Most mornings I have coffee and an empanada at Pasteleria Noel.  I have been meaning to write a post complaining about some of the inefficiencies there but held off as I suspected something bad had happened to the owner who seems like a nice guy.

I noticed a Mercedes parked in front of the place at an odd hour and thought “that must be the owner’s car”. My first thought – as it always is when I see a fancy car in Panama was “why would you make yourself such a target?”  As I passed by later in the day I snapped the following picture:


Well now I was pretty certain that something bad happened and it was probably the owner.  There was nothing in the news for a few days but from today’s newspaper we learn that the owner of this Mercedes was kidnapped but has since been recovered.

Se sospecha de un grupo de venezolanos y colombianos que lo interceptaron el pasado jueves por el área de Bella Vista, en donde fue encontrado su vehículo. Durante este fin de semana la Policía hizo operativos para ubicar al resto de la banda.

I still am not sure if this is the owner of Pasteleria Noel but I suspect it is.  In any event, now that it is either A. Not him, or B.  It is him and he’s ok now, let me proceed to rant about the inefficiency of the place:

When you sit at the counter and eat and have a coffee you can’t actually pay at the counter.  You have to pay in the main checkout line.  The main checkout line is often crowded and is full of people buying a whole bunch of cakes and/or pastries for an event they are having that night.  I have long ago accepted that the 3rd world isn’t good at making lines move smoothly, but here is something easy that can be easily fixed:

While the desserts and cakes made every day differ, there are the “bakery staples” made fresh every day such as croissants, baguettes, and the like.

When you go to buy a croissant (as I do from time to time to eventually make a ham sandwich with it) it is not as simple as saying “un croissant por favor” and then paying for it.  Baked goods all very slightly in size and shape.  This is no big deal and the variance is always small.  At Pasteleria Noel, however, instead of just having a set price for a croissant they weigh every single one and charge accordingly.  This adds multiple extra steps to the process of buying a croissant.  Let’s compare the “normal” vs. Pasteleria Noel process for buying a croissant:


Me:  One croissant please

Bakery worker:  Here you go.

Cashier:   75 cents please

Me:  (pays) Thank you!

Cashier: Thank you!

Pasteleria Noel:

Me:  One croissant please

Bakery worker:  Do you care which one?

Me:  No

Bakery worker (weighs the croissant, writes the price on the bag)

Cashier:  How much?

Me: (Shows the bag)

Cashier: 72 cents! (or 71, 76, it varies)

Me:  (needs to count out 72 cents  I spend my changed here.  I couldn’t just have 75 cents locked and loaded and ready to put in her hand.)

Cashier:  Thank you

Now, if this sounds inefficient, it is even worse when dealing with some customers because they will waste time picking out the exact croissant or loaf of bread that they want.

Back to the kidnapping:  Driving a Mercedes around Silicon Valley isn’t likely to make you the target for a kidnapping or robbery.  In Panama City it is.  So why do people drive Mercedes in Panama City?

I reached out to my good friend Stephen Hilgart.  Steve is the most insightful person I know on human behavior.  Check out his website:  I had the fortune of sharing an apartment with Steve in Riga for 6 weeks or so in which time I learned more about human behavior and thus myself than in my prior 41 years combined.  Steve explains that it is all about significance:

Everyone wants to feel like they are a part of someone and they want to be loved and all but at the same time we all want to be different and unique and special.  The challenge in labeling it “significance” as I do is that not everyone uses that word to describe it.  They might use unique, special, or different.

My own advice is to search for significance outside of  material goods.  This is one of the reasons I write this blog even though nobody really reads it (yet!).