One tale of the origin of the term gringo says that back when the US had soldiers all over Mexico and Central America, they wore green fatigues. The Spanish transliteration of “green” would be spelled with an “i” as that is the “eeee” sound in Spanish. Some fed-up, independence-lusting Latino with a can of spray paint and excellent native spelling skills approached a wall with intent to produce “Green Go Home” and sprayed “Grin Go Home.” Tah dahhh: Gringo.
You might say it caught on. In fact, it became so popular that nowadays anyone from anywhere Spanish is not the native language, including Europe and sometimes Asia, is called a gringo. Or gringa if the someone is of the female persuasion. My Belgian friends here object, as do many of the multitudinous Canadians. But it does them no good. Gringo has come to mean, simply, foreigner. There seems to be no particular negative connotation attached now. Or, at least not a heavy one.
I would not be truthful if I did not acknowledge there are people here in Panama who don’t like gringos, don’t like americanos. Or maybe they just don’t like foreigners. I get a scowl from time to time. A friend who used to live here (she was actually Mexican by birth) said she felt the pressure of prejudice constantly. She and her husband moved back to the States because of it. But, from what I have seen I would say that anywhere you go, you will find a bigot or two, no matter who you are or where you’re from. Mostly, everyone in the Azuero has been immensely friendly and helpful to me. I love it here.
I may be naive, but my experience has always been that if you behave in a reasonably lovable manner, you are usually loved — or at least appreciated. But my experience may not be common. My poor brother, who qualified at least casually as a “redneck,” was beaten near to death by a couple of “good ole boys” while hitchhiking in Montana. His offense? “Looking like a hippie.” He was in need of a haircut at that time.
Check out this map and article presented in The Washington Post. The map is color-coded by openness to foreigners. Notice that the US is lavender — not the best possible score. Worse, Panama is one of the light pink countries.
OK, fellow expats and wannabe expats, what are your thoughts on this? Do your neighbors love you? If not, have you been lovable?