I am a newcomer to this forum, but I felt the need to respond. I lived in Chiriqui for more than ten years. I have been back in the US for two years. I've lived in other countries and traveled the world extensively. Like Bonnie, above, I never saw much of a change over the years. I found the Panamanians to be duplicit, mostly indifferent and sometimes hostile. Perhaps because I came to expect rude behavior early on, it was a self perpetuating thing. For the record, I do speak Spanish, and I lived in David in a regular Panamanian neighborhood. Later I moved 'up' (literally and figuratively) to Boquete.
Many attribute it to a 'lack of service mentality'. And this certainly impacts people who dine out or frequent the economy. But I honestly felt less resentment and coldness when I lived in the Middle East. And, again, having spent so much of my life in other cultures, I am well acquainted with adjusting to them. It was not about my protected little white hiney being all over sensitive.
Back in the USA, I am blown away. The politeness of my fellow citizens is an incredible change for me. Reverse culture shock. "After you." "No, please, after you." I live in a moderately large city and I can leave things like bikes and gas cans and hoses just right outside--there for the picking. Days go by without hearing someone blow a horn. I renewed my driver's license and people at the DMV smiled at me. They went out of their way to make it easy.
I am that one who calls a spade a spade. I spent a decade in Panama being told by one and all that it was all 'cultural'. I call horse pucky. Bureaucracy is one thing. I have spent hours and hours of my life elsewhere on this planet sipping tea and waiting. But there was tea. And idle conversation. And lots of smiles.
In Panama, the delight I could read as I was sent hither and yon for yet another piece of 'proof' was astounding. The times I was simply told something, however incorrect, just to get me out of the way are beyond counting. Exchanging a bed spread at Conway's took an army of supervisors. I became accustomed to fetching my own condiments, to chasing the joven for a glass of water and tissue paper for napkins in all but the priciest of restaurants. Perhaps I define a culture in a far different way than most, but stubbornness and willful ignorance are a sad thing to have to 'accept' because that's just the way it is.
And so I left. So, y'all don't even have to go there. I gave it a good try. Spent the time and saw the breathtaking beauty. Made some friends I will keep. I could even envision living there again, only with no illusions.