30 Most Common Phrases & Idioms Used in Panama Every Day

Are you headed to Panama soon? Whether you’re visiting to relax or have a business trip, it’s better to learn some common expressions. It’s a good way of surprising the locals, especially if you’re looking to make friends.

That’s why in this guide, you’ll learn some of the most common slang words Panamanians use daily. They’re in Spanish, and they won’t make sense anywhere else. Read on and learn more today.

1. Saying Hello the Informal, Friendly Way

¿Qué xopá?

Panamanians are fond of changing the order of their words. Xopá is a wordplay on the Spanish word pasó. So, when they ask you this phrase, they’re asking, “¿Que pasó?” in Spanish.

This phrase means “What’s up?”, an informal way of greeting someone. It’s great to use, especially if you want to express familiarity. Spice it up and say “¿Qué xopá loco?”, which means “What’s up, bro?”

2. Calling Someone Silly

Ahuevado

This word’s direct English translation is “egg-headed.” Depending on how you use it, it can either be endearing or derogatory. If you opt to use it for the latter, it’s like calling someone an idiot.

When using it in a friendly way, make sure that it’s only with your friends. Panamanians often use this slang to refer to their close friends. For them, ahuevado means “dude” or “bro” when used in this context.

3. Describing a Pretender

Puro tilín y nada de paleta

This expression is quite complex and requires more understanding of the language. Its literal English meaning is “all bells and no popsicle.” Regardless, it’s an expression used to label a person that claims to do something but didn’t.

“Tilín tilín” is an onomatopoeia of the ice cream man’s bells. You’ll hear it when they pass through the neighborhood selling their dessert. With that, the expression likens a pretender to an ice cream man with no popsicles to sell.

Another situation you can apply this expression is when describing a man who describes himself as a ladies’ man. But in reality, they’re faking it for whatever reason.

4. Using an Expletive

Chuleta

The literal meaning of this word in English is “porkchop.” When used as Panamanian street slang, the word becomes an expletive. It’s a word used when you’re exclaiming something like “damn!”

The best way to use Chuleta is when you’re surprised. Some Panamanians use this word when they’re disappointed and have nothing better to say.

It’s funny since Panamanians don’t know how the expression started. As far as locals can tell, it’s another term that they just say. For example, they also say coño as another means of saying “damn”.

5. Expressing Bad Luck

Estar Saltado

This phrase’s literal meaning is “to be salty”. When encountering a Panamanian native, you might hear them say this phrase. If so, they’re expressing how unlucky they are.

Hearing this phrase might be a good cue for you to start a conversation. After all, you might end up cheering someone up if you talk to them about it. You never know, you might turn their luck around with a chat.

6. A Delicious Dessert

Raspao

When walking around the Panamanian streets, it might get too warm during the mid-day. In that case, you’ll most likely something cold and delectable to relieve the heat. This is the perfect time for you to get a raspao—pronounced like “res-POW”. 

Its English counterpart is an “Icee”, or a slushie. It’s a sweet dessert topped with condensed milk. Other localities refer to it as Granizado or Piragua.

7. Words of Encouragement

Dale pues

This is a common phrase most Panamanians use in their daily lives. Its literal meaning is “Go for it!”. If you’re trying to encourage a local, this is the best expression to use. It’s effective and you’ll sound like a true native.

Also, dale pues means “Okay”. That means you can use it as a cool affirmative response. Don’t hesitate and show your support whenever possible.

8. Describing a Problem

Arroz con mango

This term’s literal English meaning is “Rice with mango.” It doesn’t make sense, and if you think about it, it doesn’t sound like a good meal. But for Panamanians, this slang is what they use when describing fights or other huge problems.

For example, a local that witnesses a fight at their workplace will use arroz con mango to describe it. 

9. Expressing Easy Activities

Chicha e piña

Chicha is a type of fermented drink made using pineapples or fermented rice. It’s not difficult to make, even without training. With that, this expression describes something that you can do without breaking a sweat.

It’s the Panamanian equivalent of the expression “a piece of cake.” Locals that breeze through their work or studies often describe it this way. With that, it’s a handy phrase when you’re trying to show off.

10. Calling a Friend

Fren

It’s important to note that Panama has a deep-seated history with the United States. In 1846, Panama’s isthmus came under the U.S. government’s direct control and protection. This happened even though the country was a province of Colombia during that time.

