The name Panama comes from a Native American word meaning “place of many fish.” From the cosmopolitan financial center of Panama City, to the Chiriqui Highlands cloud forest, to the isolated San Blas Islands in the Caribbean, there’s much to learn about Panama. Panama is home to beaches of unparalleled beauty with coral gardens lining their shores and rainforests with exotic animals and rare birds. Popular music, while influenced by international recordings, draws heavily on Afro-Caribbean music.
Panamanian families are usually very close and quite large. Aunts, uncles, cousins and grandparents often live nearby and see each other frequently. Privacy can thus be limited and children often must share rooms. Children remain close to their families even when they are grown, often living at home until they marry.
The father is the head of the household; parental authority is recognized and children are expected to follow their parents’ wishes. Because both parents often work outside the home, children (especially daughters) are expected to help with running the house.
Most teenagers are involved with their homework during the week, so weekends are the time for parties and socializing. Teens like to go out in groups, go to dances, play sports, go to movies or just hang out in the park. Baseball, soccer and basketball are favorite sports. Girls are normally given more stringent rules to follow than their male siblings.
Panamanian teenagers dress casually, but neatness is important. Jeans and t-shirts are common, as are shorts (longer shorts for girls). Cleanliness and bathing everyday is considered essential as Panamanians find body odor offensive. Uniforms are required at school.
Panamanian food reflects the influence of the different cultural groups that have settled the country. Rice is the staple of the diet and is eaten twice a day. Meals include meat, beans, platanos (a type of starchy banana) and vegetables like tomatoes, carrots and cabbage. Spicy foods are rare. Meals are often accompanied by sweet cold fruit drinks called chichas. Unlike many of their other Americas counterparts, family members may eat informally and at different times. Few families have the habit of gathering at the dinner table every evening. That is something which is reserved for special occasions or when they have visitors. Panamanians often offer food as a sign of friendship.
The primary language in Panama is Spanish. Approximately 10% of the population speaks English. About 85% of the population is Roman Catholic, followed by 10% Protestant and 5% Muslim.