(Thepanamagringo.com) If you have spent any time in Panama City then you are aware of a phenomenon I like to call “Getting Gringoed.” This term refers to situations when because of your physical appearance or inability to speak Spanish you are automatically charged a higher price for the good or service you intend to purchase. Being a Blond Haired, Blue Eyed, Poor Spanish Speaking “Super-Gringo” the phenomenon of “Getting Gringoed” happens to me on a daily basis.
In Panama City this phenomenon is not limited to certain places or things, but it seems that it’s fair game to charge extra to Gringos for virtually everything, whether you are in an established bar or a street market. One place you are guaranteed to “Get Gringoed” is by the taxi drivers of Panama. After living in this city for quite some time I’ve realized that for $1-2 you SHOULD be able to get almost anywhere in the city, but it took me quite some time to figure out how to get the fair price. Flagging down a taxi as a “Super Gringo” I am almost always told that it will cost $5 no matter where I’m going and sometimes I have been told to pay as high as $10 for a simple ride within the city. Now the most common technique to combat this frustrating Gringo phenomenon is the simple haggle of starting low and eventually meeting at a halfway point between the prices offered and desired. What blows my mind about Panama is that this strategy often doesn’t work as the Panamanian taxi drivers are notorious for refusing fare for almost no reason at all. Even before price is discussed if you state a desired location to be driven and that driver doesn’t feel like going that way he will just shake his finger and speed off. Also, when the driver suggests an outrageous price and you try and tell him the fair one he often gives you a look like you just cursed his entire family and speeds off.
So what is the best strategy to get a fair taxi price in Panama? My advice is to just hop into the cab instead of trying to haggle the price beforehand. Once inside the cab the most important thing is to make small talk with the driver. Start off with something funny like “hoy hace mucho calor para un gringo” (today is really hot for a gringo) to break the ice. Most drivers will laugh at this and recognize that you speak at least a minimal amount of Spanish which will begin to knock your price down. Most Panamanians think it’s hilarious when Gringo’s call themselves a Gringo so this is always a good opener! Next mention something about how you live or work in the city so that the cab driver knows that you are not just a rich gringo passing through (even if you are). After you have established this rapport with the driver casually throw in a “cuanto cuesta” (how much) and almost always you will be given the fair price as if you were a Panamanian! While pulling this off you always must maintain a smile, an air of confidence and a laid back attitude. For some reason there is an air of animosity that is often automatically created when trying to haggle for a taxi, but if you simply treat the driver like a fellow human being, joke around with them and try to speak some Spanish you will more often than not be given the fair price. For more tips on how to get the right price in Panama feel free to contact this sunburned Gringo.