Thursday, January 24, 2013

A country full of surprises

Having regaled you with my banking issues last week, I should start by telling you the end of the story, which to me was totally surprising.

Having rolled out of Banreservas howling with laughter at the debacle to opening an account there, the following day I called England and asked them to send my money to Banco Popular. As always the call was efficient, pleasant and the money was en route in minutes. I then spent the morning trying to get hold of Banco Popular where I hold my account, only to discover I had to speak to the person who opened my account some 11 years ago, who was on holiday. In the end I gave up and went to the branch here and spoke to a very nice Customer Service lady who scanned all of my documents and emailed them to a whole range of people in my original branch.

That was the Thursday and I knew I was in for a long wait.

On the Monday I checked my account at Banco Popular on line. They have this thing where you can see not only how much money is in your account but how much is on the way there. It is called transito. It can be up to 10 days in transit. For example for one of the jobs I do, I am paid by cheque from someone who has an account in the same bank. I can usually see that the cheque will take 5 to 7 days to reach me, and I have no idea why, as it is the same bank. But it never counts down day by day. Sometimes it stays on the same day for 2 days and sometimes it goes from 5 days into my account the next day. I suppose it depends how many stops the donkey makes on the way to here from the capital, Santo Domingo.

Anyway, I was praying against all odds I would see the money in transito. It wasn't there.

I looked again on Tuesday morning and you could have knocked me down with a feather. Not only was the money there, it seemed somehow to have zoomed directly into my account and wasn't in transito at all. It  could be used immediately. Totally efficient and totally unexpected and total bliss. So a big thumbs up for Banco Popular.

There are many things here which are totally unexpected. I write a monthly column for and this month I wrote about gay men in the Dominican Republic. I had always thought that they would experience discrimination in such a Catholic country - but they don't. I should have realised it, as the acceptance of people for who they are, irrespective of colour, background, religion or sexuality is very refreshing and it is no different for gay men. You can read the full article here.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Take a deep breath

Sometimes living in the Dominican Republic is incredibly frustrating, but at the same time you have to laugh – or you would cry. Yesterday was one of those days.

I need to transfer some money from England to my account here at Banco Popular. It should be simple, so I go into the Banco Popular here and tell them I will be transferring money from England. They check my account and tell me the account is held at the branch where I used to live, so I need to tell that branch. I say well please transfer my account to this branch. Apparently they couldn't do that, I had to telephone my old branch myself, which I did. Unfortunately the only way you can transfer your account to another branch is to physically go to your old branch, at the other end of the country, and tell them personally. It cannot be done by phone, fax or email.  As I needed the money quickly, fair enough I say, I will just go and open an account in another bank here. This didn't seem to bother them at all.

So off I trot over the road to Banreservas which is the main bank owned by the State and walk up to Customer Services and say I want to open an account.
 “No problem,” says the nice lady, and we start filling in the forms. That is when the problems start.
 “Do you want an account in dollars or pesos?” she asks.
 “Dollars,” I say.
 “Fine,” she says, and I just thought I had better ask what seems like a stupid question.
 “Can I take the dollars out of the account?”
“No,” she says. “You can have an account in dollars but at the moment we are not letting people take money out of them, well maybe a little but not very much.”
 “Let me get this right,” I said. “I can transfer money from England into a dollar account here, but once it is here I can’t take it out?”
 “Correct,” she replied with a smile.
 “Well, I don’t think I want a dollar account then,” I say, as it seem a little pointless to have money in a bank which you are not allowed to touch. So I decided to open an account in Dominican Pesos, where you are allowed to take the money out.

Off we start with the forms. She asked for my ID card called a cedula, and for my passport. Technical hitch number two. The names are different. My cedula has my maiden name and my passport my married name. She decided that I couldn't open an account with my cedula, I would have to use my passport.
 “Is that a problem?” I asked.
 “Not at all,” she says. An hour passes and eventually all the paperwork is done and I am passed over to another person to upload the information onto the computer system. Lady number two looked at my passport which says on the front, ‘United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland’, and inside it says I am a British citizen.

This was just far too much for her. Understandably I suppose, she couldn't get her head around people from the United Kingdom being British citizens, had never heard of the United Kingdom nor Great Britain and what was worse couldn't find either country, United Kingdom nor Great Britain, in her list of countries on the computer. I suggested looking for England, but she insisted on going through the whole list. By this time I was sitting next to her behind the desk as we slowly went through the list.
 "Hooray," I have found it she said."
"Barbados says United Kingdom next to it in brackets. You must be from Barbados."
 I assured her I wasn't. Portugal maybe, she said, Peru, British Virgin isles. It took at least 15 minutes and eventually she discovered England, which, she said she had also never heard of and had major doubts that the United Kingdom and England were one and the same place, and I was a British citizen according to my passport so probably came from neither of them.
The interview continued. "What is your  occupation?"
“Writer,” I said. No occupation of writer listed in the computer.
 “Could you be something else?” she enquired.
“What would you like me to be?” I asked politely.
 “How about an architect?” she said. I suggested a plumber and she said I couldn't be that as I was a woman. In the end we settled on journalist.
Finally all the data was in the computer and I received my little book with my opening balance of 500 pesos in it.