This type of relationship remained unchanged throughout the majority of the 20th century. It’s due to the Panama Canal’s creation. It took more than two decades to make it.

The United States needed to protect it, extending their occupation. With this, Panama’s culture has a clear American influence. That’s the reason behind this term.

Fren is an undeniable proof of cultural exchange. If you’re a native English speaker, you can use this slang as an endearment to local Panamanians.

11. Expressing Enjoyment

Tripear

This slang is another product of American influence. It originates from the English slang, “trippin’”. In a Panamanian context, locals use it when they’re describing an activity that they’re truly enjoying.

If you’re enjoying the company of your Panamanian friends, make sure to use this term. They will appreciate your thoughtfulness.

12. Addressing Your Best Friend

Inchi Pinchi

This term refers to inseparable people. It’s great when you’re trying to describe your best friend. It’s especially the case when you’re following each other, no matter what situation.

It’s the Panamanian equivalent of the English expression “Best Friends Forever” (BFF).

13. Describing Drunkards

Juma

Its literal translation in English is drunk. It’s the best way to describe you and your Panamanian frens after a few hours of beers. It’s a good slang to remember when you plan to go to Panama for the liquor.

14. A Bad Excuse

Meter un bate

When translated to English, it means “to hit with a bat.” It doesn’t make a lot of sense, but locals will use it when a person gives a terrible excuse. The worst part is that people still believe it.

15. “OK” at Its Purest Form

Offi

This term is the easiest one to learn since you’ll use and hear it a lot. It’s the informal method of saying “it’s good”. With that, the word offi is the essence of the word “okay.”

When used properly, it becomes an all-purpose word. It only applies when you want to express your affirmation with something.

16. Partying in Panama

Chupata

When a local tells you to go to a Chupata, you need to prepare your liver. After all, you’re most likely going to drink a lot of beer and wine. If it’s a big chupata, you can expect it to have even stronger alcoholic beverages.

The reason? Locals use chupata as the slang for a party with loud music with bountiful alcoholic drinks. 

17. Saying “Dude” the Panamanian Way

Pelao

Regardless of the country, you’ll find a slang for the word “dude”. The term mentioned above is Panama’s. It’s derived from the word pelado, meaning “boy” in some Latin American regions.

If you’re friends with a local, calling them pelao will express your familiarity with them.

18. Money Slang

Plata

This word’s literal English translation is “silver.” Take note, this slang for money isn’t limited to Panamanians. Some countries in the Central American region also use it in the same context.

19. Vague Labeling

Vaina

This noun means “thing” in English. It’s an expression that you use when you’re referring to anything that has no obvious labels due to any reason. It applies whether you’re keeping it a secret, you have no idea what it is, or you won’t bother thinking about the right word.

20. Asking for the Bus Assistant

Pavo

Its English counterpart is “turkey.” This term refers to a bus driver’s assistant. It’s the person hanging out on open the doors of the bus while it moves.

The pavo’s job is to ask people aboard to move back into the vehicle. They also collect your money before entering the bus. If you want to know whether a bus can accommodate you, ask the pavo since it’s their job.

21. Addressing a Fan

Birrioso

This term best describes a person who’s a fan of something. Whether it’s a hobby, a music genre, or a sports team, you can become a birrioso. It applies best when your enthusiasm isn’t balanced, making it difficult to keep track of time.

22. Asking for a Straw

Carrizo

In Spanish, carrizo is the term that refers to a reed. But when used by the locals of Panama, it becomes slang for a drinking straw. If you’re in a restaurant and you need to get a straw, make sure to use this word.

The best part is that it’s simple and hard to misunderstand. Even when your Spanish-speaking capabilities aren’t polished, uttering this word will make your server understand.

23. Describing the Lack of Money

Estar en la cama de los perros

This phrase means “to be in a doghouse”. In an American setting, this expression often means that you’re fighting with your spouse. But in Panama, it means that you don’t have money.

So, when a local asks if they can borrow some money, say this phrase. They will understand that you’re broke and leave you alone.

24. Asking for a Plastic Bag

Cartucho

For most Latin American countries, the word cartucho means printer cartridge. Generally, it’s the thing you put as soon as you run out of ink. For Panama, its meaning isn’t related to technology.

