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Panama: Something It's Not

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Written by Matt   
Friday, 25 September 2009 09:04
Panama Something It's NotOne often finds himself, in explaining what makes Panama unique, using the concept of absence as a selling point or at least a complimentary factor. "There are no mega highways," you might say or "its beautiful beaches have no tourists." Because it's a relatively new to the popularity curve, much of Panama's charm has been based, with no other way to put this, in its shortcomings; a destination fueled by that raw and incomplete allure that makes one feel, whether legitimately or not, like they've accidentally stumbled on the greatest travel secret in the modern world.  I am one of those people who really likes to say he discovers things. Anytime I hear about anything before my friends, I like to put my stamp of ownership on it like a cattle prod or custom embroidery. It's this way that when my friends eventually stumble across it on the radio or in the newspaper: "that restaurant that Matt found," or "that song that only Matt helped promote."

Describing something for what it's not reminds me of a friend in college, Tara, who was looking desperately for a boyfriend. She'd had several tough breakups, one that saw some poor guy driven to homosexuality and another that ended in the parking lot of a Waffle House.

"He seems nice," she said of this random waiter who brought us two lunch menus. I admitted I hadn't gotten a grasp on his personality since we had walked through the door about twenty seconds ago but that he did have weird hair.   

"Well, at least he's not a serial killer." She said this as if killing people was the type of full time commitment that couldn't possibly share working hours with a job like waiting tables. As if, once weeding out the serial killer factor, any boyfriend (as long as he could smile and say thank you) would do just fine.

Assuming she was right - that our waiter was not a serial killer - it seemed like funny reasoning to me. In general, we rarely choose things for characteristics they are not. We don't select food because it doesn't taste bad, we select it because it tastes good. Perfume saleswomen hardly describe scents as not too raunchy. And we certainly don't select husbands or wives because they won't kill us. But with Panama, the philosophy of lacking makes complete sense.

Part of what makes this country great are its imperfections: they're what give Panama its personality and what makes it different. It's sometimes hard to admit, but if it weren't for the very things we complain about every single day, Panama would probably be either very boring or standing-room-only popular. Either of these scenarios of course would draw their own respective complaints from the expat crowd who lives there because, well, that's what we do.

American's love to go places and complain. I first learned this about fifteen years ago on a trip to St. Martin, an authentic Caribbean destination compared next to its more developed siblings. We were on a small boat fishing when one tourist launched into this rant about lettuce in the Caribbean and how it gave him the diarrhea. "Not the runs," he said, "but serious, like a full-blown geyser." I was around ten at the time and remember admiring the man greatly. It wasn't malicious banter, because the man was laughing the whole time.
Do you know the way off-duty ballerinas instinctively pick up things without bending their legs? The same is with Americans and our innate nitpicking.

But back to Panama. So I'm at this football party in Baton Rouge last month and someone, upon hearing I like Panama, pulled me over to a corner. "So lemme ask you something here Mr. Panama. I hear Panama's got them resorts and dolphins and them girls braidin' hair on the beach and all that. But does it have this!" He said this holding up and pointing to a purple and gold can of Bud Light - a special edition beer can made for the big LSU football game.

I thought for a few seconds before wanting to speak, then putting my index finger to my lips. "You know, I'm not actually sure Panama has...any of those things."

There was a deep silence for a few seconds before he erupted in laughter saying that of course Panama didn't have the cans, they were distributed only for LSU tailgates. I smiled and laughed along with him, once again having promoted Panama for what it was not. It felt good this sort of anti-endorsement. Like the country's blemishes were somehow working in our favor.

Comments (1)Add Comment
Something it's Not
written by M´Bosa Itchi , December 10, 2009
Everyone I meet says ooooh....Panama...what's it like? All glass, beaches, fun, etc. Ehh? No. All marketing BS. Silly little backwater where you can go do your own thing anywhere. Go to a beach but take everything. Kill someone but dig the hole yourself. Eat sushi from a naked women if you want but likely you need to do all the work.

I got a list...a long list. Sample these "nots".....Developed. Developing. A Beach Resort. A City With A Beach. Constructed Well. Cheap. Place For Business(*). Place For Industry. Going To Be Anything Within A Generation.

(*) except money laundering, coke trafficking....was almost going to add prostitution and gambling but expect I would be disappointed by the former and the latter is shit here

M'Bosa Itchi: Balancing the world view of Panama "it's my job"
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