When I first arrived in Panama I quickly found myself in a rural area with little Spanish knowledge. I had taken classes in eighth and ninth grade, but had forgotten much of the information by tenth grade. By the time I was faced with having to understand and utilize Spanish I was in my late twenties. Luckily, there are many people in Panama armed with a working knowledge of Spanish, the dialect is clear to recognize, and there are many English words that have snuck into their everyday usage of language.
One of the words that I found always caught me was ahora. This was a word I had definitely learned in my Spanish classes and one that I remembered the meaning: now. However, I quickly learned that in Panama, it is used in a loose form. My first true understanding of their usage came while at a restaurant. When I ordered my meal, I was asked if I wanted my beverage “ahora.” I was thirsty, so I said yes. I then proceeded to wait...and wait for my beverage to not arrive until after my meal had been served. In time I came to realize that in Panama ahora means in a little bit, which could be further defined as everything from five minutes to up to about two hours from the present time.
If a Panamanian would like something immediately they use the words “ya” or “ahora misma.” In other countries, these words may be construed as a little rude, a demand for something at this very moment, no negotiation. Once, while in the United States, I ate at a restaurant where the waiter was fluent in Spanish, having come to the U.S. from Guatemala. We conserved in Spanish while I made my order. He asked if I wanted my beverage ahora to which I responded, “no, ahora misma.” I was met with a slightly confused look. I asked him about the usage of the terms in his native country and learned that “ahora” to him meant “now.”
As you travel around the world you will find a variety of dialects. When you visit Panama remember that “ahora” may result in you having to wait a little while!