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Dominican Republic cultural insights

The following cultural insights are intended to provide snapshots of the overall social and cultural norms as well as the workplace environment that a Canadian might face working in a specific country. The content in no way reflects official policy or opinions of the Government of Canada, Global Affairs Canada or the Centre for Intercultural Learning.

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Local and Canadian perspectives for the following subjects:

Conversations

Local perspective

Family is the first topic of discussion. For people from the Dominican Republic it is very important to get to know people’s family ties when first meeting them. For example, when you initially meet, a person whose last name is Rodriguez will be asked his/her family belongs to the Las Matas or San Francisco branch. If that person belongs to a well-known Rodriguez family, he or she will make a very favourable impression.

Politics and religion are two topics of be avoided when making first acquaintance. Stating opinions or ideas contrary to others’ beliefs may offend them and considerably damage the relationship. People take these two subjects very seriously. However, if you are speaking favourably about the other person’s political or religious affiliation you will not encounter any problems. Since it is difficult to know what people are thinking, it is best to avoid these two topics. Except for these two areas, humour is often used and appreciated.

Canadian perspective

Dominicans are generally very friendly and open. They are eager to learn about your family, lifestyle and background. They are very open in their opinions and feelings. Discussions regarding family, specifically how many children you have, is one of the most common questions, as many young Dominicans tend to have at least one child. This continues into how many siblings one has as well. Age is another topic that, unlike North Americans, Dominicans will discuss openly. They will never be offended if you ask them their age. In fact, they take pride in how old they are and will tell you they feel that they look great for their age, so ask away!

As for topics to avoid, don’t bother discussing the Dominican-Haitian relationship, as generally, this will get nowhere due to the strong negative feelings Dominicans have towards Haitians. I wouldn’t bother arguing with them on this as my experience has shown me they don’t care to listen or change their viewpoint.

Dominicans are very happy people. They are always ready to tell jokes and spend an afternoon joking around about something or another. One thing that is not a joke though is religion. Dominicans are very religious, and many North Americans are of different religions and religious beliefs. If you don’t believe in God, or Jesus, keep it to yourself and if they wish to discuss topics of religion, try to keep it neutral. As you become closer to a person, you may engage in this topic, but generally, it should be avoided as they may form a poor opinion on you if you don’t share their belief.

Communication styles

Local perspective

I suggest that you address elders and people you do not know using the formal address ("Usted"). It is important to look people in the eyes when speaking. It is impolite to not shake peoples’ hands; when you first go to their house or any public place you should say "hello". Dominicans use their hands a lot when they speak and this is accompanied by facial expressions. People talk loudly, particularly with their friends, and are very expressive.

Canadian perspective

Dominicans are very warm people, and greet friends and acquaintances with a kiss on the right cheek. Even men are greeted this way. In larger groups, an extended hand will suffice as a greeting, but don’t be surprised if a female makes her way around a group greeting each one with a kiss on the cheek.

Upon entering a store, public transport, waiting rooms, offices, classroom, clinics, pretty much anywhere, it is customary to greet the room with a greeting—Good morning, Good afternoon. They respond to you in return. This is a great custom in my opinion!

If you have asked someone a question, and they didn’t understand you, or if they want to say "what?", they wouldn’t necessarily respond vocally and may respond with a nose wrinkle. As if their nose were itchy, they wrinkle it to let you know they didn’t understand or hear you.

Display of emotion

Local perspective

Public displays of affection are common and widely accepted. Family and friends hug one another and will periodically touch each other briefly to express affection and agreement. However, demonstrations of anger and other emotions are not well accepted in public. I would say that colonialism has made people hide their emotions and avoid expressing their disagreement and anger. There is a form of resignation when confronted by power (whether it be political, religious, etc). When people express their anger in public it is normally badly viewed, that is, unless they explain the reasons behind it.

Canadian perspective

Public displays of affection are not usually common in the streets. Holding hands with a partner is acceptable, and very common, but beyond that, loving emotions are to be kept at home. Drinking and playing dominoes are favourite past-times; so don’t be shocked to hear a brawl or two over a poorly played hand or something.

Dress, punctuality & formality

Local perspective

Depending on the level of responsibility of their position, people dress formally for work. Colleagues are addressed informally, but generally supervisors and superiors are addressed formally. In fact, unless there are pre-existing ties of friendship superiors are addressed using the formal mode of address ("Usted").

In the Dominican Republic, people place a lot of importance on punctuality and productivity in the workplace.

