Those of you who have ever lived or studied abroad will probably agree with me when I say that living and operating in another culture often times gives you a little perspective on your own culture. I have come to realize over the past couple of years that I’ve spent moving around a lot just how much the culture we were raised in defines who we are and the decisions we make. Growing up in the states there were a lot of things I took for granted, ways of life that I never really reflected on or thought of as US or even Bay Area “culture”. As an American traveling abroad it can be way too easy to sell the US to locals, just the fact that US citizens often have enough extra cash lying around to make a trip abroad, or the relative ease of which we can get a visa to visit just about any country (minus cuba, though even cuba’s not completely off-limits if your zealous enough) can be part of a traveling sales pitch that you didn’t even realize you were preaching. It’s important when you travel to try to ditch the sales pitch and enjoy and learn about the culture you’re traveling in. Maybe some of the things you learn will be things you want to bring back home with you, and a little bit of perspective can be worth a lot more than a handful of tourist crap *ahem* sorry, crafts.
Some of the things I want to bring home with me from the DR:
1. Hora Dominicana (also known as Island time, Latin American time, Caribbean time, etc)
Dominicans have a different understanding of time than Americans. In the US, time=money, and time wasted is a sin. Meetings, classes, social events all start on time, and everyone expects that they will start on time, and therefore shows up on time. People tend to walk “with purpose” in the US, and if you’ve ever walked in New York it can be downright scary. In the DR people value time differently, its ok in some situations to show up late, and its ok to walk slowly to your destination, you’ll get there eventually. AND the most awful of awful things for Americans, its ok to not be doing something every second of the day, or to not appear to be doing something every second of the work day. In the work atmosphere, to an American, it might look like nobody is being productive or getting anything done while everyone gathers to gossip about whatever topic is on that day, but socializing is considered an important part of the work culture. People are also more flexible about time, they understand that things happen, and take them as they come without stressing too much about time “lost”. Time is never lost. That is a ridiculous notion.
Family is one of the most important things in Dominican culture, and is treated quite different than in the US. Families here are incredibly tight knit- most kids don’t leave their parents house until they get married. Upon meeting Ramon’s family, his mother was shocked to find out that I was living here alone (without my family) and that I had been living without my family most of the time for the past 4 years. “Don’t your parent’s miss you?” she asked (though what she really meant was “do your parents not love you enough to let you live in their house”) and I patiently explained that in US culture families tend to be a little more distant, that it is normal for extended families to live in different cities, states, or even countries. In the DR however, and in Ramons case, most extended families live within a stones throw of each other, and frequently spend most of their time together (Ramon goes to his grandma/aunt’s house to eat lunch everyday, a tradition he plans on keeping even after he moves out). Now, I’m not proposing that I should fly to my aunt in New Hampshire’s house to eat lunch everyday, but I do think that at the very least I should have more communication with my family on a regular basis.
Those of you who know me well, know that I absolutely love to dance. This one was kind of a no-brainer, but I had to mention it because it is my favorite thing to do here (preferably while also at the beach, drinking good Caribbean rum -don’t worry I’m legal even in the US-, and with all my Dominican friends present). Most US Americans are raised thinking that “Latin” music = Salsa and that everything Salsa in Latin Music and that any Latin Music is Salsa. Let me tell you here and now that you are so very mistaken. To begin, almost every type of music that Americans believe to be “latin” (with the exception of Tango) originated in Cuba. Also, not everything that sounds remotely “latin” is Salsa, in fact there are tons of different genres like the classic Cuban Son, Bolero and Rumba, to the more recent Salsa, Merengue and Dominican Bachata, and the most recent genres like Reggaeton, Dembow, Passa Passa and more. It would take me the better part of an entire day to write about all the different musical styles of the Caribbean, and that is excluding the music from the rest of Latin America, and maybe some day when I actually have the time and energy to throw myself into the daunting task I will, but for now just try to be mindful of the vast and beautiful genres that make up “latin” music.
While there are many many more themes that I would love to write about this post is getting excessively long so I will leave you with two links for you to explore. I realize that not all Americans have the ability to be quite as nomadic as I have been these past few years, and so for those of you who for whatever reason don’t have the opportunity to live abroad here is a blog entry written by a Irish guy who spent some time in the US and summed up all his frustrations with American culture in this very enlightening post.
I found it extremely interesting and accurate to read, and hopefully it’ll give you a little bit of perspective. The next link is pretty shocking, but hopefully we can take it as a lesson to be learned.
And of course, to not leave you without a single visual, here is a disgustingly cute couple pic of Ramon and I which I took at the incredibly charming new park/beach in Santo Domingo. I will upload the rest of the photos from the shoot sometime this week.