Buying a Car in the Azuero

Buying a Car

Signed, Sealed & Delivered

Apparently, buying a car here in Panama can be as complicated or as simple as you please.

I have a friend who describes herself as “an impulse shopper.” She moved to Panama intent on being transportationally green, on riding the buses and being a super denizen of her new country. The place she choose to live just happens to be a beach, and that beach happens to be at the end of the longest single road from a highway to a beach in all of Panama. It takes forever and a half to get out there. At first she took the bus. And as a novelty, it was OK. But there was the heat, and the wait for the bus. The waiting and waiting and waiting, because it wasn’t exactly on a precise schedule, and if you missed it, the next one didn’t come for a few hours. Or maybe until the next day.

It took six weeks for her to cave. She decided to buy a car, and all of her friends here were delighted because it meant they might actually see something of her once she became mobile. So they lined up helpers for her, and took her around to look at cars. Initially, she had said she wanted a small car, something easy to drive, something in good shape that wasn’t going to break down in the middle of no place. Because her plans for duration of stay weren’t yet firm, she thought a used car might be the ticket, so they looked into buying one. She also checked out a few new ones, just to get a feel for the prices. And of course, she probably did a bit of online research into the various types of small cars, what was available in Panama, etc., etc.

The second day of the Big Car Hunt, she was on a bus about to head back to the beach, but still in town, when her bus became involved in a traffic jam. I don’t know for sure how long she sat there, hot and impatient, thigh to thigh with her fellow passengers, without air-conditioning, without Spanish and the ability to join the other passengers in complaining. But as she sat there trying to amuse herself with the available scenery, she remembered the Hyundai dealership was not far away. Instantly she rose, stepped off the bus and marched over to the dealership. There, without so much as taking it for a test drive, she purchased a brand new, tiny white car. Put it on her charge card.

She was disappointed that she had to wait a day to take it home (her actual car was down in Santiago and had to be brought to Chitre), but she got an excellent price on it, the Feria (annual regional fair) price, which included taxes as well as the rest of the enchilada.

Even better, just as she completed her transaction the traffic jam broke up and she was able to grab a bus before it left for the hinterlands. THAT, my friends, is an example of good karma (no pun intended, but you can have it if you want it).

Now. I have shared this story a few times and reactions are mixed. Some people are appalled that she didn’t make her purchase process more complex. They think it should have taken longer, involved more people, more negotiating, more difficulties, more waffling, more time.

My own reaction is WOW.  And I am reminded of three things that have been pushed in my face repeatedly over the past twenty years. First, Really Effective CEOs are said to gather only enough information to make a solid decision. They don’t need every last fact in hand before they decide something. Second, these Really Effective CEOs  DECIDE, and they do it NOW. The underlying assumption here, of course, is that Really Effective CEOs are among those persons we peons should attempt to emulate.

The third thing is that psychologists are now saying that absolutely no one makes rational decisions. Instead, people use rationality to justify the emotions that led to their choice.

(I was delighted to learn this, since I am seldom accused of being rational.)

But the bottom line moral in this tale, as far as I am concerned, is that it’s possible a lot of the kvetching we all hear regarding doing business in Panama might be generated from nothing more than a kvetcher’s habit of waffling while kvetching. This is a country where what you think you are saying might very possibly mean something other than what you think it means. Direct confrontation seems to be avoided here whenever possible, but when engaged in, it seems to sometimes be interpreted as negotiation. This makes me wonder if it’s possible that foreign kvetchers are making their own lives more difficult without realizing it.

Case in point: my friend went in to the dealership to buy a car.  She knew what she wanted:  a small car, in good shape (new) at a great price.  She found one that met her criteria.  So she said, I’ll take this one.  Here’s the money.  And that was that. No waffling, no kvetching, no anxious clinging to the checkbook, and it was a done, delivered deal. Punto (period).

Could it be that the locals serving  the kvetchers “so badly” are only trying to give them what they appear to ask for?

Now there’s a thought.