Lately, this section of our blog has been used to build our worldview on diversity and share our understanding of culture and language. I think it’s time we dig into specifics. What does culture look like for any one people group? An important footnote before we begin: a people group can be as wide as a continent and as small as a household! Though I am excited to share customs I observed living abroad in the Dominican Republic, I delight to remind my readers that there is much more to any one region, city, or community in the D.R. than I say here! As we’ve said, diversity exists among all individuals within a people group! It is much more than one’s nationality.
That being said, since I lived in the city of San Pedro de Macoris in the Dominican Republic for six years, this city is the people group I interacted with and grew to love. So let’s begin! What does life in San Pedro look like? This city is found on the southeast side of the half-island of the Dominican Republic. It is a rather small town, and the overriding characteristic that I’d love to highlight is the feeling of familiarity and community.
What do I mean by this? Every aspect of social life, relationships, transportation, and the language itself creates a feeling of community and friendship.
We will begin with relationships. Dominican culture lends itself toward open, straightforward communication. Any Dominican will tell you exactly what they think. They tease each other and banter unceasingly --though good-naturedly-- and meet conflict head-on. I remember recess at my school was always spent playing four-square. The Dominicans that made up the entirety of my class (except myself) would never go to the back of the line without a fight. My classmate Robert was always especially certain the ball had landed outside his square, but cacophonous calls of “tu ‘ta fuera!” (“you’re out!”) would drown out his case. In the end, he always gave in. I believe sometimes we argued and bantered for double the amount of time we actually played.
An aspect of Dominican culture that I particularly adore has to do with their speech pattern. I do not know why they and not other cultures have adopted this idiosyncrasy, but I believe it is impossible not to adopt it yourself while living among them. It helps you integrate with their culture. Take the sentence “Cómo tú estás?” (How are you?) They will cut off half of the last word, pronouncing it “cómo tu ‘tá’?” “Pescado” (fish) becomes “pe’ca’o.” The “rule,” which is more of a preference, is this, as far as I can tell: if there’s an “s,” or a “d” between vowels, drop it.
My only guess as to why this pattern developed goes along with our theme of familiarity. When you know someone well, as opposed to a stranger or superior, you may use slang. Think of “LOL”, “‘sup,” “bro,” and other modifications of our language that make it easier, faster, or even more enjoyable to communicate with friends and family. I am especially fond of the word “yeet.” The only difference would be that Dominicans do use this language with strangers (though not in formal settings). This comfortable way of communicating is due in part to our next subject: social life and transportation.
New York is cold in the winter. No one wants to stop and have a chat in the sleet. In contrast, the Dominican Republic is warm, if not sweltering, all year round. Since there is no cold to hide from, Dominicans have made a habit of meeting in the street. The men in my neighborhood would congregate at a domino table on the side of the road after work every evening. Many of the ubiquitous colmados --little hole-in-the-wall convenience stores-- did not have a door, only a window to order at from the sidewalk. The city is considerably condensed; almost everything is within walking distance, and many do walk to their destination. This also fosters conversation on the street. Life slows down and the big city feels a little homier when you pass the same domino players, moto-taxis, and colmados every day. This is why Dominicans will use slang with anyone on the street: to them, the public square is the meeting place of friends!
This custom was one I could learn so much from, and I did. Different from what I was born into, but now the Dominican culture of familiarity is a part of me. I can now take part in it. This is the beauty of cultures. They are not exclusive. If you care enough to learn, and are patient enough to practice, any people group --big or small-- may include you in their unique lifestyle.