There are three main brands of beer; Presidente, Bohemia and Brahma but by far the most popular is Presidente. You can buy it in all of the colmados and bars and everyone will always check it is cold enough before buying it. They come in three sizes, small, large and jumbo. The large one costs a pound or US$1.50.
There is a bit of a performance when you buy the beer. The top is flipped off, usually using the counter top, and then out come the serviettes. The first one is used to wrap around the top of the bottle. I was told that there was always a chance that rats might have peed on the bottles when they were in the warehouse or stacked up in the colmado, so it is used to wipe the top of the bottle. The second serviette is wrapped around the bottle to stop your hands getting too cold, and to absorb the water from the ice. Alternatively the bottle is put in a brown paper bag.
I am not a beer drinker, but there is nothing like an ice cold presidente on a hot day. I can feel all of you who know the Dominican Republic, but who are not here at the moment, smacking your lips and wishing for una Fria right now! Sorry!
My second F is for Fiao. It means credit and is a way of life here. The majority of Dominicans do not save money and so if they want to buy anything they buy on credit. This applies to cars, motorbikes, clothes. The interest rates are exorbitant and if you miss a payment they are even more terrible. If you do not pay for a few months the item is repossessed. There is a major network of loan sharks who will lend cash for whatever you need. They will often take your bank ATM card and when the wages are paid it, they take out your wages, collect their dues and then pay you what is left. On pay days, the first and the fifteenth of the month, you do not want to go to the ATM machine, as you always get stuck behind the 'prestamitas' with a massive stack of cards withdrawing money.
The system seems to work well, but the colmado owner has to know who is likely to pay and who not!
The big problem comes when people want to borrow money for something which cannot be repossessed. A few years ago an acquaintance of my husband had a son needing life saving brain surgery. He borrowed the money but needed to guarantee it with something. My overly generous husband put our car up as guarantee, being sure the man would pay it back over the 4 year
term. All went well until he lost his job. Every month he did not pay the interest went higher and higher. Eventually the loan sharks came to our house and said that the debt was RD$ 200,000 which was around US$8000 at that time. They took our car.
My husband went to look for the man who had been in hiding from the loan sharks. He said he was sorry but he had no money and nor did any of his family. They offered us the only thing they had - the family pig. A pig for a car. Still the little boy who had had the operation made a full recovery and we let them keep their pig.