Canadian perspective

Dominicans, regardless of how much money they have, take pride in their appearances. Their hair will always be done, or they will be going to do it at the salon, clothes are generally very presentable as well. At the workplace, it is best to be more formal than informal. Dominican ladies tend to wear pantsuits, some wear skirts. Men will wear dress shirts, ties and suits to work. Dressing well to be presentable is very important, regardless of how hot it may be outside.

Titles are used for almost everyone when addressing a fellow employee. For example, if you graduated with a university degree, you are considered a Licenciado or Licenciada (for female); this is used with the first name. Mister and Mrs are commonly used as well (Don or Doña), Señor or Señorita. Always use the formal personal pronoun, "Usted" when referring to a stranger or elder, as it is more respected.

Punctuality! Dominicans are not punctual. If it is for an interview, or on a professional basis, they tend to be on time, although I have witnessed many work-related incidences where people arrive late and its considered ok. Don’t be offended if you made an appointment and the others don’t show. Dominicans would expect a foreigner to be punctual.

Preferred managerial qualities

Local perspective

Superiors are chosen on the basis of their skills; generally, not much value is placed upon a person’s background, except in the case of foreigners where it works to their advantage. Family ties only play a role in family businesses.

Canadian perspective

A manager in the DR tends to have a university degree and great communication skills. A strong character and confidence are looked upon with much respect and definitely will help the person get ahead in their company. If the manager is a non-local, they are generally given much respect as foreigners are respected greatly in the Dominican.

Dominicans in the workplace will usually act friendly; this does not mean they do not talk badly behind your back. Generally, a boss or superior should not interact with their employees in their homes or outside of work unless it is work related. This is frowned upon here as it breaks the professionalism in the relationship.

Hierarchy and decision-making

Local perspective

Decisions are made by superiors. It is always best to consult your superior before taking actions that will impact the company. Most employees are "doers" and carry out their tasks without asking a lot of questions. There are also people who will take on tasks that they are not able to do. When this happens, they will ask their colleagues to help them out.

Canadian perspective

Decisions are usually made by the authorities in the organisation (ie. boss, president, board of directors, whatever the positions may be). If there are problems in the workplace, it is not uncommon for an employee to confide in their supervisor to help resolve the problem. Alternatively, the supervisor may hear rumours about some "unhappy" or disappointed employees, in which case the supervisor may take it into his/her own hands to resolve the situation.

Religion, class, ethnicity, & gender

Local perspective

Gender

Dominican society is very chauvinistic and men do not help with housework. Even if the woman works outside the home, she takes care of domestic matters when she comes home from work.

Nevertheless, clause 8 of the country’s Constitution discusses sexual equality and clearly states that under the law all people are equal, regardless of their sex, race or social status. Women are very much involved in the community and in politics. Even if there is still a long road ahead, women are carving out their place in society and more and more salaries are becoming equal. The majority of university students are women and as a result, play an important part in society, even if they are not sufficiently well represented in politics. Still, the country’s vice-president is a woman and 90% of the provincial governors—equivalent to a provincial premier in Canada—are women. There are also a lot of women who have high-level management positions.

Religion

Religion is heavily practised in the Dominican Republic. People are very religious, even those who do not attend church. Most families go to mass on Sunday or at least once a week. Not baptizing children, living together without being married, or getting married outside of the church are frowned upon. People from Catholic families get married in the Church. There are different religions, but Catholicism is still the most prevalent. Religion even intervenes in family feuds, break ups, and problems with children.

Class

Social class is very important. Members of the dominant classes are ensured a good future. The higher your class, the more doors are open to you. Society is made up of a number of social classes: the ruling class, political class, professionals who work for large companies, working class, lower class, and the very poor. There are millionaires in the ruling class and the nouveaux riche make up the political class. Employees of large companies as well as professionals (engineers, doctors, lawyers, professors, etc) have a high status in society due to their higher income level. People’s diet, going to private school, using private hospitals and belonging to social clubs all reflect social differences. In fact, everything is related to class.

Ethnicity

In general, the only ethnic community that Dominicans do not like very much is the Haitians. There is also a reason that stems from the past: following independence from Spain in 1821, Dominicans were subject to 20 years of Haitian domination. The Dominican Republic has immigrants from various countries, including large communities of Chinese, Lebanese, Palestinians, and Syrians as well as Japanese, Germans, Italians, French, Canadians, Cubans, Colombians, and Chileans. However, Dominicans are mostly made up of three ethnic groups: Spanish, African, and Aboriginal. We come from this combination and this is why 85% of the population is "cinnamon-coloured", 5% is black, and 10% is white.

