Tuesday, February 7, 2012

F is for una Fria and Fiao

The next letter in the world blogging challenge to blog the letters in the alphabet.  This was a hard one, but I thought I would write something which will resonate with all the Dominicans who read this blog.

F is for una Fria.  Fria means cold in Spanish, so when you ask for a cold one, you mean cold beer. Not just a cold beer but an ice cold beer. Dominicans will not drink their beer warm, nor even cold.  It has to be ice cold. They say it has to be covered in ashes (cenizas) or wearing a wedding dress (una vestida de novia) to describe the white frosting on the outside of the bottle.

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.

Not everyone charges interest.  In the colmado the vast majority of people have credit. It is very well organised in that you are given a piece of cardboard torn off from a box of something. This picture is of mine which comes from a box of packet juice mixes. Every time you buy something it is written on your piece of cardboard. Then when you have money you pay some of it or all of it.

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.


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  2. You should have taken the pig (or the boy)...jk

    That was extremely nice of you guys.

    Oh and boy do I miss Una Fria cenicita. BTW I'm old school when it come to Presidente. I don't like the light stuff. I want a regular Presidente not the watered down crapola. Unfortunately nowadays when you ask for Una Fria they automatically give you the light one and some places don't even carry the "normal" one anymore. Sigh...

  3. I forgot to mention light beer. I am with you on that one. What is the point of drinking watered down beer!

  4. Too bad

    that could have been a lot of bacon and cracklins

    but yes
    very nice gesture

  5. Can't imagine it- it's like going back to the old corner shop system here, where everything went "on the tab". We don't realise how lucky we are, do we?

    1. I love the tab though! Saves you worrying about carrying money and I love the trusting nature of the colmado owner. Just a bit of a shock when you have to pay it though!

  6. Awwh what a lovely story about the pig! I agree life-saving surgery was so important and I bet if that man gets a job he will repay your kindness and more:)

    In Portugal lots of the men drink straight from the beer bottle. I've seen load of rats here and banned Mr Piglet drinking direct from the bottle for this very reason. If it's not rat's piddle you can bet the dogs have christened the beer crates... :(

    1. True Piglet. Rats, cats, dogs, tarantula slime!

      Is nice everyone thinks lovely story about the pig, but having lost my car in the process I will not repeat here what I said to my husband about the loss of the car. I had to say it in English as at that time my command of Spanish swear words was not good enough!

  7. Puyaca, you read my mind!!! No me gusta la fria pero a veces es la sola que tiene!!! Y about fiao!!! Anda el diable, we once sold a Daihaitsu to a guy on credit x payments for x months and of course, the guy made a few payments on time but yeah guess what... Ohhhhh lo siento no hay dinero este mes, bla, bla, bla!!! Finally, got all our money but only a year later and many phone calls and threats to go to la justicia because we had a legal contract de un abogado (not avocado Lindsay ;-))

  8. Glad you got your money back cyntella! It is always a problem here that once people buy on credit they somehow forget to make payments. It starts with excuses, and then they hide from the debt collector, and then they disappear!