Wrong Attitudes and Expectations
I am married to a foreign-born man. My husband is a naturalized citizen of the United States of America. He speaks English, albeit with a bit of a Danish accent, but he does communicate well in English. We both complained about non-English speaking people. A frequent comment from myself and others was "If you are going to live in my country why do you not try to speak English?"
Fast forward to our host country of Panama. Like most of the civilized world, many people study and work abroad from here. They learn English, French, German and other languages. However, the national language is Spanish. My husband and I had no expectations of the people here speaking English to us at almost every business. We assumed we would speak Spanish to them. Thank God they are so courteous that they do not laugh in our faces when we speak such poor Spanish they can barely understand a word we say. It is difficult more so for Arne than myself because his accent of Danish seems to prevent him from forming the words correctly. I, on the other hand, occasionally pronounce words so correctly it is automatically assumed I speak fluent Spanish. This creates a problem as well.
In Panama, the people appreciate it when others try to speak their language. They graciously and patiently correct you and make as much effort as they can to help you get your point across. What aggravates me and others, is the rude way some expat's act towards non-English speaking people in this their host country! This is a Latin country, not a suburb of North America. I fail to see how or why anyone would expect English to be the first or second language of Panama. Business is often conducted in a bilingual manner, but documents are not legal unless they are written in Spanish. It behooves one to at least take a translator when they are going to open a bank account, or check into a hospital or purchase services like insurance, car repairs, or rent a car. Of course, many of these businesses do have at least one employee that speaks English. Yet, they are not always there when you need them. With cell phone apps, laptops, I-pads and so on it is possible to get translations fairly quickly. Or a person could plan ahead and type out the information, ask questions and have it printed out before they arrive and find out no English speaking help is available at that time.
I have seen total melt-downs, people speaking louder than necessary as if by talking louder the other party will understand. It is not a hearing problem, it is a language barrier that prevents the parties from a successful transaction. Being rude doesn't impress anyone and it probably does more harm than good. Attitude is important. Whether we want to or not, represent our homelands. It is a sad thing to have a stigma or label such as "Ugly American" be the impression most people remember about you in your current location. Be the good representative and have some class. Everything is different in Panama. Some of it is slow and tedious, while other times it is kind and effective. Seldom is it the same as in America or wherever you come from. It is easy to forget that just because many people in Panama speak English you are not in the the USA.
Be prepared to need more information that you were told you would need. Do not get mad. Be polite and get the right information and come back ready and willing to do business. Know in advance what questions to ask and if you cannot speak Spanish or understand it. Take a friend who can or use a translation book or device. The fact you try is a big plus. Please be well mannered. They have a different culture and totally different laws and requirements than America. It is a big deal to businesses in Panama that transactions are done with dignity and professional respect. Attitude and expectations set the pace for either a really difficult and thoroughly disappointing business deal or a meaningful and respectful one.