Observations by a Digital Nomad in Bermuda

Once upon a time, there was a global pandemic. Bermuda, whose economy relies heavily on tourism, invited remote workers to their beautiful island to escape since they had almost zero COVID cases. As the travel opportunist that I am, I jumped at the opportunity to live somewhere beautiful that happened to be much safer and warmer than my apartment in Toronto’s winter. I was privileged to have a job and supportive leadership in order to live in Bermuda for about 3 months. In this article, I am speaking from my experience, filling in my gaps with research, and asking Bermudian friends to fact-check me. While I am certainly no expert on Bermudian culture, I appreciated it as much as I could while I was on the island.

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First thing’s first: Bermuda, the Bahamas, Barbados and Barbuda are four different places. Here are some unique and fascinating things about Bermuda.

What is Bermuda?

Bermuda is a British Overseas Territory that is internally self-governing. Bermuda is tiny: the archipelago (large group of islands) is about 24 miles (40 km) long and averages less than 1 mile (1.6 km) in width(Britannica). Hamilton, referred to as “town” (i.e. going to town), is the capital.

Culture

Accent

The Bermudian accent and slang are somewhat of a cross between British, Bostoner, and Jamaican. Whereas asking where to sign in Toronto would get you the response “on thuh line”, in Bermuda what you’d hear is closer to “oin di loine”. However, many Bermudians I met studied abroad (especially in Canada!) and had the same accent as I did.

Race

Before leaving, I had people sheepishly ask me what a Bermudian looked like. Whereas people from a lot of islands may have a more homogenous look, Bermudians can look quite different from one another. “Are Bermudians Black?” Yes. And also no.

For a while, my travels took me to places where people looked very homogenous. Blond hair and blue eyes in India, Morocco, and Mainland China was A THING. I was used to people staring at me, asking me questions, taking photos of or with me, and just generally sticking out. Bermuda did not bring me that same experience. In fact, I was (flattered to be) mistaken for Bermudian quite a few times.

The racial makeup of Bermuda as recorded by the 2016 census, was 52% Black, 31% White, 9% multi-racial, 4% Asian, and 4% other races, although these numbers are based on self-identification. Native-born Bermudians made up 70% of the population.

One can see racially diverse groups of native-born Bermudians enjoying their time together. Optimistically, one could believe if there is no visible “other”, perhaps there is less “othering” in Bermuda. Hopefully, that is more true today, however, racism in Bermuda’s history can be blamed (thanked?) for the racially diverse population.

What about indigenous communities on the island? Bermuda was discovered in 1505 by Spanish explorer Juan de Bermúdez. Bermuda had no indigenous population at the time of its discovery, nor at the time of the initial British settlement a century later. During this period the first enslaved people were held against their will and trafficked to the islands. As summarized in Wikipedia (I can’t find a detailed source), they were “a mixture of enslaved Africans who were trafficked to the Americas via the African slave trade and Native Americans who were enslaved from the Thirteen Colonies.”

Also in Bermuda’s history, a sizeable percentage of white Bermudians retained right-of-abode in the United Kingdom while very few black Bermudians did. Nowadays, there are reclaimed and celebrated traditions that were previously banned. One example is The Gombey, a “unique performance art full of colourful and intricate masquerade, dance and drumming” previously a masked dance performed once a year by enslaved people as a form of protest without fear of retribution.

You can take a look at this 2019 Christmas Fair to get a glimpse at the lovely people and vibes of Bermuda or click here for some Gombey performances.

I wanted to do this topic at least a crumb of justice; I will get back to the point now. To learn more about race in Bermuda, click here.

“The British Empire’s colonization of Bermuda in 1612 still lingers today, from the sherbet-colored Bermuda shorts and knee-length socks to passionate conversations about cricket over rum swizzle.

But there’s an increasing number of experiences that speak to the diasporic history of the island and celebrate Bermuda’s Black culture, with new initiatives focusing on Black travelers.”

— CN Traveler, “21 Best Places to Go in 2021

Expats

There are also several thousand expatriate workers, principally from Britain, Canada, the West Indies, South Africa and the United States, who reside in Bermuda. To my own misfortunate, the main professions are accounting, finance, and insurance. Of the total workforce of 38,947 persons in 2005, government employment figures stated that 11,223 (29%) were non-Bermudians (Wikipedia non-web source).

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Some of the friends I made in Bermuda. One Bermudian local with expats from Scotland, Ireland, and Canada.

Cost of Living

A lot of people I spoke to were surprised when I mentioned that Bermuda is expensive. Frankly, expensive is an understatement — Bermuda is the most expensive country in the world. This video on the cost of living in Bermuda went viral.

Bermudian grocery stores have baggers. In Bermuda, a tip for a bagger isn’t just a “thanks for your service” as you may think. I learned that the baggers are not paid a wage so I always budgeted an additional $2 or so on top of my cost of groceries.

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US notes and coins are considered at par and used interchangeably with Bermudian notes and coins within the islands for most practical purposes. Those costs, coupled with the fact that I get paid and taxed heavily in Canadian dollars meant there was no way I could live in Bermuda for a full year.

Size / Community

As mentioned previously, Bermuda is tiny. We’re talking teeny tiny — The entire island is smaller than the distance between downtown Toronto and cities in the GTA (Greater Toronto Area).

