Culture in the Dominican Republic

Culture in the Dominican Republic
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Updated 2018-04-26 14:17

The people of the Dominican Republic come from a combination of the Spanish colonists, African slaves, and the original inhabitants of the island, Taino Indians.

This can be seen in the physical appearance of the people with around 80% being brown skinned (mulatto), and the rest being white or black. White skin is something to be aimed for, and in fact, most of the more affluent Dominicans are have paler skinned, being direct descendants of the Spanish. Dominicans in the south west of the country have more Taino Indian blood, and many Taino Indian words are used in the spoken language. Additionally, the influence of the Taino culture can be seen in the food such as Cassava, which is a bread made of yucca flour and dates back to the pre-Spanish era. The African elements are found in the dance and the music such as merengue.

Dominicans love music

The three most important elements of Dominican culture are music, family, and food. Music is a very important part of life to Dominicans and is usually played at very high volume, which many expats find hard to adjust to if they live close a Dominican family or a local bar. The three traditional forms of music used to be bachata, merengue, and salsa, but in recent years, due to the American influence, the younger generations are now listening to reggaeton and hip-hop. Music is played constantly in every home, in every shop, on the guaguas (buses), in the supermarkets, and in the street. In the evening, people will dance in the streets in front of the colmados, the neighbourhood convenience stores.

The importance of family

Family is very important to Dominicans, and children, once they start working, will always give money to their parents. Members of the family will often leave to go to America and send some of their wages back to the Dominican Republic to their family. However, it is not just the younger and single members of the family who go abroad to work; mothers and fathers will often leave their children to be brought up by other family members, especially grandparents.

Very few Dominicans actually marry and instead just live together. It is therefore common for them to have several different relationships, and brothers and sisters to have several different fathers and mothers. When a couple splits up it is usual for the women to keep the daughters and the father to keep the sons, who often end up being brought up by the grandparents.

The effect of poverty

The Dominican Republic is a poor country with around 40% living in abject poverty, on around US$1 a day, and another 40% in poverty, on around US$2 a day. The remaining 20% are the middle class and the affluent. This level of poverty has led to many men becoming desperate to marry foreign women, either to have more money, or the chance to leave the country and make a better living overseas, or both. The average wage is around RD$6,000 a month, which is less than US$150, and it is almost impossible to get out of the poverty trap.

All foreigners are seen as wealthy, which can lead to frustration on behalf of the expats as they will often be charged more than Dominicans for the same service, especially by lawyers, doctors, rent, etc. It is often worth having a Dominican doing negotiations on your behalf.

Important:

The concept of 'borrowing' and 'returning' does not exist. If a Dominican asks to borrow something, be it money or an electric drill, for example, in the vast majority of cases ' not all ' the money or the object will never be returned. Expats need to be aware of this when offering to loan something.

The Dominican personality

In general, Dominicans are a happy, friendly, and helpful people. They share everything they have, especially food, and the expats find it amazing that if your car breaks down, or you have a flat tire, the first vehicle to come along will stop and help. If you need directions, Dominicans will tell you straight away where to go, even if they have no idea, as they hate disappointing people. This latter trait can be annoying as you will never be told the truth, and instead, you will hear what they think you want to hear. If you ask when a repair will be ready, you will always be told 'tomorrow', when it could actually take a month. This also links into the issue of being on time. You may be expecting someone for dinner at 7 pm, you call them at 7.30 pm and they will tell you they are just leaving, which is invariably not the truth and they may actually arrive at 10 pm. This can all be frustrating for the new expat until you learn to understand the culture of the country.

The concept of sharing can also extend into helping oneself to items in an expat home, which most would consider stealing. Dominicans are so used to sharing that if an expat has something that they want, such as food or drinks, they might just help themselves to it without asking. This is the reason that in many Dominican homes, you will find locks on bedroom doors.

The importance of God

As the Dominican Republic is a Roman Catholic country with around 70% of the population described as Catholic, many aspects of life are affected by this. For example, abortion is illegal and Dominicans always use the phrase 'Si Dios quiere' (If God wishes it), after almost everything. Whenever someone asks how you are, you say fine, followed by 'Gracias a Dios' (thanks to God).

Lack of planning

Dominican rarely make plans and tend to live for the day. As long as there is food to eat that day, they are happy, which is one of the things that expats enjoy so much, the lack of stress and the happy-go-lucky people. Expats in the Dominican Republic will find that if they understand the culture and realise that different behaviours are not wrong, but simply different, and if do not place so much emphasis on being on time, then life is much less frustrating.

Useful links:

Dominican Republic ' Culture Smart!: The Essential Guide to Customs & Culture
By Ginnie Bedggood and Ilana Benady (Kuperard, 2010)

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