follow the 'wonders of modern science' routine. 'Do you know if you
use hot water for washing up it is less expensive because it means using
less washing up liquid and it cuts back on germs, so fewer visits to the
doctor? Isn't that great? The things they'll think of next..........'
Keep it light. Of course, you'll need some Spanish to do that. Forget the
'she ought to know this' stuff. Why should she and how can she if it
has never been part of her experience?
however, will make allowances for things which they believe are not part
of the foreigners' experience. In our first week here I came across all
sorts of fruit and vegetables which I had never seen before and in those
days I only had rudimentary Spanish with which to ask questions. The green
pear shaped things turned out to be a vegetable - called chayote in North
America, tayota here in the Dominican Republic and nothing at all
in UK where I came from since we did not have them. I asked the lady in
corner store, which also doubles as a bar, social centre, political hustings
arena and community centre, what they were. She told me and told me how
to cook them. Next day she had carrots (zanahoria here). I smiled,
at last I was on familiar territory. But before I could buy them the same
good lady told me about washing, peeling and boiling because in her perception
as a gringa I probably only knew how to use a microwave or cook frozen
vegetables. And I listened because the next day she may have had the tayota's
first cousin or some other weird and wonderful veg. (to me) and
I would be back to ignorance again.The Dominicans'
of the foreigner is of someone who lives in an all mod. cons. world and
by and large that is true. If you really want to impress here, wash your
sheets by hand!
When we first
arrived lawn mowers were virtually unheard of. One day I started to cut
the grass in our rented abode using garden shears and got quite an audience!
I was almost tempted to burst into song. When my husband came home from
work we tried to analyse why I should get such interest. It wasn't that
I was a woman because women do most of the heavy domestic work here. Finally,
he hit upon it. I was using a high tech. lawn cutting device, garden shears.
The locals you see, are monobladed. They use machetes. That was thirteen
years ago - now we have a lawn mower (and a gardener!).
understanding of how the public education system works in the Dominican
Republic is illuminating, since it explains why the foreigner's concept
of 'common sense' differs from the average Dominicans. In common
with other developing countries where school supplies like notebooks and
pens are costly compared to the average wage and thus not possessed by
all, oral educational methods are used in many schools. Thus from an early
age children are encouraged to repeat, parrot fashion, what the teacher
is saying. This does not mean that they understand what the teacher is
saying, merely that they are able to repeat it, so, yes, Dominicans have
a very good 'ear'. This means they can mimic or imitate perfectly
- just listen to a Dominican's rendition of your first faltering steps
in Spanish! They have your accent and intonation to a T. Of course they
are much too polite to do this in front of you, but you can, on occasion,
pick up a reported conversation with someone else.
the classroom example - if you have years of repeating what someone
else says, the one thing you have not done is to develop your own problem
solving skills. In adult life, this translates into a lack of ability to
diagnose a problem. The most obvious example of this is taking your
car to the mechanic in the Dominican Republic. Foreign residents would
be well advised to have a stab at diagnosing their own mechanical or electrical
problem and imparting this information to the mechanic. Otherwise, he will
fall back on his last known experience. The car someone brought him yesterday
did not start because something was wrong with the plugs. Ergo, your car
must need new plugs, too. If you don't believe me, hang out at a mechanic's
for an hour and watch!
This can lead
to a lot of misunderstandings between the new foreign resident who thinks,
for example, that they have an alternator problem, and the mechanic,
who appears to check everything but the alternator. The solution is not
to be shy, tell the mechanic your diagnosis and see where it goes from
there. Of course, there are some excellent mechanics here in the DR; the
trick is finding them. Always take a recommendation from someone you trust
and who is themselves a car owner! Our mechanic used to work on Mustangs
in Texas at one time, actually building them; he is a cut above the norm.
And it took us about 6 years to find him. I have a 1988 Mitsubishi Montero
Jeep and he rebuilt the entire chassis so that it is now solid as a tank
to this the chassis was rust held together with airholes, the effect of
salt in the air). Why do I drive such an ancient vehicle? Well, if
it gets scraped by the many motoconchos I am not about to get hysterical.
Driving is an art form here, but perhaps that should be the subject of
another article? In any event, I would not recommend purchasing a brand
new vehicle that you are going to watch over like a mother hen and cluck
every time you get a scratch, because, trust me, you'll be doing a lot
of clucking. Again, if you find a treasure of a mechanic, cherish him.
in the Dominican Republic are.........well, variable, is I suppose,
a printable term. When we were very new here, my husband employed the hotel
electrician where he (my husband) worked as Guest Services Manager.
In those days we operated on the notion that the electrician of a large
tourist hotel would know what they were about. We are wiser now!
At that time we needed a ceiling fan fitted where a light bulb had been.
The hotel electrician jumped onto our pine table without removing his heavy
hobnail boots, to examine the 'job', then when he was up there asked
me for a knife. I asked why and he said it was to unscrew the fitting,
so I gave him a screwdriver. He nearly fell off the table when my husband
returned and presented him with a ratchet screwdriver (plus a lesson
in how to use it). Nowadays, I would do it all very differently. I
would put a small step ladder in place, move the table out of the way and
have an array of tools ready. Most crafstmen now have some of their own
tools, but yours will probably be in a better condition and of a wider
selection. Hotel staff of course, use hotel tools and are not allowed to
take them off site. Operate on the principle of 'damage control'
in these matters and you won't go far wrong.
will find the person before you did not use the maxim 'damage control'.
We bought a 100 year old wooden gingerbread house in Puerto Plata centre
9 years ago. When we employed an electrician to check out the wiring he
discovered the ceiling fans were connected via telephone cable (in a
wooden house!). The previous owner was indeed fortunate that she did
not meet her maker sooner than intended through fire. Of course she may
have been totally unaware about the telephone cable. We are still in touch
and she is very much alive and well and living in Vero Beach, so I must
enquire sometime whether she spent all those years in the wooden house
in blissful ignorance. The moral of the story is, if you buy or rent a
Dominican style house, or even a 'gringo' one, CHECK all
the wiring. We have, since then, built our own house, also in Puerto Plata,
and of course we used an electrician. Well actually two. We terminated
the employment of the first one, since our survival depended on him getting
it right, and unfortunately he set himself low standards which he was consistently
unable to maintain. But........this article is long enough, so I will cover
house building in a future 'tale from the unknown' should anyone be interested.
I will be the
first to admit that there are frustrations in handling staff in the
Dominican Republic. Not there 'may be' - there are - sooner or later
new residents will encounter the issue. As always, the secret is in how
you handle it. Charm, poise and understanding go a long way. Confrontational
anger will get you absolutely nada. If you have excess anger to burn off
divert it to a long swim in the warm sea under a beautiful blue sky or
a cycle ride into the foothills of the mountains or a gallop on horseback
along a deserted beach.
Or walk a mile
in the other guy's shoes............hobnail boots and all.
is Ginnie's first article for the magazine: