Avoid putting your foot in your mouth
Have you ever put the proverbial "foot in your mouth"? It is so easy to do in a country whose customs are unfamiliar. Some of the most common customs involving forms of address are given below. Most certainly you will come across them frequently, if you have not already.
The other day I was parking my car, and this man came up to me as if he knew me, and addressed me as ingeniero. How did he know I was an engineer?
He did not know. If you ever need a title, just go to any parking area and the self-appointed parking assistants will be handing them out... licenciado, doctor, ingeniero to all of their potential clients.
When should I use tú and when usted?
Traditional Dominican etiquette requires that people are addressed as usted up until you have been formally introduced and have achieved some level of familiarity. Exceptions are people obviously on the same level. It is also customary to address a person as usted if you want to keep your distance or as a demonstration of respect, mainly because of age.
I understand amigo or amiga is a good term with which to address people, is this true?
It is a friendly term that is acceptable when dealing with anyone you may encounter that is providing a service. Examples are the vendors at the market place, a receptionist or sales assistant at a shop or store.
Who does he think he is, calling me mi amor! When should I permit this?
In this age, when sexual harassment is a hot issue, you may decide to take exception to this friendly way of addressing people used in the Dominican Republic and all over Latin America. It is a customary way of demonstrating amiability and is never meant to be demeaning. It is used for both males and females. It is on a par with the way the English finish friendly banter with “love” or “dear.” Mi corazón is also used by some people; it rather serves to demonstrate the personality of the person using it, amiable and open. It is definitely used ad lib on the street but please note that these forms of addressing people are not used in the office or between people of upper executive level. Should you decide it is a breach of etiquette, by all means inform the person that you prefer not to be so addressed.
I have heard the titles Don and Doña used, is this common?
Don is not short for Donald. It is a title used more commonly with ladies and gentlemen of a certain age. It is a form of respect inherited from our Spanish culture. Doña usually indicates a married woman or a widow, although that does not have to be the case and both terms are always used before the first name and usually not followed by the surname.
When should I use Señor or Señora?
These are terms to use whenever you would use the literal translation which is Mr. and Mrs. They are used before professional titles also, e.g., “Señor Alcalde,” but are not always translated into English. They can also mean the lady (or the man) of the house, la señora (el señor) no está en casa, madame (master) is out.When asking about the spouse you would say, “como está su señora?” The usual form of address for colleagues and other businessmen is Señor(a) adding their surname, unless you are invited by them to use their first name.
Is it common to address friends by compadre or compañero?
The compadre and comadre are a child’s baptismal godparents. As children grow, they will refer to these special people in their lives by their affectionate titles. Among working people, it is also used as a friendly form of address meaning “buddy” or “pal.” Compañero came into vogue in the 60’s with the formation of the Partido Revolucionario; it is not often used now except when you are referring to a co-worker, or perhaps classmate which would then be a compañero de trabajo or a compañero de clase.
I often hear “Saludos” instead of “Buenos Días;” does it mean the same thing?
Saludos is the most common form of greeting here. Although buenos días, etc. is just as easily understood, saludos is more frequently used among Dominicans. So if you want to speak “Dominican,” this is a good place to start.
I have noticed that people greet one another with a kiss on the cheek. Am I expected to do the same?
Extending the hand for a handshake is quite acceptable. Gentlemen should always do so, but women have no such obligation. They always have the last word in this matter and gentlemen are advised to wait until she extends her hand first. A mere nod of the head accompanied by some pleasantry, such as mucho gusto or encantada, which is the equivalent of “pleased to meet you,” may be her choice. The same is true for the kiss on the cheek. If you are a woman, you greet other women with a kiss on the cheek and the gentlemen with a handshake at the first meeting. In a formal or professional setting, it is acceptable to greet a woman the first time with a handshake, to be followed by a departure kiss if a rapport has been established. Gentlemen should take their cue from the lead of the female.
How do I address government officials or those holding such distinguished positions as ambassador?
There are certain dignitaries whose office demands special recognition when addressing them. Excelencia is reserved for the President and Vice President of the Republic. It is also used when addressing ambassadors, official plenipotentiaries and the minister of Foreign Affairs. A bishop is referred to as Monseñor and a Cardenal is Eminencia.
I would like to know the format for a written invitation?
There are a variety of ways you can address the invitation. In Spanish-speaking countries, however, it is the name of the man invited first, then followed by señora.
Sr. Fernando Sánchez y Señora, instead of the Mr. and Mrs. Fernando Sánchez you may encounter elsewhere.
You can add an officially held title if you desire:
Al Excelentíssimo Sr. Embajador de Chile y la Sra. de Rodríguez
If you are planning on inviting the sons or daughters, the rule is as follows:
If the daughter is still living at home and she is of an age to accompany the parents to evening affairs:
Señor (Don) Fernando Sánchez y Sra.
Srta. Carolina Sánchez
If the daughter is an adult, it is best to send her a separate invitation. Sons usually get their own invitations even if they are minors. A card that is hand delivered will have the letters S.M. beneath the names on the envelope, indicating Sus Manos.
How are personal cards written and used?
Personal cards are extremely useful in the social world. They can be used to accompany a gift, to send a message or indicate that you have made a personal visit, and as a means of introduction. A man will have his full name printed or embossed in the middle of the card. In Spanish-speaking countries it is customary for a woman to have her first name followed by her maiden name, the word de and then her married name. For example, Marianna López de Sánchez. Sometimes couples choose to have both their names on the card. The man’s name is written first above that of his spouse. You will often see a line traced diagonally through the names on a card as if to cross them out. This is a custom here and indicates a more personal greeting. Sometimes the names are then handwritten, in addition.