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People, Way of Life

Panamanians, street dancing, Typical meals, tamales, important holidays

Panamanians work hard and take part in public affairs, but they also enjoy leisure activities. Traditionally, Panamanians have preferred to work in commerce, finance, brokerages, and services in general. Government employment, teaching, journalism, and careers in law, medicine, religion, and the arts also attract many who are able to secure appointments or the necessary training. To work in the upper echelons of government and business, study in Europe or the United States is essential. The military has rarely been a popular calling.

Leisure time is spent in family outings to the beaches, at country homes (often where the family originated), or in social clubs in the cities. Family gatherings provide frequent opportunities for parties, with music, dancing, food, and conversation.

The biggest festivities in Panama occur at Christmas—usually within the family—and during Carnival, the celebration analogous to Mardi Gras and Brazil’s Carnival that occurs before the Christian season of Lent. Carnival includes parades, street dancing, parties at private clubs, and special religious services. Other important holidays include independence day on November 3 and Firemen’s Day on May 5.

Participatory sports draw fewer people than do spectator ones, and Panamanians support fellow citizens who have successful careers abroad. U.S. sports, especially baseball and basketball, can be followed on local cable television stations.

Typical meals include sancocho (a chicken soup with native cereals and tubers), tamales (made with mashed corn), plantains, and native fruits. In addition, meals usually include rice, beans, broiled meat, potatoes, and fried bananas.

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