David A. Bandel
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Today started out as most days here in Panama. Warm, sunny, and blissful. Ran the wife to work, then the kids to school. On the way home, I was cut off (as usual) by Panamanian too lazy and ignorant to understand the Spanish word for "Stop" on a ubiquitous red octagonal sign.
Today was a bit different, however. Today, a policeman was standing in front of the school not 20 feet from where I was cut off (and had to swerve hard to avoid a collision). The cop signalled me to stop.
I asked him if he had been watching when the vehicle now behind me ran the stop and cut me off. Had anyone been coming from the other way I would have had no choice but hit him. The police asked me which stop. I pointed and told him one on the road that T's into this one.
The policeman talked to the driver of the other car for a minute, then waved us both on.
The problem is, apart from gross incompetence of the traffic police here, that Panamanians come to a complete stop for a speed bump (the only thing they stop for) then crawl over the small bump like it was a major obstacle. The speed bump right where the other road T's into the main road is a green light for all cars on the intersecting street to run the stop. But I don't stop for speed bumps (and the law doesn't require me to) and have nearly collided with cars at this intersection any number of times.
Panamanians as a whole have strange ideas about how to drive. They take the right of way when they don't have it (like turning left at a stop), and stop and wait when they have the right of way. This makes for extremely dangerous situations when foreigners (of which I'm one), stop and wait when we don't have the right of way (occasioning lots of horn honking from behind, and arm waving from the car with the right of way who is stopped waiting for me to go and I waiting for him to get out of the way), and keep going to get out of the way when we have the right of way to the surprise of those trying to take the right of way when they don't have it.
Curious if this was addressed in the Panama Drivers Manual, I've read this manual cover to cover several times. What sticks out is that Panamanians drive exactly the opposite of what the law decrees according to the driver's manual, but they drive exactly like all the pictures depicting incorrect driving procedures.
I will note that all the incorrect procedures have a great big red circle with a slash through. I will also note that Panamanians seem incapable of comprehending graphics. It's like they didn't go to kindergarten. Case in point, the Public Ministry (where district attorneys and the like work) has a small parking lot with arrows depicting traffic flow. It's like as not someone (usually a DA) will be driving against the arrows (against the traffic flow) making a mess of the parking lot.
The arrows were deemed necessary when this inadequate parking lot (designed for Toyota Yaris sized vehicles -- about the size of the old VW Bugs) filled with SUVs. No one here except taxi drivers or those who can't afford anything else buy tiny little cars.
In fact, that's yet another problem here. Panamanian "engineers" obviously have never driven cars. All parking lots here pose huge problems for all but the tiniest of cars. If 6 SUVs park in any lot around here three abreast and across from each other, the two poor slobs in the middle can't get their cars out until one of the other four corner cars leaves. In fact, they'll be lucky if they can open their doors far enough to get in.
And try to tell any of them about these problems. They're ignorant, refuse to hear you (because they know better) and insist on making the same mistakes over and over.
Yes, it's incredibly blissful down here. But the next time you hear that, remember what bliss is a synonym for.
Panama will forever remain a blissful third world country. Let's face it, any place that strives for mediocrity and celebrates those few occasions when they achieve it, only digs their grave deeper with every passing year.
And like the clueless, incompetent cop who was all but run over in the near-accident when the other car ran the stop (yet convinced himself and the cop he was in the right), even hundreds of accidents and tens of deaths won't deter the determined and deepening bliss that's Panama.
David-Ignorance is Bliss -- Welcome to Blissful Paradise
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