“Where is my card so I can get money out of the ATM?” I asked.
“You can’t take money out of this account yet,” she said.
 “Err why not?” I asked. “I will be transferring money from England and will need to get the money out of the account as soon as it arrives here.”
 “Well you can’t,” she announced. “The account is frozen, because you used your passport to open it. Your passport needs to be verified”.
 “How long will that take?”
“Around a month”.


Wednesday, January 9, 2013


One of the things I loved about this country when I first came here was the lack of rules and the sense of freedom.  For example you could smoke in all the bars and restaurants – to be fair, most were outside but not all. People smoked in the colmados – corner shops. There was dancing on the bus, in the supermarkets. You could park your car outside any shop you wanted to go in and they were no yellow lines on the streets to stop you parking. No one wore a helmet on a motorbike, or very few, nor seat belts when driving.

People drove with a bottle of beer in their hands, and the backs of trucks were full of people standing up. You would see 5 or 6 people on one motorbike.

I am not saying that all of these things are good or right, but when you come from a country with rules, it is incredibly liberating to be in one without for a while.

Over the years things have changed a little. If you are caught not wearing a seat belt, the traffic police known as AMET might fine you – if you are in an area where they are working.  There again they might not.

They tried to introduce breathalysers a while ago but I don’t think it actually worked, and the number of traffic accident deaths due to drunk drivers continues to be awful.  So does the number of motorcyclists who die, often due to not wearing a helmet. Having said that they are also trying to make helmet wearing compulsory, with campaigns every so often, although just having something on your head is usually sufficient, even a saucepan.

There are now more and more restaurants, especially air conditioned ones which do not allow smoking or which have smoking and non smoking sections.

I can understand that a country has to have certain rules, but everyone I know who returns here from a visit to the USA or Europe or the UK relishes the personal freedom they feel once they touch down on Dominican soil.

The lack of rules does mean, however, that in some cases you have to adjust your behaviour for your own safety. I don’t drive at night for example (cars and bikes without lights on, more drunken people, cars with headlights on full and roads full of potholes). Nor do I venture onto the roads on public holidays when there will be more people driving drunk.

Overall I think I prefer the lack of rules, although I know it does drive several expats crazy - especially those who first arrive here, and want to know why things aren't done in the way they are 'back home'.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Happy New Year (and more on Dominican Men)

Happy New Year to you all and thanks again for reading. I have just checked the statistics for the last year and this blog has had 33,000 visits from 15,000 people in an amazing 130 countries. People from the USA visit it most, followed by Canada, the Dominican Republic, UK, France, Australia, Netherlands and Spain. We have one reader in Papua and New Guinea, one in Kazakhstan and one in Ethiopia! Amazing really and very rewarding to think that people all over the world are reading about the DR and my life in the barrio.

Those reading the blog last year

Last night was New Years Eve, and my husband cooked our traditional New Years Eve meal, san cocho.

It was just the family, he and I and the two boys, plus Chivirico and his aunt. A great time was had by all, but I must admit I was tucked up and well asleep by midnight.

I hope you all have a great 2013, and to start it off with a smile a little more on the culture of Dominican men.

Standard conversation with English man when I realise the car is missing.

Q: Where is the car?
A: I lent it to Jim as his isn’t working and he needs to pick up his wife.  He will bring it back in an hour.

Same conversation with a Dominican man

Q: Where is the car?
No reply. (The question often needs to be repeated. It has been suggested to me that husband suffers from Attention Deficit Syndrome. Personally I think it is damaged hearing due to years of loud music, or, more probably, Ignore The Question if the Answer is Difficult Syndrome).
Q: Where is the car?
A: Viene pronto. It will be here soon.
Q: I didn’t ask when it would be back, I asked where it was.
A: Casi esta llegando. It is almost here.
Q: Yes but where is it now.
A: No esta lejo. Not far away.
Q: Where exactly?
A: Cerca. Close
Q: Who has the car?
A: Ese viene. It’s coming.
Q: (Shouting by now) Where is the bloody car?

Standard phone call with English man

Q: Hi, where are you?
A: I am at Jim’s house discussing the car. I will be home in 30 minutes.

Same conversation with a Dominican man

Q: Hi, where are you?
A: Aqui. Here.
Q: Where exactly is here?
A: Aqui abajo. Here further down.
Q: What are you doing there?
A: Nada. Nothing.
Q: So why are you there doing nothing?
A: Hablando. Talking.
Q: Who are you talking to?
A: Hablando disparate. Talking rubbish.
Q: Who are you talking rubbish with?
A: Nadie. No one.
Q: When are you coming home?
A: Ahorita. Later
Q: Just so I get this right. You are there,wherever there is, talking rubbish with no one and will be back later.
A: Exactamente.

As you can see, Dominican men are excellent at not answering the question. I used to find it frustrating, now I find it amusing and any conversation asking for information is a challenge. There seems to be a total confusion between where and when. If I ask stepson where his brother is, he always says he will be back soon. Most odd.  I am sure it is not done deliberately, it is just the way it is.