Because of its diversity of ethnicities and cultures, it is always a good idea to follow the host’s lead when it comes to acceptable behavior. What is acceptable to one culture in Panama might not be to another. Generally speaking, Panamanian culture is formal, and it is important to show respect and consideration to others.
Upon first meeting, it is most appropriate to address a person with ‘señor‘ (for males), ‘señora’ (for married females) or ‘señorita’ (for single females), plus the last name. Most Hispanics have two surnames: one from their father, which is listed first, followed by one from their mother. Only the father’s surname is used when addressing someone.
Professionals holding a degree are referred to by mentioning that degree. Thus, terms like ‘Licentiate’ (Licenciado/a), ‘Engineer’ (Ingeniero/a), ‘Doctor’ (Doctor/a) and ‘Architect’ (Arquitecto/a) usually precede the individual’s name, and often only the title is mentioned. Exceptions are determined by company culture; in the public sector, it is common to use these.
Some women maintain the tradition of taking their husbands’ last name preceded by ‘de’ when they get married (e.g., Sara de Martinelli or Señora de Martinelli). For official purposes, women keep their maiden names, which are a combination of their fathers’ and mothers’ last names. Thus a woman named Sara Arosemena Blanco married to Juan Martinelli could use the name Sara Arosemena Blanco de Martinelli.
Common courtesies used when meeting someone include mucho gusto and un placer (both meaning ‘a pleasure’).
Panamanians are warm, animated and cordial. They tend to touch each other when conversing and maintain close proximity. When greeting in an informal setting, a single kiss is given on the cheek, while handshakes are used in business situations. For phone calls and written correspondence between family and friends, common closing greetings include un beso (‘a kiss’) or un abrazo (‘a hug’).
Appropriate conversation topics include family, hobbies, Panama’s tourist attractions, the Panama Canal, local, international, social or economic news, new investment in the country, free trade agreements, soccer and other seasonal sports activities. Topics like race problems, politics or religion should be avoided.
Panamanian nationals are usually very hospitable, but they will not invite others into their homes until a personal relationship has developed. If you are invited to a Panamanian home, you should bring a small gift, such as candy or chocolate, a bottle of wine or flowers. If your hosts have children, bringing them a small gift also will be well received.
Panamanians are conscious of public image and reputation; they avoid conflict and often will agree with someone to avoid embarrassing the other person.
Check out the full article for more tips on communication styles in Panama.
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