Its size is one of its greatest strengths (and also weaknesses for some) because it provides a small-town feel. Bermudians are some of the nicest people I have ever met. It’s a place where you have go-to cab drivers that will give you a free lift to town if they see you waiting at the bus stop. The guy I rented a surfboard from sent me a sweet voice note wishing me a safe flight home. I have been living in the GTA all but 5 years of my life and I rarely see someone I know out. In Bermuda, I rarely didn’t see someone I knew out — and again, I was only there for a couple months.

Something I love about Bermuda is the way it becomes a shared experience. Almost everyone on the island follows two accounts on Instagram, “bernews” (also the name of the Bermudian news website) and “bermemes”. In my experience, they are the source for news and Bermudian pop culture. They share each other’s content and share submissions from your Average Joe, unlike Canadian news media (or even most meme pages!). Maybe my millennial is showing but these two shared accounts really helped me feel like I was a part of the island.

Greetings

In Toronto, when passing someone, we typically avoid eye contact. In Bermuda, saying “hi” isn’t enough. You need at least a “good morning/afternoon/evening” and ideally a “how are you?” before a longer interaction. Those driving, especially cab drivers who know many other cab drivers, honk as a hello to those they know as they pass them by.

By my Toronto default, I would assume that a honk is a catcall — and, to be fair, sometimes it is — but most of the time it is someone you know saying hello. Similarly, I would joke with my friends about a Toronto catcall vs a Bermudian catcall as follows:

Toronto catcall:

“damn shawty, what that mouth do?”

*follows me for 2 blocks*

Bermudian catcall:

“good morning beautiful, I hope you have a great weekend”

*continues on his way, expecting nothing in return*

Safety

Before moving to a new place, one should be aware of safety considerations. Though no place is perfect and some areas are worse than others, Bermuda is overall a very safe island. Part of this is likely due to its sense of community. Here’s a perfect example of Bermuda citizens being trustworthy.

I was on a bus when, within an instant, we went over a bump, my backpack tipped over, and my caseless and dead iPhone 11 slid out a phone-sized crack in the bus door. I only got the phone through work about a week before moving to Bermuda — it didn’t have a case on it, I didn’t have the number memorized. It had my work email on it and a couple texts to my mom and colleagues. My new phone had just slid out of a moving vehicle onto the side of the road. As I’ll get to shortly, there are not many sidewalks in Bermuda. This road in particular was winding along the side of a cliff-like area. If this was Toronto, my phone was toast: either already posted online for sale or ran over. In Bermuda, the bus whipped back around to the area it slipped out.

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The phone-sized hole my phone slipped out of.

By the time the bus could safely U-turn and make it back to the same spot, we saw a man on a scooter pick something up and drove off. Someone waiting at a bus stop nearby confirmed that the man on the scooter stopped and picked something up the size of a phone. In Toronto, this would be considered witnessing the person who is going to sell my phone.

Fast forward a couple of days, my mother sends me a panicked email “Bermuda police called saying they have your phone? Is this real? Is this a scam? Are you okay? CALL ME.” That’s right folks. Scooter man dropped off my phone (miraculously in near-perfect condition) to the local police. The Police charged it up and somehow found my parents’ number. They called Canada to let my parents know that they had my phone.

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Transportation

In Bermuda, we see architectural determinism ( a theory which claims the built environment is the chief or even sole determinant of social behaviour) (source). In Bermuda, there are practically no sidewalks. That means there are rarely people walking, other than yours truly. Possibly as a result of this, there are not many light poles, as it is assumed that everyone is in a vehicle with headlights.

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Bermuda is the only Atlantic island that restricts car ownership to local residents. Gas-fueled cars are also very expensive to bring and own to Bermuda. Because of the narrow roads, scooters are the most popular form of transportation.

Debatably another form of determinism, my friends and I found ourselves using scooter helmets instead of purses to carry our phones and other items.

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First photo courtesy of tripsavvy.com

Even the bus, referred to by my group of friends as “the pink loser cruiser”, has stunning views.

Meet Twizy, an electric-powered vehicle where two passengers sit front-to-back in a low-to-the-ground cockpit that features a windshield but no windows.

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Citizenship

At this point, you’re probably thinking Bermuda is an expensive utopia and you want to win the lottery to move there. I don’t blame you. Knowing how attractive Bermudian citizenship is, Bermuda has very strict rules for foreigners to get citizenship. Unlike what you would see on an episode of 90 Day Fiancé, remain married to the Bermudian for at least ten continuous years before applying for Bermuda citizenship. As for the small-town vibe, “any application to become a Bermuda citizen is disclosed publicly, and existing citizens are invited to speak in favour of or against that application” (Legal Beagle).

There is so much more I could say about the beautiful island and culture of Bermuda. I would move there in a heartbeat if I could (hint hint, Bermudian companies that need an Experience Design Lead!). Stay tuned for a follow-up post on design details in Bermuda.

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Thank you for reading. If you’ve enjoyed or learned something from this post, I’d really appreciate some claps on Medium or a share on social media!

designs experiences, solves complex problems, fights for social justice, nerds out on AI ethics & futures

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