Steve

    Thanks to you, Steve, and your wife for your gracious and kind replies! I think you both will fit in well in Boquete and I look forward to having a drink with you when you get here! Call me . . . first email me . . . and we’ll get together! Regards, Richard

  6. Re: toilet paper in a basket. After long and exhaustive research, I think I found the answer. Years ago it was common for the pipes to be too small and the TP to be not be very dissolvable. Hence this custom. So after 8 years of flushing TP here, no problems whatsoever with my septic tank (which I assume you have). I hate to see your TP instead in a landfill or elsewhere!

    Well I wondered about that. When we first came to Bqouete, while I was still “flushing” TP into the septic, I’d take stuff to the old dump and see kids ripping open plastic bags looking for aluminum cans. So I happily flushed. Funny thing . . . well, not so funny actually . . . when Gringos started arriving en masse and the economy started booming (not necessarily because of the Gringos) suddenly Boquete started producing a LOT more trash! Now we have a scientific landfill with no more little kids rooting through the trash. But the trash . . . and what a great contribution M2 or what I call “Styrofoam and chicken wire” construction has made! All of that scrap Styrofoam which is NEVER going to disapear! Regards, Richard

  7. Richard, My name is Maria Swanson. I’m Steve’s wife. I know that he sent you a message apologizing to you; but I felt you also needed to hear from me because I wanted to Thank you for sending us this email and letting us know that we had carelessly offended you. We are so very sorry, we never ever meant anything by our questions except just to find information. But it was obvious that we were careless in the way we asked them. I hope that you find it in your heart to accept our apology and that we can continue a good relationship with you. We are going to be in Panama in June and we have been looking forward to meeting you and others in this tour and we really do not want to start on a wrong foot with you when we get there. Richard, we have lived in many places over seas with Steve in the military and we should have known better with our questions. Please understand that We in no way are trying to minimize our carelessness toward you. We have felt so very bad that we could actually cause hurt or offence or even sleepless night to you or anyone. So I ask with all sincerity to please accept our apology. Thank you. Maria Swanson

    ACCEPTED! But not really necessary since you didn’t call MY house “messy” . . . but wait until you see it, with my wife away for 2 months in Seattle helping out with our new grandson. But thank you for your clarification and response and I DO look forward to meeting you! Regards, Richard

  8. Richard, again you did it, folksy charm that gives the truth with a little humor. In our trip last February 2013 in your neck of the woods, my wife said it reminded her of her native Philippines, the (barros?) probably misspelled it, and it was only a 4 hour flight to Panama. We are going to the Philippines next February 2013 to look around and see her old stomping grounds, but I will be trying to squeeze in some more time to stop back to Panama. I will be reordering your book, as I gave mine away to another person for him to read as he started to search out Panama. Do not overwork yourself on the remodeling. Until your next blog, Jerry

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