Speak Like You Belong
Every place you visit has local terminology distinct to that area. Panama’s slang is a mix of Spanish and English, so sometimes it can get a bit confusing. If you can learn some of these words, you’ll come off as a gringo who knows what they’re talking about to a Panamanian (and you just might scare them)!
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How did this Panama City suburb get it’s name? By English speaking folks talking about the community “on the right hand” of the highway, of course! Who knew this whole time that this is how you say “on right hand” with a Spanish accent?
This is what a Panamanian handyman calls the odd jobs he comes by. Thought he was looking for a seafood dinner instead? English speakers usually tell handymen to “come around” next week for another job! This is how he translated what you just said.
e.g. Jose, camaron next week to cut the grass.
It doesn’t seem to be in your favor no matter where you happen to be a cholo. If you came from the states to Panama, you went from being a Mexican gang member to being Panamanian country folk.
Is it a pepper or a person? Yup, there’s the ají chombo, but when you hear Panamanians calling each other this, don’t take it as a cue to use it too. It’s like using the “N” word in the U.S. You have to be told when you’ve been initiated into this club!
Did your translator tell you this meant pork chop? A Panamanian uses this when they’re excited about or can’t believe something. It’s kind of like saying “No Way!”
e.g. That entire bunch of bananas is a dollar? Chuleta!
Ciao [chah-aw; Eng. chou]
Is your translator on the wrong language setting? No, you’re not in Italy, even though it still means goodbye. But I guess you could say you speak Italian on a daily basis after you move here. All your friends back home will be perplexed.
You went from being a gringo to being a gringo? I bet it isn’t for the same reasons you think. Anyone that wasn’t born and raised in Panama has been dutifully labeled with this term. I learned this after I was explaining to a Panamanian that they were using their slang incorrectly.
You don’t have to be young for someone to call you this. It just means they don’t know your name.
e.g. Joven, can you bring me an ice cold cerveza Panama?
Pan Flauta [pan-flau-tah]
When did the panaderías start carrying bread in the shape of musical instruments? They come in flute and piccolo size and are actually French baguettes.
Did a Panamanian ask you where you were parking? They weren’t talking about your car, they were talking about your butt! i.e. It’s the hang out.
e.g. Where are you parking tonight?
Panamanians love to use this term instead of bonita. Why? Because English is cool, that’s why.
e.g. Tu eres pretty!
Say it like a French person, but make sure you’re referencing one of the following to use this word correctly: jersey, polo, jacket, hoodie, sweatshirt, and I think an actual sweater too
Use this whenever you’re late for anything. Every Panamanian understands how bad the traffic is in Panama
Panama’s slang word for stuff. You’ll sound much more like a local if you say this instead of cosas, which is much more formal.