Newcomers many times have difficulty understanding “Dominican Time.” Most will have been told that this means Dominicans run on a more relaxed schedule, but when they come here they learn the hard way that this is not always true.
Indeed, while this is Latin America and the Caribbean, there are many things that do run on time. Cinemas start on time, shows at the National Theater may or may not. While chartered excursion buses may be late in departing, if you are taking a Metro Bus to Puerto Plata or elsewhere, you will do well to arrive at least 15 minutes early or your reservation will not be valid. These buses leave at their scheduled times. When in doubt about such matters, ask the company, the organizer or your host. If you cannot double check, then play it safe and arrive on time.
Are there standard office hours?
There are no standard business hours in the Dominican Republic. Every business is free to set its own schedule. Most operate an eight hour working day.
You will discover there are stores that open at 8 am and close for two hours at noon. They then reopen at 3 pm and close at 7 pm. Others will reopen at 2 pm and close at 6 pm. Some will open at 10 am and stay open until 9 pm.
Several major companies start early at 8 am and close at 4 pm. But most businesses and shops open from 9 to 5 pm, remaining open at midday, with a reduced staff and service. A telephone call will most probably be answered, “So and so is on his lunch break.” This also means that 12 to 1 pm could be a good time for a quiet business appointment, because of fewer interruptions.
Most banks are open to the public until 5 pm. Many have branches in supermarkets or stores that stay open until 9 pm.
All this means that it is sensible to telephone before you visit to check working hours.
Most businesses and many shops and stores close at noon on Saturdays. This practice, however, is slowly changing, with shops staying open and doing lots of business in the afternoons. Some supermarkets are also opening on Sunday mornings. Check daily newspaper advertisements to see who is open and until when.
Also note that on a holiday or other major commercial periods, like the “run up” to Mother’s Day, St. Valentine’s Day, or Christmas, shops will usually extend their hours or open on Saturday and even Sunday. Again, check the daily newspapers at these special times of the year.
We arrived at a Dominican party at the time mentioned on the invitation and were the first to arrive. The other guests did not come for another hour. Why did the invitation state that time?
It is the duty of the hostess to be ready for her guests at the appointed hour, but she does not really expect anyone to arrive until at least half an hour later. Many will not appreciate your being “on time.” Dominican social practice permits the guests a great deal of flexibility... arriving an hour late is “not late,” you are on time. Once you get used to it, you might find it removes a lot of the pressure to arrive on the dot.
I gave a party and expected guests to show up half an hour late as is normal. I had people at my house on time. What happened?
As you are not Dominican, your guests paid you the courtesy of respecting your custom of punctuality. The next time you may wish to write hora Dominicana, hora Europea or even, hora Norteamericana on your invitation.
What is an acceptable time to arrive at a cocktail party or a similar reception?
As you can now understand, the subject of time in this country is not meant to confuse anyone, but rather acts as a way of releasing you from slavery to that little contraption strapped to your wrist. There are some exceptions, of course, and the incurably late should not use these observations as fuel to stoke their lackadaisical attitude. To get to the point, what time to arrive at the cocktail party?—ten to fifteen minutes, even up to half an hour after the “appointed” hour is acceptable. You do not want to be the first to arrive, or the last.
Should I also be late for business appointments? How about an appointment with a government official?
If you are looking for a “win” situation, that is, if you want to obtain something, a contract, a sale, etc., would you dream of arriving late? Never! Do not be late. Most business appointments are with people who have schedules as busy as your own and with just as much work to accomplish. Arriving late, without a prior telephone call giving an explanation, will only be interpreted as a lack of interest.
As you have asked about government appointments separately, it indicates you are aware that a different procedure may apply. Yes, and no. It may not be vital to arrive on the dot but you are well recommended to arrive very close to your appointed time. You never know, miracles do happen.
Dealing with the government is a different kettle of fish, and, of course, the answer depends on how big the fish is and what it is you want. To see the President a two-hour wait is perfectly acceptable. Be forewarned that President Hipolito Mejia is famous for his punctuality. Indeed, the President has been known to be the first to arrive to many social commitments.
If you are not sure you can be punctual, suggest a longer period, meeting, for instance, between the hours of 4 and 5 pm. That way the flexibility of the system works in your favor. Always call just hours before the appointment to confirm this. You may also call shortly before departing for the apartment to double check you will be received.
I gave someone an appointment to see me on business. How much time is acceptable for that person to be late? How long should I wait before receiving that person? How long should I wait for a friend or social acquaintance?
We are treading on unsteady ground here because, of course, we go back to the question of who wants what? How busy is your schedule? If the appointment is missed, it will become a question of can you fit them in, or do you have to reschedule them. They will be put at somewhat of a disadvantage, but it may be unavoidable and only you will know if you wish to hold the balance of power in a particular negotiation.
The same is true for friends—it really depends on how much interest you have in seeing the person. You will remember how you could wait forever for your true love to make an appearance. You are under no obligation to wait more than 20 minutes, but if the meeting is to your advantage, you may find you can hold out for much longer.
How common is the siesta? How did this custom come about?
If you have experienced the summer in the Dominican Republic, or anywhere else with the same hot climate, you will have no trouble in understanding the siesta. Without it, you may be “hitting the sack” before 9 pm from sheer exhaustion.
As you have now gathered, the evening activities begin quite a bit later than you may be accustomed. Most people go home for lunch and after the meal, a delicious doziness descends. The only cure for this soporific effect is the proverbial forty winks. Try to make time for this wonderful tonic.
What is the schedule for night life in Santo Domingo? I am told you can go out at midnight and find many restaurants and bars open.
If you are acclimatizing your body to the Dominican schedule, you will have refreshed yourself during the day with a siesta. By the evening, you will have relaxed with perhaps your favorite sport and a general winding down until about 10 pm, when you head out with your companions to your favorite restaurant and on to the disco or casino around 12:30 to 1 am. You will find a great many more people in the restaurants and bars at these hours than earlier in the evening. If you are intent on eating before 8 pm, most places will be open but you will most likely dine alone or with the tourists.
Are there 24-hour stores in Santo Domingo?
There are a many farmacias and gas station convenience stores, many equipped with automatic banking machines, that stay open all night. Look for one in your vicinity. The 24-hour pharmacies will home delivery medicines at your phone request.