When you come from a Westerner background, you usually think it’s as easy as pie to find your favorite food at the supermarket. Well, expats, when you’re new to Panama, you’ll find that the thrill of victory is sometimes more in the chase…
New, modern supermarkets in Panama
Yes, we have those. And more now than we did six years ago when we moved here! But just because they are new and modern does not mean that you’ll have the breadth of choices that you did – per product – that you did back home.
Here’s an example. At any Target, Walgreens or Wal-Mart in the U.S., walk in and look for your toothpaste brand. Wow. It’s a bit overwhelming. Normally, there’s at least one entire aisle, or at least one entire section just for toothpaste. Every brand, every color, every flavor and every type of toothpaste you can possible think of is there at your fingertips.
Not so here in Panama. Do we have Crest and Colgate? Yes. Can you find Sensodyne? I’ve never seen it. Not to say that it does not exist anywhere, but I’ve never seen it. In fact, when we first moved to Panama, I could not find my favorite brand of dental floss to save my life. I searched four different places. Not a chance.
One day, hubby and I discovered a new Jewish supermarket and we stopped in to check it out. As we went through the check-out line, lo and behold – it was like the skies parted and a ray of sunshine beamed down on me – for there was my dental floss. Not anywhere close to anything in the dental care products area. Just hanging by itself in the check-out line next to the gum. Four packages of it.
First, I almost cried. Really. Then I bought all four packages.
Grab it when you find it
I’m not joking. This is the rule of the game for your favorite imported brands of foods and products when you stumble upon them. I say ‘stumble’ because just because those Nathan’s hot dogs you’ve been jonesing for were there this week…does not mean you’ll find them again for the next three months. This now means that your freezer has now become your best friend.
Life in Panama is never vanilla
Here’s another example. I’ve been doing a bit of baking recently and I ran out of real vanilla. I’ve had it on my grocery list now for the past six weeks. Why? Because every time I go to Riba Smith – Panama’s most popular supermarket chain – I ask someone for real vanilla. They take me to the aisle where I”ve already checked and confirm that in fact ‘No hay‘. (‘No hay‘ means we don’t have any…even if you
know little Spanish, you’ll quickly come to recognize this phrase.) So, what have I done? I’ve been buying the imitation vanilla. But you can bet when I find it – next time the real vanilla extract comes in at the store – I’m gonna stock up.
These are Panama’s idiosyncracies…
and the things I do my best to educate you about in The Gringo Guide to Panama. You can get it at CreateSpace in paperback or on Amazon. Because knowing these types of things before you go (or shortly after you arrive) can help your move to Panama be that much smoother. Because it’s all about YOU managing your expectations.
Good luck! And,please, if you find some real vanilla extract in the supermarket nearby, please drop me a line so I can go stock up.