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5 Things You Might Find Odd about Dominican Culture

5 Things You Might Find Odd about Dominican Culture

Every country and city has its own customs and culture. The Dominican Republic has a rich history and its citizens have a strong sense of cultural identity and pride.

At times, Dominicans are influenced by American culture (for example, some listen to music in English, watch American movies, or say Americanized versions of things like “hamburger” instead of the Spanish “hamburguesa”, or exclaim “omaigah”.)

Before I moved here, I lived in a Dominican neighborhood in New York City, and I had visited the island a few times, so I was familiar with some cultural aspects. Regardless, a few things continue to stick out to me; however, the longer I live here, the more I understand.

1) Colmados

I have developed a love for colmados, little shops that sell everything from individual rolls of toilet paper to salami, from ice to matches, from chips to Brugal Rum. Located practically on every other street, these locally owned places also are places to convene, chat with your neighbors, play dominoes, and kick back a few shots of rum or “super fria” Presidentes. The other great thing about colmados is you can call and order what you need and have it delivered directly to your door.

Do you need an extra roll of bread or has an unexpected guest arrived and you need to cook a meal? Have no fear, make one phone call and these things will be delivered directly to your door for free. Of course, you could tip the delivery boy a few pesos if you so desire, but it is not required.

Woman selling to customers in a colmado
Dominican Colmado | PresidenciaRD / Creative Commons License

2) Island Time

Dominicans are very relaxed when it comes to time and this attitude affects everything from business to social plans. Businesses are a little more structured, but meetings can start late and run over time, and assignments can sometimes take longer than expected to reach completion. For social plans, this means that parties start much later than anticipated and meet-up times are flexible. People say “ahorita”, which literally means “little now” or as I would like to think “right now.”

In reality, ahorita can mean anything from the past tense use of the word with “within the past hour,” but can also mean the immediate future but can range from five minutes to half an hour to three hours, or even never. I have learned to let my expectations of “New York Minutes” go and live in the moment.

3) Fashion

First-time American visitors to a Caribbean island may assume the best choice in apparel is shorts, a loose t-shirt, comfortable sandals, and a hat for the sun. In reality, Dominicans choose fashion over comfort. In my opinion, compared to Americans who tend to dress very casually, Dominicans take much pride in their appearance and look very put-together.

In the capital, Dominicans wear business casual/business formal regardless of how oppressive the heat is. As a New York native, I had become accustomed to wearing dark, inconspicuous clothes. Here, brighter and tighter is better. A quick walk through a major mall like Agora may make you question whether you are at a club or at a shopping center. However, all of these rules are thrown out the window upon arrival to a residential neighborhood or once at home, where people swap their formal clothes for shorts, tank tops, and chancletas (sandals).

Dominican girl with hairs rolls standing in front of a house
Girl using hair rolls after getting her hair done at the salon | ElMarto / Creative Commons License

During the work day, or at night, men wear well-fitted pants and shirts. Shoes are always perfectly shined, due in part to informal shoe-shiners who wait on street corners and by near major transportation hubs. For about 20 pesos, your shoes will look brand new while you wait.

Women wear tight fitting blouses and dress pants, and occasionally a skirt with super high heels. Hair, nails and makeup are always perfect, as a result of frequent salon visits to wash and straighten their hair. At night, women swap dress pants for short skirts or tight dresses.

4) Public Transportation

One of the hardest things for me to learn was how to get around using public transportation. In the United States, public transportation is generally reliable, operates on a standardized schedule, and rides have a standardized rate that is advertised not only on the many schedules and route maps that are visible at all bus stops, but also can be found through a quick internet search.

I would have loved to have a map when I first moved here which showed the routes of public cars, but I had to learn the public transportation system by word of mouth. However, learning the routes in this informal manner helped me understand how this seemingly unsystematic system operates.

Generally, public cars (carritos) travel along predetermined roads north-south or east-west. Carritos must be hailed from the side of the road and you inform the driver the moment you want to be let out of the car, and the driver will pull over. Busses operate in a similar manner. There is an incredibly efficient metro system in Santo Domingo that was built in 2008 and has two lines with a free transfer between them.