In this country, cartucho is the term used for a plastic bag. If you’re shopping, you can always use this word to ask for a bag. It’s convenient, especially if you’re carrying lots of groceries.

25. Describing a Faux Pas

Chiquishow

This term is a combination of the Spanish word chiquillos (children) and the English word show. With that, its literal meaning is “children show”. But the show is when your children throw a public temper tantrum.

In Panama, chiquishow is the term used to describe a public scandal. When people make a ruckus in public, this word is your best description.

26. Skipping Classes

Pavearse

This expression’s literal meaning is to act like a turkey. It’s a bird that struts themselves—a common trait of students that skip their classes. That’s why in Panama, pavearse means playing hooky.

People call students that skip their class consistently paviolos. If you don’t want people calling you a turkey, make sure to attend school without fail.

27. Describing a Ruckus

Alborotar el congo

This is a popular expression in Panama, which means “to stir up a wasp’s nest”. A congo is a species of a black wasp with excruciating stings. With that, a person hacking away at its nest with a stick is a fool.

After all, hundreds of wasps will emerge and chase them down. With this, the phrase alborotar el congo means stirring up trouble. If you want to describe situations that can lead to a ruckus, this phrase is for you.

28. Inviting Friends to a Private Party

Parkin

This word looks like the English word for parking. It’s confounding since it also sounds the same. But the truth is that its meaning is far from parking spaces or anything vehicular.

Parkin refers to a party exclusive to your friends. So, if you want to invite your frens over, you can use this word to sound cool and hip.

29. Excluding People

Chifear

This term often means trouble, especially for couples. After all, chifear refers to the act of leaving someone out of your plans. In simpler terms, this word means “to ignore people.”

30. Describing a Bald Man

Cocobolo

This is a specific term that Panamanians use when they describe a balding man. It applies to people without any hair or literal skinheads. Don’t confuse this term with the counter-cultural group.

Take note, you can use cocobolo as an endearing term. You can also use it to insult someone. But as a general rule, this slang term is descriptive.

Why Choose Panama as a Destination for Spanish Learning?

Panama can offer a lot to its visitors like its alluring nature spots and modern capital city. But if you’re trying to learn Spanish, this destination is the best for you. Panama’s location is ideal for learning.

The country’s location is within Central America’s southeast end. It’s on the isthmus that connects Central America to its Southern counterpart. The Panama Canal slices the country in the middle.

When visiting this picturesque country, go for the canal and the capital first. After that, you can branch-off and go to the less-traveled path. A good recommendation is Boquete since it’s a well-known area for producing coffee.

Another Panamanian place you should check out is Bocas del Toro. It’s a bunch of majestic islands adored by both tourists and locals alike. Some say that it’s one of the most breathtaking locations in the world.

Why Add Panamanian Slang to Your Vocabulary?

Spanish is one of the most spoken languages in the world. It’s used by more than 400 million people across 31 different nations. As with any language, Panama has a set of slang expressions and phrases.

Regardless of your location in Panama, you need to learn basic street talk. It isn’t an absolute requirement if you’re a vacationer. But it’s always great to have since you’re bound to hear the locals using these along with idioms.

You must remember that enjoying an aspect of the language is better than avoiding the experience entirely. Panamanians believe that this philosophy is wonderful.

Learn Panamanian Expressions Today!

It’s always important to learn proper Spanish first before you use slang words. But if you want locals to understand you better, you need to know the local slang. It’s fun and it helps Panamanians feel more at ease with you.

Lots of slang words exist in Panama, most of which are fun to use. It’s difficult to find the starting point if you’re new. But with this list, you know where to begin since the terms and expressions aren’t overly complicated.

Remember, some slang terms will require you to have a good understanding of the Spanish language. If you don’t, you’ll find it hard to make sense when forming sentences with these terms. Don’t hesitate and start learning Spanish today.

Did you find this list engaging? If so, you can read more of our guides and learn more about Panama today.

Matt Romero

I’m Matthew Romero, one of the guys behind PanamaLifeInsider.com I am incredibly passionate about Panama, its beautiful territory, and all the incredible opportunities which offer to people coming here from all over the world both either visiting and settling. In this blog, I decided to share my passion with you!

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