Welcome to a Latin country…


I don’t know how to express what a strange feeling it is to me to have professionals just ignore me. Ok, please don’t get me wrong, not always , but very frequently so far I have had the experience of being in an office and having the person direct all their conversation towards Scott while I am sitting right next to him and not even make eye contact with me. Now, I have never thought of myself as a hardcore feminist kinda gal, but come on! I think I’m a pretty independent woman . I have been a successful entrepreneur and business person for twenty years, Ive been a single mother I’ve purchased property and vehicles all by myself and supported myself without a man by my side and feel that I am a very competent human being, I have never had the experience of feeling like I don’t matter. I realize that this is simply a cultural thing and that they do not intend to offend. I’m certain it’s just the way things are done here and will likely always be done here and have always been done here. I am merely saying, that I have never had this experience and it bugs me . It gives me such a vivid perspective on what women in the states fought for in the past in order to be treated as equals in our lives. I’m too young to have felt the inequality that existed in the States and even though I have visited places where the culture treats women differently , being there for a short visit never gave me the opportunity to notice it first hand.

I will, of course adapt to this cultural difference in time, of this I am certain. When one chooses to adopt a new country as their home it means you enter into it knowing that much will be different. Some things will feel so much better and other things take some time to get used to. I am merely taking a moment to express my initial discomfort with this particular Latin way of doing things. It’s actually quite funny to try to think differently. What brought this all up for me was our visit to the Car insurance lady today. We are in the process of purchasing a car for me. Sitting at this very nice women’s desk she directs her conversation directly to Scott and fills out all the paperwork in Scotts name. When we inquire as to putting the insurance in my name she says its not necessary! The exact same thing happened at the Toyota dealership! We wanted to have the title in both our names, “No, it’s not necessary”. HUH? So I understand the laws here are very different. The insurance lady (who spoke perfect english) explained to us that in Panama if anything happens to one of the spouses the property automatically goes to the other spouse, “no problema”. Also the insurance will cover anyone who you give permission to drive your car. Sooooooo does that mean Scott is giving me “permission” to drive my car? Hmmm! The title to the Truck is in Scott’s name and when we met with Keith and filled out the title transfer documents for the used car he is picking up for us we told him we wanted that one in my name. I’m sure this is all just pretty trivial stuff and believe me, it’s not a huge deal, but it’s just something I have noticed and maybe it’s just me , but I’ll get over it. It just seems so strange to be in a position where all our big financial investments would be solely in Scotts name. I know, I am such a Gringo! Uggg! Sooooo Does my discomfort on this different , very traditionally LATIN way of doing things , make me a hard-core Feminist? I don’t know, all I know is , I’m just very accustomed to being treated equal to those around me and to having my own gosh darn car insurance! Is that too much to ask? Well, apparently here in Panama I will have to get used to having ‘permission’ to drive my car. (insert eye roll here!)

About hollycarter184

Life is Good! But it's time for a change, and more adventure! I'd like to share the whole experience of preparing then actually making a reality of expatriating, and moving to a new country. It's an exciting, and slightly scary move full of possibility . I'm looking forward to learning a new language and making new connections with the people who share our spirit of adventure. This blog is my way of continuing my connection with my friends and family in the States. Sooooo here it goes! :)

19 responses »

  1. Wish I still had my “Uppity Women Unite!” t-shirt to send you. For heaven’s sake don’t “adapt”. Lead the revolution down there.

    I’ll be back at the Orange Ave. house next week. Will be strange not to have you there. xox

  2. Maybe overt sexism is something you shouldn’t get used to. What about insisting that it go in your name? Why not? I thought you were gong to say that with the insurance “lady,” it was different, but even women professionals don’t acknowledge other women??? Some things are worth changing. What if you did these transactions without Scott going with you? When I was a teenager and in my early 20s it was common to openly pay women less than men for the same job and I always spoke up, even if it didn’t do me much good, I think that the policies changed, at least in the two instances I’m thinking of. Now of course it still happens, but is more covert. Can you tell you hit a hot button for me? I think you should speak up and insist that you are treated equally. Don’t just chalk it up to “cultural differences.” They can learn too.

  3. Hi there my husband and I live in Canada and want to go to Boquete in March 2013 and look at possibly retiring there 6 mo of year. Suggestions for area to rent would be great. We looked at the condo’s about 5 min. Outside of town on golf course?

  4. I have never been a feminist, just expected to be treated as an equal. I agree have the insurance put in your name and when you buy a house both names. We get what we expect in this life, do not accept less.

  5. I completely understand What are you feeling, after I came back from USA I understood something was wrong about my country, I start to read more about genre, feminist, rights, laws, i figured out that at less in my country our new laws are not bad, We have to change our thinking.
    I grew up in a home where my father demanded that I attend and serve my only brother because he was a man and he did not have to do housework, but the most terrible thing is that my mom always supported him in his decisions. one week after I returned from USA I had a culture shock when I watched my dad yelling at my mom because she had not served him breakfast on the table I said: Dad you have a restaurant and you cook for other people, Why you can not serve food on the table for yourself? that was like an insult to him. He replied saying, that is why you went to USA to learn to disrespect your father, I said: do not confuse obedience with respect because I always respect you but I will not always obey you.