Canadian perspective

Gender

Men and women are treated very differently. Women, in the professional sphere, hold similar positions to men; however, Dominican males generally hold what Canadians would see as very old-fashioned opinions. Regardless of the paid work the woman has, she must be in charge of the household, cooking, cleaning and taking care of her husband. While there are exceptions, women are considered bad wives if they don’t take care of their husbands, making sure they have good hot food waiting for them for breakfast, lunch and/or dinner.

Religion

95% of Dominicans are Catholic. They hold strong beliefs in Jesus and God, and if you don’t share these beliefs, they may think negatively upon you. If you hold strong opposing beliefs, it is best not to voice them. Of course, if you become close friends with people, feel free to discuss opinions, but generally, it is a very touchy subject and you don’t want to offend people at all.

Class

There is a huge distinction between upper and lower class in the Dominican Republic. It is so sad but true. Generally, the whiter your skin, the higher the class you are, and vice versa for being darker. Being white is considered a mark of beauty. There are even discos that don’t let darker skinned people in, but if they are with the upper class whites it is ok. The upper class when dealing with different classes are kind and helpful, but will not attempt to develop friendships with people who do not live a similar lifestyle.

Ethnicity

Dominicans are mostly mulattos—their backgrounds have a great mix of African, European and Native influences, which explains the large variation in skin and eye colour and makes for a very attractive group of people.

In the workplace, it is best to keep things neutral, and not let issues regarding gender, class or culture get in the way of your work. This is a touchy subject and you don’t want to offend anyone.

Relationship-building

Local perspective

Before establishing business relations, it is best to try to find common interests, such as sports, religion, or family. Common interests will allow you to overcome initial distrust and interesting discussions will flow freely.

Canadian perspective

Developing a personal relationship with a colleague is not essential. Being on friendly terms, knowing about the person’s family and lifestyle is sufficient in a business relationship. At first encounters, people generally talk about their families, what town they were brought up in and the like. This is an easy way to find out about co-workers and is really all the information needed in a working relationship.

Privileges and favouritism

Local perspective

It is not recommended to be friends or romantically involved with colleagues since this may create expectations for special privileges. I do not recommend giving out these kinds of favours.

Canadian perspective

An employee may expect special considerations given a personal relationship. It is for this reason that it is advised not to develop such relationships in the first place, to avoid any confusion or difficulties. Unlike North America, where a close relationship in the workplace can sometimes facilitate one’s work by facilitating collaboration, this is not necessarily the case in the DR. It is best to keep things professional, so as to avoid losing the respect of your employees.

Conflicts in the workplace

Local perspective

It is best to confront people in private to avoid bruising their ego. It is often difficult to know when colleagues are having problems with you because there is a lot of hypocrisy in the workplace. Generally, you will hear about it from another colleague, but be wary of people trying to manipulate the situation as a result of previous conflicts. If the situation bothers you, you should speak to the colleague in question privately and explain to him/her the rumours without mentioning any names and asking for an explanation.

Canadian perspective

If you feel comfortable talking to the colleague, then by all means do so. Talk to them in private, and if things are resolved well, forget about it. Usually, when someone is upset about something another colleague has done, he/she will talk to others about it; most likely you will find out about it. A foreigner should always keep his/her eyes and ears open to new and possibly difficult situations. Being honest in a private setting is the best way to resolve things, or confiding in someone that you can trust can always help you decide how to approach the situation.

Motivating local colleagues

Local perspective

People place a lot of importance on professional satisfaction and money. Motivating factors are not the same for all people; for some, personal satisfaction will motivate them to perform well on the job. The current economic conditions are such that people are more concerned about being paid. The economy is in a terrible state and prices are based on the US dollar, although the salaries are not. Therefore, this is the population’s major preoccupation right now. Thus, people try to work two jobs to make ends meet. Even with good working conditions, people still have to live with this new economic anxiety.

Canadian perspective

Since the Dominican Republic is a poor country, monetary incentives are the best motivation for employees. Of course, recognizing a job well done and rewarding the individual with an award, public praise and recognition is always appreciated and makes the person feel good. However, money speaks louder than anything.

Recommended books, films & foods

Local perspective

Consult the following sites: http://www.reddominicana.com/, http://www.redom.com/portada.html, http://www.beisboldominicano.com/ and Plan Nagua http://www.plannagua.qc.ca/.

The newspapers’ Web sites are: http://www.listin.com.do/, http://www.elexpreso.com.do/expreso/pswp/pagespeed/, and http://www.diariolibre.com/.