Woman boarding a carro publico in the DR
Carros públicos, one of the most used modes of transportation in Santo Domingo | raunov / Creative Commons License

I absolutely love the metro due to its safety, reliability, speed (Santo Domingo can be filled with traffic during commuter rush hours), and last but not least the air-conditioned cars!

5) Hospitality

Dominicans are very hospitable. Time and time again I have been welcomed into people’s homes graciously. I am always offered coffee, a meal, and if I am an overnight guest at a family’s home I am always offered my own bed and a change of clothes. People are very giving, and for this reason more than anything else, I feel welcome here even though I am a foreigner.

What are some things you noticed about Dominicans that are different from your own country?

Elder dominican man smiling while smoking a cogar
A welcoming smile is the dominican way to greet visitors | Mercedes Dayanara / Creative Commons License

34 thoughts on “5 Things You Might Find Odd about Dominican Culture

  1. Amy says:

    One odd thing I’ve noticed in Hispanic culture is that a lot of couples say they’re married and call each other husband and wife when they aren’t married or even engaged. They even say they are married when you ask them for legal purposes.

  2. hayounglee! says:

    I have male friends from the Dominican Republic(I’ve known them for about 1 and half year) and they are really one of the best dudes that you can have around you. seriously. seriously. they have almost perfect manner. But, I guess its kinda true that some of them flirt even though they have a girlfriend… But except that, it’s almost perfect. I love that they love their country and themselves. They are really proud of where they came from and they… they just love themselves very much(but they also care a lot about others too! Amazing, aren’t they?) they know how to fight for justice, and they are very courageous!! I’ve been with them for about a year and a half now, and they are going back to their country in May… 1 month is left and I am so sad that I can’t see them anymore. They are the most loyal friend that I know that always keep our backs, and who loves God enthusiastically. There are tones more I can write, but I want you to know, there aren’t single more bad things that I can write about them. I’m from Korea, studying abroad in USA Pennsylvania state. They(Ruben, Josue, Cristian) are the best friend I have had in my short life (16 y)
    So, even though you like DR or not, just know that there also good people. Thank you for reading my opinion! ( I know that you may think ” what do ya know by seeing people for only a year”, but I’m just writing bout’ my opinion cuz people here are writing about how they think by seeing the looks, seeing people only for like 3 week, 2 months. THEY ARE GREAT. Don’t lower them. Comment if you agree or disagree! I’m open to that!

  3. Peter says:

    Pretty late on this thread but i can say from alot of experience here that, the dominican Republic is an amazing place. I am currently here on 3 months of a 4 months stay and in all the times i have been here i have never really felt unsafe. I actually bought a motorcycle here on this trip and have been touring all over the place. I dont care much for the tourist areas and have been most deffinetly off the beaten path most of my time here. I am very white and deffinetly stand out in a crowed of dominicans but for the most part have always felt very welcomed and have eaten dinner in many strangers homes. I dont recomend the motorcycle for the faint of heart because the driving laws are non existent here lol but once you figure it out its is alright. The dominican people Love their families and are extremely loyal to them something i fewl has been someawhat lost in canada and the US. I beleive the people that say this country is dangeous just lack comon sense or have a bad attitude.

  4. Yvette says:

    I have recently met a Dominican man on a dating site. I’m from Atlanta, Ga. After our second day of talking he said he liked me. We are now I month in, I have not met him yet but he insist he loves me and wants to one day marry. He is planning a trip in March as he already has a tourist visa. He has not asked for anything and also insist he wants to take his time. But his ultimate goal is to get married and live happily ever after.

    Now reading and listening to my American-Dominican friends, they say do not entertain it. My friend said he would rather come in the spring to prevent buying winter clothes.

    ( Im 13 yrs older) Should I be concerned?

    • Maria says:

      You should watch the TLC show “90-Day Fiance”! Let’s just say, a lot of these sorts of relationships don’t end up working out and it can be a huge financial drain on the American in the relationship. Not to mention stressful and embarrassing when they realize all their friends were right and the dude (or girl) just wanted a way into America. I’m traveling to the DR in a couple weeks and when reading up on the country I saw multiple references to “sankies” (sanky panky), or a “beach gigolo” who becomes very interested very quickly in an American woman, wants to marry her, etc. You could be in a similar situation, but just online vs. in-person. Tread very carefully. While there are times when it works out, ultimately, I think your life will be easier and less stressful if you find someone who’s already here in America .

