21 days and counting until we head down to Panama. Finally, a vacation has been decided! Never thought I’d see the day. We spent countless hours researching (and countless years [literally] saving!). There was a lot to juggle: schedules, budgets, miles, locations. Finally, the stars have aligned for Panama, so there we go.
Here’s a small taste of what planning for this trip was like. To preface: although I work in a field that preaches ‘global citizenship’ + ‘cultural sensitivity’, I admit, I’ve found myself falling into the ‘culturally insensitive’ trap from time to time. Actually, I wouldn’t say ‘culturally insensitive’ as much as I’d say ‘culturally frustrated’.
Let me set the scene. It involves booking airline tickets with a Panamanian airline. Here’s what went down:
During our trip, we’ll be flying from Panama City to Contadora Island. The flight is operated by a Panamanian airline. With airlines in the states, the process is fairly easy (and by easy, I mean it’s what I’m accustomed to). You get online, find a flight, book a ticket, get an email confirmation. Boom. Done.
This is not the case with the Panamanian airline.
On the PA site, you begin by selecting dates/times of flight. Info is displayed. Click ‘reserve’. Enter in your info. Click ‘submit’. And that’s it! No payment, no email confirmation, no payment, nada.
A few days passed and we heard nothing from PA, so I emailed to follow up. The following conversation took place:
Me: Hi, I’m emailing to follow up, confirm tickets & see how we pay.
Air: Send us names of passengers, dates of flight & credit card info.
Me: Ok. Sent dates. Requested price confirmation before sending payment info.
Air: Replied with price -> 2x listed price on website!
Me: Sent screen shot of prices. Asked why price is double.
Air: “Oh, those prices don’t include taxes and fees”
*Apparently taxes/fees are same amount as airline ticket!*
Me: Sent over payment, c/c number, name on card, exp. date.
Air: Sent back etickets and receipt. My name was spelled incorrectly on ticket and the card was charged to the wrong name.
Me: Asked for above mistakes to be fixed and reissue ticket.
Air: Sure. But it’ll cost you $10 per change!
Me: $*@$@#$!!! I’m not asking for a change, I’m request that mistakes made on your end be corrected.
Air: Oh ok, we won’t charge you.
The entire conversation was done in Spanish. Although I’m not a native speaker, I am fluent. However, I’m fluent in book/Mexican spanish, not Panamanian spanish. So, this was a challenge for me! At one point, I had one of my native speaking Spanish friends take a look at one of the emails the woman from the airline had sent, as I had read the email about 15 times and could not for the life of me understand what it said. Turns out, the email was 5 sentences but 0 punctuation was used. Once the punctuation was added, it made a heck of a lot more sense.
Bringing this all full circle…
My initial non-reflective non-global citizen perspective was that of frustration and ‘WTF. How can they run a business like this?!!?! Unbelievable!!!’
Then, reflection mode kicked in. I started thinking about what I teach our student bloggers. One thing I try to instill in our bloggers is the ability to not only develop powerful storytelling skills, but to have the mindset to also be able to analyze and reflect upon their experiences.
What happened to me and my reaction?? Let’s take a moment to reflect…
After a bit of pondering, I realized I’m usually drawn back to the same conclusion: when in/dealing with a new culture, it’s necessary to not hold this new culture to the standards you know from your own. The whole beauty of going to a new place is interacting with new people, seeing a different way of life & appreciated the differences. Having that totally new, slightly confusing and frequently frustrating…yet totally wonderful, enriching, eye-opening, life-changing experience.
Does that mean you have to like it? Nope. Does that mean you have to agree with it? Absolutely not. What it means is that you have to understand it…even if that means agreeing to disagree.
So, how about that for an AHA moment? There’s a reason we’re going to Panama and not somewhere far more familiar. I love the challenge, I love the learning, and I love the opportunity to get a taste of what life is like in another culture/society/country unlike my own.
21 days and counting!