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Food: Native Dominican cooking combines Spanish influences with local produce. Beef is expensive (Dominicans raise fine cattle, but most is exported) and local favorites are chicken, pork and goat meat. There is plenty of fresh fish and seafood, island-grown tomatoes, banana, lettuce, papaya, mangoes and passion fruit and all citrus fruits are delicious. Local dishes include la bandera (meaning ‘the flag’, comprising white rice, red beans, stewed meat, salad and fried plantains), chicharrones (crisp pork rind), chicharrones de pollo (small pieces of fried chicken), casava (fried yucca), moro de habichuelas (rice and beans), sopa criolla dominicana (native soup of meat and vegetables), pastelón (baked vegetable cake) and sancocho (stew with anything up to 18 ingredients).

Drink: Presidente (Dominican beer) is very good, as are rum drinks such as the local Barceló, Brugal or Bermudez. Rum añejo (old, dark rum) with ice makes a good after-dinner drink. Native coffee (Café Santo Domingo) is excellent and very strong. Locally produced beer and rums are cheaper than imported alcohol which tends to be expensive.

Nightlife: In most tourist areas of the Dominican Republic, choices vary from a Las Vegas-style revue, discos and casinos to a quiet cafe by the sea. Hotels offer more traditional shows including folk music and dancing. Popular dances are the merengue, played very loudly almost everywhere; bachata, which is becoming very popular in tourist hotspots; perico ripiao; and the salsa. The night-life in Cabarete and Sosua, on the North Coast of the island offers a variety of restaurants, bars and shops lined along the beach. The party can last all night!

Social Conventions: The Dominican lifestyle is less Latin than other Latin American Countries, with short siestas and without long, late lunches. Many of the shops do not close down during mid-day and the average workday is 8 hours. The non-Latin ambience is indicated by the fact that, though the culture is rich in Roman Catholic and Spanish influences, 72-hour divorces may be obtained. Daytime dress is generally casual but beachwear is only acceptable in resorts, beaches and at pools. Evenings tend to be smarter, with jackets (although not necessarily ties) recommended for men at better restaurants in the cities, hotels and for social functions. Along the north coast, casual wear is acceptable in most situations. If unsure of the required attire, dressing-up as opposed to down is a good rule-of-thumb. One notable custom in the Dominican Republic is invitations to events. If you arrive at the time requested, you have arrived early. Usually a half-hour after the stated time on the invitation is the appropriate and expected arrival time. The same is not true, however, for most bus, tour or theater reservation.

Tipping: Hotel and restaurant bills automatically include a 10 per cent service charge (on top of a 16 per cent charge for tax purposes) but an additional tip may be given as an appreciation of good service. Taxi drivers on the fixed routes do not expect tips.

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