A church in Hamilton
Blue skies over Bermuda
British road crossing button in Bermuda
Dress code advice
Flying over New York
Hamilton City Hall
Lindo's in Bermuda
Streets of Hamilton
Time for an ice cream
If you’ve been following ECA’s blog, you may have noticed that our International Data Researchers have posted about their fair share of exotic islands. My recent travels took me to the remote island of Bermuda, located in the North Atlantic Ocean - around 1250km southeast of New York.
In my colleague Mark’s recent blog post ‘When is a country not a country’, he named Bermuda as a common example of somewhere that is mistakenly assumed to be a country. As Mark rightly noted, Bermuda is in fact a British Overseas Territory – the oldest and most populous of the 14 that still fall under British sovereignty. Bermuda still remains autonomous and sets its own laws. In fact, it has one of the oldest parliaments in the world, with its first session dating all the way back to 1620. The UK, however, remains responsible for Bermuda’s defence, while also handling matters affecting their foreign policy. Bermuda did have a referendum on independence in 1995, however, nearly three quarters of the voters that turned out rejected the proposal.
During the 2-hour flight from New York, I became curious as to what to expect when I landed. As Bermuda has such strong historical ties to Great Britain I expected to see certain cultural influences here. Additionally, due to its close proximity to the United States, I presumed that there would also be American influences. This was indeed evident soon after landing, when the immigration officer asked me in an American sounding accent “are you here for vacation?”. Interestingly, I later learnt that the accent is apparently a mix between English and American, so Americans think it sounds English and the English think it sounds American!
This mixture of British and American influences was even evident in supermarket culture, as much to my disappointment, both metric and imperial units were used on price labels for different grocery items – meaning I had to constantly recalibrate from one to the other. That being said, the shelves were stocked predominantly with American items. In fact, around three quarters of all imports to Bermuda are from the United States. This is hardly surprising considering American tourists also make up a similar proportion of the total visitors to the island.
Despite the noticeable American influence on the island, there are still plenty of reminders of Bermuda’s historical ties with Great Britain. Whilst strolling through Hamilton, the capital city, I stumbled across a police car that looked remarkably familiar. The pedestrian crossing signals were also identical to the ones found in the UK. Yet it was another, more eye-catching sight, that really got my attention when walking around Hamilton – Bermuda shorts. These shorts, cut just above the knee, are worn by many of the locals as part of typical business attire – along with a blazer, tie, shirt and knee-length socks. Interestingly, these were a well-received contribution from the British. The British Army and Royal Navy, both of which have historically had large bases on the island, invented them in the early 20th Century as a way to keep cool in the heat. When Bermuda had a shortage of male clothing during the war, several large local businesses adopted them for their employees and they soon caught on!
While Bermuda shorts are also popular in other parts of the world, Bermuda remains one of the few places that these are acceptable for formal wear. I did consider purchasing a pair and seeing how they went down in London, but in the end I decided against it. One might also expect on an island, particularly one where shorts can be considered formal wear, that a casual attitude to clothing might prevail. On the contrary, I found that people tended to be very smartly dressed - many of the bars and restaurants even insist upon it!
Bermuda is often mistakenly grouped together with the Caribbean islands, partly because it is so isolated it doesn’t fit easily into a geographical category. The island does have a unique character and atmosphere that aren’t similar to anything I have experienced elsewhere. Bermuda is a small island with an area of around 21 square miles, yet it is inhabited by a relatively large population of around 65,000. This means that Bermuda is one of the most densely populated places on the planet. Despite this, I found the island to be impeccably clean and well maintained, even in the urban centres. Much of the island appeared very affluent, with large detached houses with spacious gardens commonplace. This is supported by the fact that it ranked in the global top 10 in terms of GDP per capita (United Nations, 2014), ahead of countries like Switzerland and Denmark.
One measure the government has taken to reduce the impact of the relatively large numbers of people on island is to ban cars (including renting), for anyone who isn’t a long-term resident on the island. As a visitor this leaves you with two options, either renting a scooter or making use of the taxis and public transport the island has to offer. Being rather fond of my limbs, I opted for the latter. After finding out the hard way that taxis are somewhat expensive, the bus became my preferred method of transport. The buses are predominantly pink – inspired by the pink sands on the beaches the island boasts of. Despite the buses being of a similar size to a single-decker bus in London, it felt very friendly and intimate.
The buses also have ‘stop’ buttons, although during my stay I became increasingly confident that not a single one of them actually worked. It seemed the norm to just shout out to the driver when your stop is coming up. As I had always sat at the front near the driver, I found this process relatively straightforward. However, at the end of my trip, when catching the bus back from Hamilton to my hotel, I found myself right at the back of a packed bus. I felt a little uncomfortable shouting out and ended up awkwardly attempting it in a half-hearted manner. After we sped past my intended stop, the lady sat next to me took pity on me and bellowed out “STOP PLEASE!”. Without the kind lady’s intervention, I think I would have been riding on that bus until the end of the line!