#4 The Word ‘vaina’

The word ‘vaina’ is a fundamental part of the Dominican vernacular…a necessity in everyday social communication and arguably the most versatile word in the Spanish language. I’d even go as far as to say that more than a few Dominicans uttered the word ‘vaina’ not long after (if not before) ‘mama’ and ‘dada’.

The Urban Dictionary defines vaina as follows:very useful latin american (especially Dominican) slang for stuff, crap, thingy, thingamabob etc. However, the power of this word does not stop at simply ‘thingamabob’. ‘Vaina’ can be used for any number of situations including hitting on the opposite sex, referring to illicit substances in the presence of children and/or foreigners, referring to a woman’s monthly visitor, in place of misc. or unknown and communicating general unpleasantness/lack of significance in any number of undesirable situations.

Here are a few real life examples

-y que es esa vaina? -what is this crap?

-que vaina! -what a predicament!

-cuidado con esa vaina! – please be cautious when dealing with this situation

-mira…no te metas en esa vaina – it is best not to involve yourself in these dealings

-quitame esa vaina – change the channel

-y que la vaina?! – seriously…w.t.f

-buscame la vaina por favor – please pick up some rum at the bodega

There you are, the chameleon of the Spanish language. A single word that expresses the hopes, dreams, frustrations, cautionary advice and grocery lists of an entire nation.


#3 Helados Bon

Usually, it takes at least 3 hot dancing women in thongs to make any product appeal to the masses. However, when it comes to Helados Bon-advertising is not necessary. Simply open up an Helados Bon and Dominicans will swarm to them like moths to a flame. Although, it has to be said, the scantily clad women are still included in the advertising as a courtesy to the people-kidding it’s mostly little kids looking REALLY happy. (all that sugar!)

Helados Bon is the Dominican version of Ben & Jerry’s or Baskin Robbins only reasonably priced and more widely adored. Since 1972 this magical little place has been bringing Dominicans happiness and much needed empty calories. Remember children, nothing bad can come of cream, sugar, ice & cake chunks. Bon flavors range from the typical chocolate & vanilla (zzzzz) to ciruela (plum) & bizcocho (cake).

Aside from the more exotic flavors, not-so-catchy names, and acid trippy advertising, Helados Bon is pretty much your average ice cream place. It’s a great place to visit on just about any occasion (dates, long walks, beach days, birthday parties). Interestingly enough, it was founded by an ex-presidential candidate-a true Dominican patriot. From politics to ice-cream, if that isn’t a great story I don’t know what is. He took the simple idea of selling ice cream and turned it into a bona fide mega-successful franchise. Kind of like the story about the guy who founded Starbucks…only not…come to think of it the only thing Starbucks has in common with Helados Bon is they are both found on just about every corner in their respective countries.

The best part about Helados Bon? Way too many to name. The worst part? Helados Bon is only available in the Caribbean. The downright sad part that causes many Dominicans to cry themselves to sleep every night? You can’t bring Helados Bon back to the U.S. in your suitcase.

#2 Juan Luis Guerra

Juan Luis GuerraThe Dominican Republic is a country that loves music-it is an integral part of the culture (along with plantains). Now, ask any Dominican and they will tell you without missing a beat (ha! pun intended) that Juan Luis Guerra is the greatest living Dominican musician.

Guerra takes a vast array of musical genres [jazz, bolero, bachata, merengue, salsa, rock, gospel, African] and blends them into his own unique style. His musical influences include The Beatles, Pink Floyd, Jethro Tull, the Rolling Stones, Pat Metheny, and Chick Corea (pretty diverse for an islander). He even traveled across an ocean to refine his skills at Berklee’s College of Music. Dominicans love it when other Dominicans know their shit!

The folks on the east side of Hispanola aren’t the only ones who have praised Juan Luis Guerra’s talent. He has sold over 14 million albums worldwide (no, they weren’t purchased by only Dominican folks) and has won TEN Grammy awards. The world hearts this man!

And another thing…not only does his music have an amazing sound, he is also an incredible lyricist. A modern day Shakespeare, a master of the Spanish language, a 20th century poet -however you wish to say it-the man has a way with words.

As wonderful & talented as Mr. Guerra is-there is one tiny detail that causes excruciating pain for the Dominican people: It is impossible to translate one of his songs into English without sounding like a complete crackhead. It makes it very difficult for Dominicans to share their love of Juan Luis Guerra and his music with the English/any other language speaking masses. Because quite frankly, it’s just a tad silly.

Example: What is perhaps one of the most romantic phrases ever uttered in the Spanish language follows…

Quisiera ser un pez, Para tocar mi nariz en tu pecera, y hacer burbujas de amor donde quiera, ohhhh, pasar la noche en vela, mojado en ti-un pez. Para bordar de corales tu cintura, ya hacer siluetas de amor bajo la luna, saciar esta locura-mojado en ti.

Gorgeous right? Don’t you just want to run off to make burbujas de amor? Well…here is that same exact phrase in English.

I would like to be a fish, and put my nose up against your fishbowl and blow bubbles of love all over…ohh to spend a sleepless night soaked in you. A fish, to decorate your hips with corals, and make silhouettes of love under the moon, ease this madness, soaked in you.

Right. Still pretty romantic. Just…a tad…odd. No matter though! Juan Luis Guerra is one of the DR’s most beloved sons. He can do no wrong. He can accept Jesus Christ as his personal savior. He can wear hats all the friggen time. He can even do remixes of his songs with the Black Eyed Peas! Dominicans will always love him. I’m talking Whitney in ‘The Body Guard’ always love him. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go check on things outside-I’m pretty sure it just started raining coffee beans.

#1 Plantains

You see, the Dominican Republic is a relatively poor country. There isn’t that much food going around! Plantains however, practically rain from the sky. When you really stop to think about it, the plantain is a symbol of Dominican ingenuity. Here you have this simple plant-practically a weed-yet, from that one natural resource the Dominican population have secured economic stability (kinda), social rest and nutritional well being of an entire nation. I mean, have you ever seen a Dominican girl? You don’t get an ass like that from eating Wheaties.

Yes, the plantain is indeed a STAPLE of the Dominican culture. Plantains are to Dominicans as Shrimp is to Bubba Gump. Seriously, just ask your nearest Dominican to name as many ways as they can to prepare plantains and next thing you know-said friend will be lost in a trance…’maduros, tostones, mofongo, mangu…’ Also, you will have just made your friend incredibly hungry so expect the canola oil to fly. Oh, it won’t matter what time it is either, because plantains (as far as a Dominican is concerned) can be eaten anytime, anywhere.

To put it in terms that the mainstream public would understand…if anyone ever fucked with the DR’s fuel supply, they’d make due…fuck with their plantains however and congratulations-you’ve just started World War III.

exactly what it sounds like