Culture Creep

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pixbae

Well, it was bound to happen sooner or later. I’m finally becoming a real Panamanian. How can I tell? On my way to an appointment last week, I stopped for lunch at Deli Gourmet. I buy chicken salad and a bag of platanitos con limon, which I love, love, love and immediately scarf down.

Still hungry, I buy a dollar bag of pixbae, a squash-like fruit of the palm tree, from a woman in the street. I squeeze one in half, remove the tiny coconut pit and slather it with chicken salad. Delicious. Happily, I’m eating, driving and taking a pic of my lunch with my phone — at the stop light, of course. I then call a friend, get caught up in conversation and miss my next exit. No problem, I think, as I’ve learned from the best. I pull a quick u-turn and get back on track.

Unfortunately, I do this in front of a police officer while holding my mobile. Damn. I kind of deserve this one. But instead of fining me right away, he starts chatting and asks me why I don’t have a headset. I smile in a girlish way I’m not totally comfortable with and tell him I forgot it at home. I also offer him some of my pixbae and pollo — which he gladly accepts. Jajajaja — ticket avoided! Buying food while driving, flirting with a police officer and offering him tasty eats is not something I would ever have done in the U.S. But I’m experiencing culture creep, the slow and subtle integration of local norms, and seeing it as a good thing — even if my questionable driving habits are not.

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