Reason 3 to leave Santo Domingo: You’ll be always the Gringo. No matter what.
A foreigner always remains a foreigner. You look different, talk differently with an accent, dress differently, have different mimics and gestures than the local population, and of course a completely different background.
That’s so far absolutely normal and acceptable. But compared to many other Latin American countries, I did not feel everywhere welcome in the Dominican Republic. Neither in Santo Domingo. This hasn’t anything to do with the typical magic of a big urban city and the difficulties to integrate into and to adapt to running systems.
Compared to all the other Latin American countries, people in the streets treat you always as a money donation machine. They made me feel like I was owing to them something. Some were not even happy with the coins bakshish happy that I gave them and demanded more.
A real story about a shoeshine boy in Santo Domingo
I remember one situation with my (Dominican) girlfriend at Plaza Colón which is the main square in Santo Domingo. One of these typical young Dominican shoeshine boys came to us when we sat on a park bench. We both wore flip-flops and sandals, so there was nothing else but our toenails to polish.
He begged for money, came up with the typical stories to tell, etc. My favorite answer (“No”) was ignored and became effectless because he insisted and finally found a way to receive some help from us.
My girlfriend has a more caring and social personality than me. On the other hand, she is not approached every day on the streets with such an intensity as I am. Anyway, she decided to go with me to the closest supermarket to buy some food for the poor guy. This way he couldn’t invest it into alcohol or other rubbish.
The boy agreed and accompanied us to the supermarket. He sat there at the other side of the pavement because he couldn’t get in with all of his shoe-cleaning tools and waited for us outside. My girlfriend and I entered the supermarket and this time I was the one begging her. Please don’t spend too much money on a stranger who might not be worth it.
So we spend the first some time to think about the right things to buy for him. We decided to buy a lot of staple food:
- 5 kg <-> 11 lbs of rice
- 1 gallon < 3.8 liter of Coca Cola
- 20 bananas
- 2 kg <-> 4.4 lbs of beans
All these food elements fulfill even the hungriest stomachs of an entire family for quite a while. In total, we spent 900 Pesos (approx. $16.80) at the supermarket what I think is quite a lot. It felt at the cash zone with 15 minutes waiting time forever, but that was after the Dominican sense of time a fairly normal amount of waiting time.
I had my doubts, that this boy was still waiting there after we entered 20 – 25 minutes earlier the supermarket. He was still there. But then something happened, that I would’ve never expected.
Just 10 seconds before we arrived with our shopping bags at his waiting spot, he was approached by another couple. They were in front of us at another checkout zone in the supermarket. The boy tried while we were already looking in the supermarket for the right things to buy his same ploy with them. And it also worked out twice for him.
We still gave him also our shopping bags full of groceries. But I made a unique negative experience and learned again what it means to be different in this city. The young boy made of course the jackpot and couldn’t either believe his luck nor carry everything he had (cleaning tools and 20 shopping bags of food).
Two days later (and I am not kidding), the same shoeshine boy (!) approached me this time alone (!!) at the same bench in the park (!!!) with his same ploy (!!!!) again. Luckily – or rather unfortunately – my girlfriend was this time not present and couldn’t encounter what I did.
But hearing the same story again made me kind of angry. Especially after trying the same sleight before and then again without recognizing myself. I told this boy that I already spent two days ago plenty of money in the supermarket together with my girlfriend for him. He couldn’t even remember my face or the story I tried to recap to help remember his mind.
Without having a reasonable chance for success, he continued with his shoeshine kit the walk through the park to try the ploy again with other strangers. I never saw him again.
Why does all that happen to foreigners in Santo Domingo?
Because you are a Gringo. Get used to that. And you can’t either do anything for or against that. Everything that I wrote in the first paragraph of this reason applies to you. The worst thing is if you are white. People check on you and perceive you as a millionaire with a money-printing machine. A very sad feeling, because no Dominican will believe neither your words nor why you decided to come and live in a city like Santo Domingo when you’ve got better options in life.
For them, you are something like an intruder and won’t ever have the chance to be part of them and their culture. Although this sounds very negative, Dominicans simply didn’t understand how to normally interact and integrate foreigners into their systems.
A good example is here one of the cultural get togethers I encountered in the Dominican Republic. If you are interested in a piece of their black culture and an interesting Dominican festival, you should check the following article I wrote:
I had luck and knew the right people who took me with them. Other than that, it would have been impossible for me to discover one of these cultural festivities. Because they are covered within the Dominican communities and are little communicated.
Everything reads now as they would be terrified and xenophobic people. They’re not – Dominicans are extremely welcoming people who always smile. And because of that, I don’t understand this huge bipolar differences in the treatment of foreigners. On the one hand very warm-hearted, friendly and hospitable people who like to tell you a story about Dominican life and ask you, if you have already tried their famous Sancocho food. But on the other hand, they’re absolutely closed to foreigners when it comes to really integrate them for longer.
Hence, a strong community of expats has grown in the Colonial Zone. My usual behavior in all the other cities to these expats groups was always very distant. A reason for that was, that I preferred to have contact with the locals, improve my Spanish and understand their native culture a bit better.
All that isn’t really possible in Santo Domingo. There aren’t any regular language or cultural exchange meetups in the city. You’re a bit on your own inside of your bubble of expats. Also nice, but not as progressive as learning from your host culture. Many things of the Dominican culture aren’t communicated publicly and remain a secret for expats. Even for those who decide to live in Santo Domingo for years.
You’ll be tolerated in Santo Domingo. But I never got the feeling of being wanted from the Dominican community in Santo Domingo. No matter how hard I tried. The majority of Dominicans might do an effort to get close to you – When they have the chance to benefit monetarily from you as the young shoe cleaner.