Although the American calendar has a slew of holidays, there are only two on the books where most businesses are actually closed--Thanksgiving and Christmas Day. Some holidays-- like Memorial Day or Labor Day--are holidays for 9-to-5 workers but are extra-busy for people who work retail or hospitality. Other holidays--like Secretary's Day or Grandparent's Day--are largely ignored by all but a few people.
In Panama, holidays are treated like holy days. In fact, the calendar is chalk-full of holidays that are vacation days for everyone. For example, everything is closed for five solid days in February to celebrate Carnival, including stores, restaurants and even streets. Panamanians spend days dancing in the streets, listening to loud festive music, and shooting fireworks. In November, there are five separate holidays in the first five days of the month which constitute a 5-day vacation from work. Need something dry cleaned or notarized? Better do it before Halloween or you'll have to wait a week.
Panama isn't a "manana" culture. In fact, most people work a five-and-a-half-day workweek. For a country that puts in that many work hours, real downtime makes sense.
I'm about to celebrate my third Christmas in Panama, so I'm getting used to the pace. Going shopping on a holiday is very American; something you need to shed like a skin once you get here. Although newbies (myself included) get annoyed when they can't get instant gratification during a holiday period, once the holiday schedule is embraced it's rather refreshing. Instead of spending holidays running errands or shopping frenetically, holidays are spent relaxing, going to the beach, enjoying family and friends, and feasting.
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Melissa Darnay is a marketer, a serial entrepreneur, and a relocation concierge in Panama. Learn more...