I’m pleased to once again welcome a guest blogger to And So It Goes, the blog born to bring awareness to the joys, intrigues, and frustrations of cultural differences.
And Lindsay de Feliz knows first hand of these things.
I first met Lindsay through the We Love Memoirs facebook group and got to know her even better reading her two (so far) memoirs (see below). A once-proper English woman who now resides full time in the Dominican Republic, Lindsay’s post helps bring my blog back to its roots in cultural differences.
I’ll post her bio and her blog links below. Without further ado (I love saying that) I bring you Lindsay de Feliz.
Adapting to the culture of the Dominican Republic and reverse culture shock when returning to the UK
I arrived in the Dominican Republic in November 2001 to begin a six-month contract as a scuba diving instructor. Now it is 2019, and I am still here, in the DR.
I had travelled widely throughout the world, experiencing many different cultures, but nothing had prepared me for the cultural differences in the DR, though, on reflection, many are due to poverty and a lack of education. Close to half the country lives on $1 (US) a day.
The first thing to strike you is that everyone appears to be happy.
Smiling faces, everyone you meet greets you whether it be on a bus, in the street, or in the supermarket. Music is blaring out everywhere and there appears to be a disregard for the sanctity of life with no one wearing helmets or protective clothing on motorbikes, no seatbelts when driving and even driving with one hand on the wheel and a bottle of beer in the other hand. Rather than feeling appalled, I felt an incredible sense of freedom, as if the years of the shackles of rules and regulations had been broken.
The reason for the happiness, as someone once said, is that for your life to have meaning you have to learn from the past and plan for the future. But to be truly happy you need to simply live for the day. That is exactly what Dominicans do – live for the day.
Food is the central part of their lives and exactly at noon, every day, they eat.
Usually this is at least a pound of rice – each — with stewed beans and some sort of meat, most likely chicken. There is little variety in the diet, with rice eaten most days, occasionally green plantains, boiled, mashed or fried like French fries.
Family is also central to the culture, with what was to me an amazing culture of sharing.
Sharing not just food, but possessions and money. If anyone in the family is in trouble, then all other family members help out. Dominicans say that the three occasions when family and friends will always support you are when you are in jail, in the hospital, or dead.
I saw this first hand when I was in the hospital. Had I been in England I would have had one or two visitors and a plethora of flowers and cards. Much easier to ask your secretary to send flowers, than to make the time and effort to actually visit. But in the DR I had over 400 visitors – no flowers and no cards. People travelled from one end of the country to another to visit me, often having to borrow the money for their fares. They even went to shrines to pray for me.
This level of caring and sharing was alien to me and, at first, I was reluctant to share my things and my money. I had worked for it. I had bought it so why should I just give it away? Slowly, as time went on, I became less selfish and ‘things’ that had been important to me were just ‘things’ with no need to hold onto them jealously.
The disappearance of my possessions was replaced with the refreshing feeling of freedom. You were no longer judged by the clothes you wore, the job you did, the car you drove or the house you lived in. You were judged for yourself, with no encumbrance of ‘things’.
Many foreigners find the cultural adaptation not just difficult, but impossible to cope with, especially those who need order and organisation in their lives.
Time is never adhered to.
You invite someone for dinner at 7 pm and they may not arrive until 10 pm. The plumber who says he will be there at 10 am, may not arrive at all. Repairmen are usually not qualified, leading to shoddy repairs, and good car mechanics are almost impossible to find. They may fix one thing, for another to go wrong within a day or so.
Family members taking things from your home is normal and accepted behaviour. They believe you can afford to lose things as you are richer than they are, and this practice continues with most dentists, doctors, lawyers and the like charging significantly more to non-Dominicans –- just thinking of the cash today, not the possibility of a long-term relationship which could provide more money over time.
Having been in the country for 18 years now, married to a Dominican for 14, I can say I am completely aplantanado as they say — like a plantain banana — as I now act and think like a Dominican in many ways.
I recently returned to the UK for the first time in 12 years and experienced reverse culture shock.
England, land of my birth, where I grew up and had worked, had changed. Technology had taken over with the need for an App to buy most items from shops and supermarkets and no more friendly chats with check out staff; instead you scanned your items yourself and inserted your bank card into the machine.
But the biggest culture shock was to realise that although England had changed, I had changed even more.
To me the organisation which I used to embrace felt stifling and the need for order made me smile again and again. Everything had its place in all parts of the home, and woe betide you if you put sometime in the wrong place. There was a way of doing everything and no room for bucking the trend. I realised I had become completely laissez faire and making sure the spices were in order on the spice rack just was not important in the scheme of things.
The English organisation spread throughout all elements of life. Cars had to be parked in a certain place and a certain way – in the DR you can park wherever you want.
Encounters with policemen were serious issues, often ending with a fine, whereas in the DR it was a quick chat, a laugh and a joke and, once you handed over the obligatory bribe, you could go on your way.
You had to pay for what you bought in the shops, when you bought it. No more could my purchase be written down on a scrap of torn off cardboard to be paid for later.
I had not realised that embracing the culture of a different country can change you forever and make it impossible for you to return to being the person you once were.
As I tell so many new arrivals to the country now when they complain about the behaviour of Dominicans, “It is not wrong, it is different”.
Lindsay de Feliz was born, raised and educated in the UK, where she worked in London as a marketing lecturer and a Marketing Director for various financial service companies. In her mid 40s, she decided to follow her dreams and travel the world as a scuba diving instructor, ending up in the Dominican Republic 18 years ago.
She was on a six month contract but fell in love with the country and its people and met and married a Dominican. Having been shot in the throat during a robbery she was unable to dive any more, and now works as a writer, translator and marketing consultant.
Lindsay currently lives in the northeast mountains in the Dominican Republic with her husband, five dogs, one cat, and numerous chickens. She writes a blog about the Dominican Republic and daily life at www.yoursaucepans.blogspot.com and is the author of the bestselling books “What About Your Saucepans?” and “Life After My Saucepans” available in Kindle and print from Amazon and other digital formats from Smashwords.
Twitter — @lindsaydefeliz
And, before we move on to your questions and comments, I must leave you with one additional photo, as are the others, compliments of Lindsay’s keen eye and impressive camera. The Dominican Republic is certainly a beautiful land.
Lindsay, thank you so much for sharing your observations and experiences as you navigated your way into a new culture. And then navigated the old terrain as a changed woman. This sentence really jumped out at me, in your description of first encountering some of these differences:
“Rather than feeling appalled, I felt an incredible sense of freedom, as if the years of the shackles of rules and regulations had been broken.”
How about you? What jumped out to you as you read Lindsay’s story?