      • Duane says:

        I met my wife online. She is Dominican. My brother’s wife is also Dominicana and they met online. I have been married for 15 years and my brother for 3. I have been as happy as I was with my first wife and I know of other couples who are the same. if you have problems in your own life, an international marriage is only going to complicate that, but if you are confident in who you are, marrying a Dominican is no different than marrying anyone else.
        I’ve seen 90 Day Fiance a few times and for the most part, those are people who would have trouble no matter where the other person was from (it’s a tv show. Who would watch a show of my wife and I getting along?). Sure, my wife and I have challenges but most are from cultural difference or language and once we figured that out, we just take time to talk about things. Dominicans tend to be impulsive and intense so if you want some excitement in your life plus more concern and loyalty than you’re used to, find a Dominican who is TRULY committed to marriage and you should be satisfied.

    • David says:

      YESSS! Runaway! They re such liars and will do whatever it tales to get married and leave the Island. And yes all of then only care about money.

  5. Ms April Brannon says:

    I don’t want to come off ignorant as my question bis going to suggest. How do Dominicans afford such expensive clothing’s brands and jewelry if their salary is so little. Some of the employees at the resorts I go to have substantially more expensive clothing/jewelry.

    • David says:

      They either wear a knock-off or just have a sugar daddy (yes both men and women do, more common even about men, gay and straight) who gives them the money. Thats also why you will always see them in resorts and traveling.

  6. Foreign Love Web says:

    I am happy to learn some information for my upcoming blog post “Dominican Women versus Philippine Women”.

    I have been to Santiago, D.R. back in November 2016 (around my 31st birthday). I have enjoyed my time there. I have eaten interesting fried chicken from KFC, cheese empanada, and met some famous singer (who I do not know but can compare to Colombian songstress Shakira in some way). I have met and somewhat dated a 20-something single mother at a nightclub. If time goes back, I would probably repeat it even though my translator has been lousy and dishonest to me.

  7. Jb says:

    I met a beautiful Dominican girl in DR and she asked if I wanted to hang out at the beach. So I did and we hadn’t a wonderful time. She made me feel very welcome to be in DR. At the end of our date I rejoined my friends I i had came with. We went to dinner and when I went to pull out my money. I noticed that she had robbed all my cash. She didn’t take the credit cards so I was very happy for that. So basically I am a dumb a$$. Haha.

  8. Pingback: Cultural Do's and Don'ts in the Dominican Republic - Punta Cana Guide

  9. Jaz says:

    My family and I moved to the South of The Dominican Republic 4 months ago. We’re Christians so we go to church here. In the South they’ve only heard of evangelical churches, Jehova Witness and catholic. I grew up baptist so the culture in the church is very different. In the evangelical churches, women aren’t allowed to wear makeup, earings, necklaces, nail polish or pants. Those are all of my favorite things. It’s been a transition but NOBODY is gonna take away my nail polish so I wear a natural color.

  10. Kat says:

    From my experience the several times I have went, BIB description is most accurate to my interactions there; especially with security and each house having bars. I found the streets to be full of trash. It is not uncommon to see people swatting beside the road partially behind a bush using the bathroom. Just my experience.. Doesn’t say every where but in Santo Domingo especially.

  11. Dominican girl says:

    People who hate us Dominican should not hate us we are a well made country and have the most wonderful places to vecation we have royal resorts,bueutiful beaches,in Dominican Republic is partying all the time. One day visit Dominican Republic and check the entire country before you people judge us Dominican,we might not be the best but we have amazing places to visit,we have everything,and the country is not that bad… here are three words

    • SHERI HILES says:

      Your men want American women just for GREENCARD…Watch the show 90 day fiancée. even admit..they ALWAYS have a plan to leave the woman and take years of $ back to the D.R. #SCAMMERS

        • Monica says:

          I was recently their on vacation. Yes, the men are scammers and con artists. They think their little techniques are going to work. They will try you! I just laugh as I heard “marry me”, “take me to the states”, and “I love you”. Morals and Values are not there…SO YES, I am judging. #sankypanky

      • Foreign Love Web says:

        Sheri, are you with an American man who is faithful and still attracted to you?

