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Alright, back to today’s post. Today is the day of Panama’s Patriotic Symbols. It used to be Flag Day, but they changed it last year so that it now includes the national anthem and the emblem as well. This whole week is practically a week out of work/school for most Panamanians to celebrate Panama’s many independence days and patriotic festivities. The parades have taken to the streets and everyone is having a great time. My kids don’t go back to school until Wednesday so they’re definitely happy. You wouldn’t believe how quiet the streets are right now and how easy they are to navigate (in Panama City) with half the population gone to the interior of the country for the long weekend. Marlene turned to me last night at the dinner table and asked, “Do you hear that?”
“Hear what?” I replied.
“Exactly,” she said.
It was super quiet. No honking horns, no loud music blasting from taxi windows, and not even the sound of barking dogs. The dogs must have headed to the beach too.
On this day, you’ll find vendors selling flowers in the medians of most streets and along the sides of the roads that lead to the cemeteries. A lot of people go to Colon to pick up more affordable fake flowers. My mother-in-law came home with bunches of fake flowers to take out to some of her family’s loved ones.
As much as it seems like a sad holiday, people seem in good spirits headed to the cemetery. Vendors are set up outside, selling everything from raspados (snow cones) to my favorite coconut ice cream to hot dogs and sodas.
I’ll never forget my first year in Panama and the first run-in I had with these holidays. Here, the Day of the Dead takes place the day before the first of Panama’s independence days. Their day of independence from Colombia is on the 3rd of November. So, when my wife said to me, “Tomorrow is Independence Day.” I went in to my good ol’ boy American mode and thought, “Well hell, what goes with Independence Day? Barbecue and beer of course!” I was excited to celebrate my first Panamanian Independence Day. So I headed to the supermarket.
In the supermarket, when I went to grab my beer, I noticed there was masking tape marked in an “X” across the entire beer and liquor shelf. I figured they must be doing some sort of construction and it was their attempt at keeping the liquor on the shelf if it shook or something. It was a stupid thought now that I think about it, but at the time it seemed to make sense.
When I got to the cash register, the cashier looked at me like I was crazy and took the beer from me and set it on the side. With no Spanish speaking ability, I had no idea why she’d taken the beer. So, I asked in my best broken up Spanish, what was going on. I didn’t understand the answer. But I took the beer and placed it back onto the conveyor belt.
The guy bagging my groceries started laughing. The woman took the beer away from me again. I was thinking, “Hmm, is that beer not for sale? Did I take it off of some sort of display or something? Do I need to grab a different brand of beer?”
Finally a manager came over and tried to explain to me, in Spanish, what was going on. At some point, one of the customers behind me finally said, “No alcohol on Dia de los Muertos.” Turns out, on the Day of the Dead, out of respect for the dead, you can’t buy alcohol. I felt like such a dumb ass.
This year, at the Rey supermarket in Chanis, they posted signs
instead of the masking tape “X” like previous years.
I went home and said to my wife, “Not being able to buy alcohol today would have been some good information to have before I made a complete ass of myself.” She’d been in the U.S. with me since we got married when she was 18 and I was 20, so she’d forgotten all about it.
I’ve learned my lesson since that embarrassing time back in 2009. Now I make sure I pick up my beer in advance. Or I just wait ’till the morning of the first Independence Day and do my shopping then. Just thought I’d fill you in on this handy piece of information so you don’t make the same “gringo” mistake I did.
Thanks for reading,
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