Dominican Republic Culture and People

The Dominican Republic population is a diverse mix of various ethnicities: Taíno, African, and European. This melting pot of cultures and backgrounds makes for a fascinating destination with various influences showing up in cuisine to music, dance, and religious ceremonies. The majority of the population is considered criollo or a mix of African and Spanish, but there are also many Dominican Haitians, as well as those of a more Spanish descent (usually in the upper echelons economically). Perhaps it’s this multi-continental blend that makes Dominicans such a warm, hospitable people with a zest for life I haven’t seen anywhere else.

Photo of vintage RD stamp with artwork of women holding hands in a circle.
1975 Dominican Republic stamp celebrating International Women’s Day. Photo © Stephen Goodwin.

Dominicans believe in courtesy, hospitality, and kindness to strangers. The more you travel into the countryside, the more evidence of this you’ll see. Folks will welcome you into their homes. I was once desperate for a bathroom while driving in the hills of Constanza and stopped at a Dominican home to ask if I could use their toilet and their answer was, of course! Life for Dominicans is about making the most of every day, no matter how little you have and giving thanks to God. It’s about smiling, enjoying, dancing the days and nights away, and loving with all they have—they are die-hard romantics. You’ll always hear music playing and people laughing or joking around.

And if you think Parisians have perfected the art of sidewalk people watching, then you need to come to the Dominican Republic. Sitting on the corner and watching the world go by with a cup of rum or a Presidente is the number one activity (which many criticize as laziness, but you have to appreciate their ability to be “in the now”), perhaps followed closely by playing dominoes.

Family is the core of Dominican life. At any chance they get, Dominicans will tell you it’s all about la familia (and they show grave concern if you say you don’t have children or a spouse). On the weekends, especially Sunday, it’s on full display with everyone flocking to the beach or the river, cooking together, playing, and enjoying their time off. Nothing is ever done “solo”—that’s just a foreign concept. Sticking together, through thick or thin, is second nature for Dominicans. The mother is the central glue that keeps the unit together. Her children worship her, and she would do anything for them.

While Dominicans are all about sharing their plate of food or drinks, watching their neighbors’ kids, or running to the aid of a friend who calls in need, it’s not all roses all the time—there are issues of race and class, and many upper-class folks don’t mix with anyone who isn’t in their circle, as judged according to their family’s history and wealth. That’s true of most of the once-colonized Caribbean.

Dominicans are often criticized for being too focused on race and color. They call people by their skin color, for instance, and it is considered completely normal here. While it isn’t usually intended in a discriminatory manner, it can be surprising and even offensive to foreigners, especially from the United States. If you’re darker skinned, you’ll hear folks calling out to you with “negro” or “morena,” and if you’re lighter skinned, “rubio.” And there are a dozen other words for all the shades in between. Many Dominicans, however, recognize the beauty in their mixed heritage and will invite you to do the same.

Things You Might Not Know about Dominicans

Dominicans have their own way of interacting and doing things, some of which might surprise you and others that will make you chuckle.

  • They often calls others “mi amor” (my love) or “cariño” (darling).
  • Dominican time is real—ahorita might translate into “right now” but it could mean tomorrow or some point in the future.
  • Whenever entering a public space, Dominicans greet everyone with “saludos” or “buen día,” whether it’s a bus, a taxi, a restaurant, or a clinic. Not to do so would be considered rude.
  • Sunday is the noisiest day of the week and the biggest for partying and drinking. It’s also family day.
  • Dominicans often use facial expressions in lieu of words—they will move their lips forward to point to a place, or wag their index finger to say no.
  • Whatsapp is king—phone credits cost money, so most Dominicans use their smartphones with Wi-Fi.
  • It’s never loud enough—big speakers are popular, in the shops, at home, or even placed in the back of the car.
  • Dominicans love their beaches as much as you do. And they have legal access to all of them because all beaches are public.
  • Superstition runs deep—certain things you do or don’t do can cause bad luck, including opening the fridge while ironing, putting your purse on the floor, or not saying “God bless you” to a newborn.

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