PUSH or PULL in Panama


Push or pull signs on door in Las Tablas

Push (Empuje) and Pull (Hale) on a Door in Las Tablas

I wouldn’t confess to this if I didn’t know that at least 50% (maybe more) of the people reading this article also have the problem. I refer to the 50-50 selection process for opening a door: Should you push or pull on that door in front of you? It’s not necessarily a no-brainer even in English, am I right?

Come on, you know I’m right.

It’s especially agonizing when there is a really obvious sign you don’t notice in time and the door doesn’t budge when you shove it.  So you do that little dance that converts the shove to a yank, and hope no one was watching.  It’s always a tiny bit embarrassing.  Especially when the sign is HUGE.

It gets worse in a foreign language. In Spanish the words are Empuje and Hale. Empuje means “Push” and Hale means “Pull.” Most doors are clearly marked and “should” therefore be no problem, right?

When I first arrived in Panama, it didn’t matter that I knew the translation for the words. I got it wrong at least three quarters of the time anyway. Even when I DID see the sign.

In general, Panamanians usually try very hard not to laugh at you where you can hear them doing it. They don’t want to hurt your feelings or embarrass you.

However, do not be deceived. The locals are far from humor-impaired. Once they think you are out of hearing distance, they let loose with the snorts, the chuckles and the guffaws, just like friends and strangers back home do.

My “salvation” on this issue came from another gringa, who kindly pointed out a way to remember which was which. I wish I could remember who she was, so I could give her credit. Instead of translating directly, she suggested that when she saw Hale (Pull), she thought “Haul on it.” And Empuje (Push) became “Em-push it.”

I find this extremely helpful.

Maybe you will, too.

It’s the little things that make life more comfortable, yes?