        In my blog “Foreign Love Web”, I defend foreigners including Dominicans because I know that there are good people everywhere as well as bad people are. Because you have mentioned about “90 Day Fiance” TV series, Pedro (Dominican man) is still married to Chantel (American woman) regardless of their difficult families. I know that he is a good guy who loves her and still wants to be with her. Plus, she is attractive. He would become a fool if he leaves her for a green card or another woman who is “better”.

    • Duane says:

      The three years I lived in the DR were the best years of my life. I was married there. My daughter was born there. People in the US don’t think sometimes. Where they would NEVER trust some guy they met at a bar or the beach who said he loved them and wanted to get maried after a week, they think that when the same tragedy strikes through a Dominican man it is the fault of Dominicans. No. They are gullible twits.

    • David says:

      Setiously, partying all the time is not a good thing. Thats why that country is so fucked up cuz you people only think about romo and hooka, try aiming for education instead.

  12. Geemoney says:

    I travel there 3/4 times a year to Santiago to visit I love the people but it’s the family members that can be real headache. If your from an advanced country you better be ready with your check book. You have to be careful not to show money and you have to dress a certain way also as to not to bring attention to yourself and it has been many times that I was told not to speak (english) or they me be trouble in some areas. The night is dangerous. One thing I noticed the women very seldom smile. My lady smiles because she has reason…lol…good luck on your experience in the DR….be careful and smart and relax….

  13. bib says:

    more crime in the dr then in Haiti. if U get into trouble in the dr your on your own. the police are worthless. most Dominicans have only a fifth grade education. have a great vacation

    • yra says:

      bib, the police in the US do arrive when u call them, but it’s to beat u up or even kill u; they r not protecting ppl anymore. u have the image of police officers back in the days. n one more thing, about education, in DR there r more college graduates n HS graduates than in any state here in US. a bus driver or cook may have a college degree but he’s unable to find a job so he opts to work as a cook. Here ppl dont finish HS or go to college even thou school free.

      • Fior Espinal says:

        Talk all the shit you want about his grammar but I don’t see you writing in spanish. Bilinguals,baby!

  14. bib says:

    flirt dirty country. very dangerous country. every apt house have bars gates and guard dogs for protection. if they have some money they hire private security with big shotgun to protect themselfs. open your eyes in Puerto plata, Santiago, Santo Domingo you’ll see 4 your self.

    • a-dominican-american-chica says:

      A year and a half late, but if you’re gonna be racist and rude at least be factual. Everything in DR is not as individual as it is in the states. People depend on family and on community to work. People, nature, and animals work in a symbiotic relationship in order to survive. Hardly anyone in DR “owns” dogs. The dogs, not cuddly like the ones in the states and a bit wild, are ALLOWED to stay in your home and eat your leftovers (reducing waste in the process, as the food would otherwise quickly rot in the heat) in exchange for keeping out pests and intruders. Cats are the same but they are for catching mice and insects.

      There are bars on all the windows because it is hot…it…its hot. Most people don’t have air conditioners and the power is not reliable for a fan. You need to therefore have the window open for breeze all day and night, but not even in the US would anyone leave their windows wide open all day without thinking of security. So they have bars. Its just logical and its built into a long history of architecture.

      If they have private security with guns, thats most likely a police headquarters, army soldiers, or the home of a corrupt official. Most regular people don’t own guns, as far as I know. Also I was unaware that the US got rid of their guns (thought we were somewhat proud of that?) and that the rich in the US didn’t also have security at their homes. In every country there exists crime and rough neighborhoods. It would be foolish to think criminals represent an entire nation of individuals. Especially one whose people (as stated above) pride themselves in their welcoming of foreigners.

      • Matt says:

        I absolutely love the Dominican Republic 🇩🇴 and the people there are Some of the nicest people I’ve ever met It’s truly a beautiful country I can’t wait in about 3 more months I will return 😊

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