15 Things We’ve Learned about Dominican Culture

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This week, we’ve hosted a team of 10 from our home church on a mission trip with our human trafficking organization. The team organized a sports camp for kids 8-18 years old and have had over 100 kids show up each day to be loved on and to hear the message of Christ, and the group of older kids are taught human trafficking awareness. We also launched our awareness campaign in the barrios (neighborhoods) of Jarabacoa handing out literature and just basically informing families of the potential dangers of traffickers. A lot of great stuff going on, but for me, this group has been especially fun because though they are a mission team, they are also our friends! So I have gotten several opportunities to tell them everything that I have picked up in my year of life here about Jarabacoa and the Dominican culture. And the cool thing is that it occurred to me that these things that are so foreign to us, are going to be second nature to our little third culture children, Luke and Emily. I reflected on the top 15 here:

1. Saying Adios. When you are walking on the street and you pass someone going the way you just came, instead of greeting them with “hola (hello),” it is more often “adios” which is Spanish for “good-bye.” This felt so strange when I would arrive to work at the school and the security guard would greet me every morning by saying, “adios,” or in my mind, “good-bye.” Until the day I considered the literal translation of the word “adios” is “to God” and it is more of an expression meaning “Go with God.”
2. Cheek kissing. Took some getting used to, but when I went back to the states to visit in June, it felt so “blah” greeting my friends that I love with your regular old hug.
3. Pointer lips. A common Dominican mannerism is when wanting to point at something, to purse your lips together and tilt your chin in the direction of “it.” It can be a response to a question, “where is the bathroom?” or it can mean, “look at that fill in the blank.” Bonus: Another common gesture that I just picked up on at sports camp this week, is when a kid was requesting a drink of water, in lieu of words they made a fist like a baby who sucks his thumb, and uses his thumb to point to his mouth. Strange, but true.
4. Respect “siesta.” The only thing you are going to do outside of restaurants and the grocery store between the hours of noon and 2 p.m. is nothing. Numerous times of banging fists on the steering wheel as we pull up to the hardware store, bank, cell phone store and basically any other business before we learned to respect the rules of siesta.
5. Anything goes on the road. Seven people on a motorcycle? Sure. Driving the wrong way on a one-way street? No worries. Headlights and turn signals? What are those? Need to haul lumber or another cumbersome item like a couch? Just drag it behind your moto. It’s alllll good.
6. No road rage. This one goes with the last one, but it’s truly been one of our favorite lessons. Just chill out. Going three-wide on a two-lane highway never stressed a Dominican out. There’s no preconceived notion of who has the right-of-way and if you, oops, cut someone off, no one is angry. Horns are used for notice, not to express anger. No harm, no foul.
7. Bathroom novelties. Don’t flush the TP. Toilet paper goes in the trashcan. It’s not fun, it’s not pretty, but it is a normalcy for us.
8. Drop the last sound. Forget everything you learned in Spanish class, because in this country, the last sound of every word is dropped. So “two eggs” is not pronounced “dos huevos” but “doe huevo.” Like-wise tons of vocabulary that you learned is very different here. Domincans are known to have their own version of Spanish.
9. The world is their dance floor. There is always music spilling into the streets from somewhere and Dominicans love to dance and sing loudly. It is not an uncommon sight to see someone stop to dance in the middle of the grocery store aisle.
10. Respond to “God bless you” with “Amen.” Dominicans are enamored by our two toe-headed kids and often gush over them and somewhere in between the “que lindos! (how cute!)” and the hair rubbing I hear them say, “God bless you,” and I’ve had to train my response to say, “Amen.”
11. “Si Dios quiere.” When speaking about the future, or if you were to say, “see you tomorrow,” a common response is “si Dios quiere,” or “if God wills it.”
12. Don’t bargain. This one I’m not sure about, but Dominicans either don’t bargain on prices, or they are just really that good at it. But they don’t budge on their prices, and if you try to speak to a landlord or a business person and “work out a deal,” they look at you like you have just seriously offended them. It makes no sense to us that they would rather leave a property vacant for 12 months or more, than to come down on their rent.
13. Always welcoming. As we went from house to house to invite kids to sports camp or talk about human trafficking, we were not once turned away or found someone pretending not be home, but instead were welcomed to come inside and sit down in many houses. There are zero “No Soliciting” signs around here.
14. Conveniences. Though we have surrendered many modern-day conveniences in the third world move like dishwashers and air conditioning, we have acquired a few that we never had. You can buy limes, trash bags or a cell phone charger at a stoplight or you can even have your windshield washed while you wait. There is only full-service option at the gas pump. One of our favorite options is the small convenience stores called Colmados that are literally sprinkled in every corner of the country. From just about ANYWHERE you are, you can walk a block or less and buy a Coke in a glass bottle, eggs or other various items.
15. “NO HAY LUZ!” And lastly, the biggest adjustment has been altering your life around the electricity issues this country has. Nearly daily, the power is turned off for an unspecified amount of time, usually lasting 4-6 hours in the middle of the day but can be much longer and can be in the middle of the night. Re: no fan, no internet, no laundry, no nothin. You learn to adapt. You wake up early on laundry day and send emails as soon as you think about it, IF you have power. But still, super frustrating. Cooking dinner with flashlights is always an adventure, or a good excuse to go out for pizza. And, hey, the pizza place has a generator with WiFi and air conditioning.

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