    I understand how you feel, I struggle every day even in my own home with my own family to defend myself as a woman.

  6. I guess I have a different point of view. Yes, I have always been and independent woman. I had to be with a military spouse that was either deployed, training or on course. It would have been an impossibility for him to have looked after the household business or had the vehicles or house only in his name. In fact ownership and registration of his vehicle was in my name, because both of our vehicles were ours.

    I have gratefully turned over all the “mundane” things such as insurance etc. to him and his name. I even gave Eric’s name for the factura at the computer store yesterday, and it was I that was getting copies done. But it was easier because he was already in the computer. My theory is as long as the two of you know it’s a team effort as in “us” and not “I” then what the heck does it matter?

    I have felt no lack of respect from anyone at any of the businesses that we frequent. Don’t read too much into it. As for making changes, as long as you both continue to treat each other with dignity and respect as I’m sure you always have why would you have to make changes? Panama will always be Panama and as visitors, change will not be through us but through Panameño women themselves. And believe me I have met several young women that are starting to help change the machismo culture here and the bulls** that goes with it. 🙂

    I also understand that Silvana’s situation is entirely different than my own. What we can encourage is education and staying in school and she is a perfect example. It’s the lives that we touch that will make a difference and I believe that she may have some strong women around her to model off of. 🙂 I hope I can do the same for the women that are around me here.

  7. I think I’d feel the same way! Seems to me that if one of you dies and the car automatically goes to the remaining spouse why couldn’t you have one car in each of your names? Insist on it!! If there was just a woman buying the car, then it would be in her name, right?? So I think you should have your car in your name!!

  8. I had a totally different type of feedback. maybe your body english is not assertive enough. i saw this last week and found myself thinking about my posture, body english as i walked to town today.. so here i am passing this on to you.. let me know what you think!

    • OMG! I am Wonder Woman! All this time I thought I was being rude but I was being powerful! Thanks so much for posting Lisa. As I’ve said I’ve never felt insignificant here but maybe it’s because I “insert” myself into the situation.

      • i watched this again late last night, the only time it will load/play all the way through! it makes a lot of sense, and i look forward to hearing your update to see if it will work. it would be fun if you two switch roles and see if he’s totally ignored while you are the one who gets the attention!!!!

      • Oh LIsa!! I just watched the video and I have tears in my eyes as I’m typing!! How powerful !! I am posting a link to this talk to everyone I know!!! Thank you so much for sharing such a powerful thing!! I really needed that!! Cheers Mi Amiga!!

  9. Hi Holly, I totally understand how you feel invisible. Many years ago, my hubby & I went to Barbados to live. I was called Mrs. Matt which was my husband’s first name. it was as if I didn’t exist at all as a person because I was a woman. it was a peculiar feeling & not my cup of tea. Like you I had lived independently as a woman in charge of my own affairs.

  10. Holly, I understand completely how you are feeling. It is such a dilemma because we are living in a completely different culture where a machismo attitude is accepted. When we purchased our property in Nicaragua, my husband couldn’t go to Nicaragua with me, so I had to do everything. I was the primary person on the title and my husband was second. ( Only because he wasn’t there) When we applied for residency, I put my husband as my dependent because my pension is larger than his. I try not to make waves because we are guests in their country and I don’t want to be perceived as one of those pushy gringas. But, where there’s a will…there is a way. Without making a big deal of the macho society, I learned to be creative and sneaky. If I want something in my name, I go to the bank, or somewhere else without my husband. I’ve never had a problem and I’m always sweet and cooperative. 🙂 The local women are very passive and submissive here, so I learn to work around the problems to get what I want. I realize that I will never change their attitudes and I have to accept certain aspects of their culture that are different from ours. But, I try to find a creative way to work around the problems I encounter without offending anyone. Sometimes it works…other times it doesn’t.

    • Oh, thank you so much for such sound advise. I like the way you think! I have had quite a varied response to that post. It’s funny, most of my friends from CA have expressed their strong distain of this cultural difference and have told me not to get used to it and to demand the same treatment I am accustomed to in the states. Most of the expat women who have responded have shared with me the way they feel and some are, like me, uncomfortable with it but it’s mixed with a respect of the country they have come to love. Others are not in the least bothered by this cultural difference and happily go with the flow. I am processing all of this and really trying to figure out where I stand on the subject. One thing I already know about myself is I will find a balance between respecting myself and those around me . I suspect there may be another post about this down the road. Thanks for sharing how you deal with it, I really like that ‘sneaky’ aproach!! Cheers!

  11. Now now, that’s not at all truly about the he name thing. Sela has her own car in her name and the ins. Policy in our names. /a

  12. Interesting… I have not felt this at all. Maybe it’s because I speak more Spanish so I’m usually the one doing most of the talking. I have enough experience with this attitude in the US to know it when I feel it, but I really haven’t felt it from anyone here. I haven’t seen my female Panamanian friends treated like this either.

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