Canadian perspective

Listening to bachata and merengue lyrics will give you a good idea of what is important to Dominicans. The food in the DR is not very spicy, but is nevertheless tasty—rice is a staple, plantains and meats are most popular. It is a good idea to read about the Dominican culture on the web as well by doing a general search on a search engine. With respect to movies and entertainment, the only Dominicans that I know that are in the public sphere are the famous baseball players and Miss Universe!

In-country activities

Canadian perspective

At just about every corner, you can find a convenience store or colmado, where you can buy food, drinks, beer, just about anything. They are very convenient and often there are chairs and sometimes domino tables at which you will see men usually drinking and playing for more drinks. There are merengue and bachata singers that often come to the city to play, and they are great. If you like dancing merengue, bachata and salsa, there are dozens of discos to visit to enjoy the music and ambience.

National heroes

Local perspective

Dominican heroes include: Juan Pablo Duarte, the founder of the Republic, Ramón Matías Mella and Franciso del Rosario Sánchez. All are known as "Founding Fathers".

Canadian perspective

The heroes here are the leaders of the liberation for the country. They include Duarte, Sanchez y Mella and you will hear a lot about them during your stay in the Dominican. Since the times were rough before 27 Feb 1944, the liberation, these leaders played a key role in helping the Dominicans break free and bringing them independence. This created the division of the country into the French Haiti and Spanish Dominican Republic.

Shared historical events with Canada

Local perspective

No, not at all. People do not know Canada very well at all, but they hold the country in very high esteem.

Canadian perspective

Not that I am aware of.

Stereotypes

Local perspective

Foreign women associated with tourism have a bad reputation. It is expected that they will have a number of flings or affairs. This may be due to the country’s hot weather and the "charm" of its men!

Canadian perspective

I am not aware of any stereotypes that Canadians might have about local culture; however, I am aware of the terrible stereotypes that Dominicans have of foreigners, particularly Americans, Canadians and Germans. Since the Dominican is a very touristy country, many tourists come for one week, meet a local Dominican on the beach, engage in sexual activity with them for the week, pay for their outings, enjoying good treatment by the Dominicans and then leave after their week is done. It is for this reason that Canadians are thought to be "easy", a very frustrating thing to deal with when trying to develop friendships, and only friendships.

About the cultural interpreters

Local interpreter

Your cultural interpreter, the eldest of a family of eight children, was born in the Dominican Republic. He grew up in Santiago de los Caballeros where he studied electrical engineering at the Université Catholique Madre y Maestra de Santiago de los Caballeros. His work took him abroad for the first time in 1987 to study administration. Subsequently, he immigrated to Canada and for a while he worked as an English-to-Spanish translator. In 1996, he spent two months in the Dominican Republic working for a project to provide the city of Saint-Dominique with public security facilities. Since 1991, he has lived in Quebec City, where he works as a translator. He is not married and has three children.

Canadian interpreter

Your cultural interpreter was born in Ottawa, Ontario and is the youngest of three children. She was raised in Ottawa, Ontario. Her mother was born in Israel and her father in Mauritius. She studied Biology and Psychology at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario. She worked as a Research Coordinator at a hospital for 2 years working on research studies for women with breast cancer. Afterwards, your cultural interpreter went to the Dominican Republic for 10 months, where she worked as an intern for a non governmental organization that provides dental services, health and computer education to children and adults in poor areas of the country. After her experience in the Dominican, she decided to pursue a Masters degree in International Health at the University of Toronto.

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Disclaimer

Intercultural Issues are intended to provide snapshots of the overall social and cultural norms as well as the workplace environment that a Canadian might face working in a specific country. For each country, two perspectives are provided: one by a Canadian and the other by a person born in the selected country. By comparing the "local point of view" with the "Canadian point of view", you will begin to form a picture of that country's culture. We encourage you to continue your research using a variety of other sources and to use Triangulation as an evaluation process. Although cultural informants were asked to draw on as broad a base of experience as possible in formulating their answers, these should be understood as one perspective that reflects the particular context and life experiences of that person; they are not intended to be a comment on any particular group or society.

You may disagree with or object to the content of some responses. This is to be expected given the complexity of the subject and the problems associated with speaking generally about an entire country and its people. We would encourage you to share your experiences; your contributions will help to make Country Insights a richer environment for learning.

The content of Country Insights in no way reflects official policy or opinions of the Government of Canada, Global Affairs Canada or the Centre for Intercultural Learning.

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