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Being a Gringo for the Weekend

In the "Cult of Escapism": Being a Gringo for the Weekend

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Being a Gringo for the Weekend

(From Sept. 5)
There are three kinds of white people in Panama: Peace Corps Volunteers (PCVs) and other white people that work here; tourists; and gringos. The past few days, my aunt treated me to some resort time and we were exposed to and even sometimes acted like gringos. I swear I’ll never do it again.
To clarify, I think we’re all familiar with tourists, who are pretty much the same everywhere, and if you’re reading this blog, you should be familiar with who and what PCVs are (that is, insecure former idealists with recently lowered standards of living). So then what are gringos?
Gringos are a mutation of the ex-patriot (expat) concept. American expats are Americans living overseas. Gringos are Americans that retire in Panama and are, by definition, out of their forking minds. Some true examples:
- A gringo in a bar once told me that I shouldn’t be trying to help the Ngäbes because “they believe in natural selection, which is why they don’t use hospitals.” Of course. It couldn’t be that they often can’t afford medical care. Someone should naturally select that guy with a pistol.
- Many gringos expect every Panamanian citizen to speak fluent English. While in the Post Office getting a package, a gringo entered the office in front of me and the attendant told him (shockingly, in Spanish) to wait a few minutes while they found his package. Clearly annoyed, he responded, “No Spanish, lady.” Of course not. It’s probably her fault.
- A gringa explained to my friend her plan to save an endangered species of African rhinoceros by shipping it to Panama. By itself. She admitted there could be a few logistical problems.
In summary, insane. They’re giving Americans a bad image down here and I try my damndest not to be associated with them. I’ve confused many a Panamanian by adamantly stating, “I’m not a gringo, I’m American!” 
My aunt is renting a place in Costa Rica (neighboring country) and is actively trying not to be a gringa by doing things like: studying Spanish; not being insane; tipping. However, while visiting me, we succumbed to a few at least touristy, at worst, gringo-y habits.
For example, we (and I do mean both of us) complained about common Panamanian inconveniences, such as receiving poor service, waiting for buses, and sweating. During meals, I finally realized why gringos don’t finish all their food – they don’t burn 29,000 calories a day like us volunteers. I sat, totally defeated by unfinished vegetables and slabs of meat that would generally last no longer than an anorexic midget in the ring with a young Mike Tyson. I blame flat screened TVs and TNT movies.
I did however, manage to speak Spanish and refrain from talking about rhinos.
Also, despite the luxurious environments, my volunteerness still permeated. By which I mean I pooped a lot. The drastic change in diet destroyed the fragile harmony in my body and sent me toilet-bound more times than I care to guess (which is to say, about three times a day). I hereby formally apologize to my aunt for the terrible things I did.
I did some other volunteery things like eating her home made oatmeal chocolate chip cookies by the fistful (it’s been a while) and contemplating washing my socks in the sink, but nothing as disgusting or disruptive as the bowel flows.
Despite this, we managed to enjoy a day in the beautiful highlands of Panama and another at the beach.
Honestly, we were more like tourists than gringos and I’m not too worried about the impression we left on the locals (though I think the staff thought we were a couple although she’s 60 and I’m 23 and, you know, my aunt). I am however, still concerned about two things. First, these loud, spoiled, relatively rich, maniac gringos are making it difficult for us volunteers to proudly represent our country. We strive to be hard working, empathetic, frugal development workers and as such we stand in contrast to our fellow American residents.
The bigger concern then is: who are the accurate reflections of Americans?  


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