Look who’s coming to dinner
Dominicans are very personable people and they frequently give dinner parties, which are an excellent way to make new friends. If you are from the United States and are living in Santo Domingo, why not invite your new friends to your house for a true Thanksgiving feast?
I was told that Dominicans tend to invite their guests half an hour earlier than they are really expected to arrive. Is this true?
Yes, as a general rule, this is true. It is best, however, to ascertain what kind of affair you will be attending and who is doing the inviting. If you know these two factors, many of your decisions will be clear cut.
Ten to 15 years ago people arrived on time, but for no reason that anyone can pinpoint a more relaxed attitude has evolved. Nowadays, there is no limit to how late you may turn up—honestly! If you do arrive two hours late, of course, it is polite to apologize and explain, for instance, that you had to attend a prior engagement. The hostess will take it in her stride.
Arriving up to an hour late is quite normal and no comment at all will be forthcoming.
One important exception is a formal dinner, which takes a lot more planning than a buffet, and in this case, the hostess should try to let you know the score beforehand. Eight-thirty is the most usual time for the arrival of guests, with dinner being served usually no earlier than 9:30 pm.
An official diplomatic function or business dinner has its own protocol and it is customary to observe the hour mentioned on the invitation. Arriving 10 or 15 minutes late is perfectly acceptable.
Should I send out written invitations or can I just call people up? How long in advance?
There are so many attractive and fun invitation cards available these days that people are sending them for those reasons alone, although a telephone call is perfectly acceptable. If you are inviting a large group, the written invitation may save you a great deal of time and frustration. These should be sent two weeks in advance but only one week is necessary for a telephoned invitation. It is important that you talk to the wife (or the secretary, in absence of a wife) if you want to avoid mistakes, as she normally keeps the social calendar.
Business associates of my husband have invited me for dinner at their home. What should I wear?
You have all heard of the little black dress and pearls. It is very popular because it will see you through all those affairs lying in that grey area, where it is impossible to accurately ascertain the degree of required formality. Other options are a simple silk dress or trouser suit. Remember, just about any simple dress can be dressed up for the evening by the use of accessories. Change those flats to high heels and stockings and add a bold necklace and earrings. This has the tremendous advantage in that should you arrive and feel overdressed, you can easily slip off the necklace.
Is it true that dinner could be served as late as midnight? We normally eat at 6 pm. Should I have a pre-dinner collation?
The Dominican lunchtime, the main meal of the day, may be as late as 3 pm and consequently dinner is correspondingly later. A dinner party will set that back even further. As guests may not all arrive until well after 10, it is almost impossible to start serving before 11 pm. Hors d’oeuvres will be passed around but the main meal will be much later than that to which your body is accustomed. A snack or light meal before you leave home is an excellent idea.
I am going to a dinner where I do not know anyone. I do not want to be stuck by my husband all night, what can I do/say? May I ask the hostess to introduce me to people?
Any hostess worth her salt will make the first few introductions, but it is definitely up to you to keep the conversation going after that. Do not be shy about introducing yourself—most people are very friendly.
The men all ended up on one side of the room and the women on the other at the party I attended. Is it socially correct for a woman to mix with the other group?
This can happen anywhere in the world. It does not seem to be considered bad here if you choose to join the men for conversation. As they are usually standing, your feet will probably give you the signal when it is time to join the ladies.
What are the unfailing topics of conversation with Dominican women/Dominican men?
The best way to get to know Dominicans and enrich your stay in this tropical paradise is to talk to them about their history, customs and, of course, the island’s beauty spots. We all talk about things of import in our everyday lives and this country is no exception. It is hard, however, to have a conversation with the women which does not include the subjects of maids, the children, the family and fashion. These are not unimportant topics—they can give you insights into a society different from your own. While business and politics are the favorite subjects of the men, socio-economic changes and the advent of cable TV have also tended to shift discussions into the international sphere. It is also a good idea to read the local papers and stay informed on national issues.
A word to the wise: be very careful about criticisms. Should the conversation turn to the traffic, for example, and someone repeats the latest “near miss,” do not follow suit at great length and detail with your own nightmare story. One may criticize one’s own but woe betide anyone else making such a contribution. This does not, however, mean you may not proffer an opinion, but remember, listening is also a talent.
What are the usual drinks served before dinner?
The most popular drinks among Dominicans are Scotch whisky on the rocks or with soda water, and cocktails mixed with rum, vodka or gin. All the usual spirits, however, should be available. Red and white wine is commonly on hand for the ladies.
How long do these affairs last? When should we leave?
A dinner party will last about three hours. Once the coffee and liqueurs have been served, you may leave at any time. If the host presses you to stay and you are so inclined, do so. Note that if the dinner is held in honor of someone, the other guests should not leave until the honored guest does so. It is correct to leave at the same time as this person.
Is it customary to give the hostess a thank you call or note the day after?
Your hostess will especially appreciate a note or a call from you if you were the honored guest. This is a pleasantry that any hostess would appreciate but it is not de rigueur.
Is it customary to bring the hostess a bottle of wine or flowers?
Again, it is not the custom here, but at a small gathering, such a gesture is recommended.
I was told, as a female, I should greet women with a kiss on the cheek and the host with a handshake when we first meet. When I am more familiar with them, a kiss on the cheek for both is appropriate. Is this correct?
This is correct and you are encouraged to follow this pattern. As this may not be the practice in your own country you may choose otherwise and the customary handshake will be proffered in most cases, to ensure you are accommodated.
I have seen some women kiss everyone they know when they arrive and leave. Is this the custom?
When a woman enters a room she may go around and kiss everyone she knows and anyone she is introduced to at the time of arrival and then again, when she leaves. This does present some logistical problems when the group is very large. Then, perhaps, she will only greet those with whom she is very familiar and wave her hand to encompass everyone at the end.
I have seen men greet each other with hugs rather than handshakes. What is the custom?
Men greet each other with a handshake. If they are close friends an abrazo, or hug, is given.
I do not have anyone with whom to leave the children. When can I take them with me?
It is not difficult to find help for the household or the children in the D.R. It may, in fact, become one of your main priorities when you arrive if you have to attend many functions. It is not usual or welcome to take the children with you to dinners. It might be better to call upon one of your friends for a favor. If your hostess has children, you may call and ask if you can bring the children, especially if it is a weekend.