Cayman may have the least welcoming government in the region towards foreign retirees. 70% or so of the population are expats, and the ethnic Caymanians frankly don’t want any more. Our politicians are all elected on a “no more expats” platform. Nevertheless, the natives are friendly – or at least courteous. Courtesy is a very strong tradition here.
The term “expats” covers every incomer – transient migrants on Work Permits, long-term immigrants with Permanent Residence, foreign retirees, and foreign-born citizens. Everybody who is not a bloodline Caymanian, in fact – “bloodline” meaning descended from a born-Caymanian great-grandparent or other ancestor.
My wife and I are expats, having arrived on Work Permits a mere 35 years ago with our two-year-old son. We are all citizens now, and hold Cayman Islands Passports as of right, but – “expats” still.
The contrast between the official anti-expat attitude and the on-the-ground personal courtesy is remarkable. We wouldn’t live here if we felt unwelcome in our everyday lives. We wouldn’t allow our young grand-daughters (aged 12 and 9) to visit if they were met with hostility – or even indifference.
One always hopes young girls don’t go wandering off on their own and get lost, especially if they don’t speak English fluently, as ours don’t. However, if ours did wander off, we would be fully confident that they would be brought back safely by some kind stranger. They could hitch-hike back, if they knew which direction to go. It happened to their father, in his time. Aged four, he once flagged down a cement-truck to get home. You really can’t buy that sort of safety, or confidence.
Listing the positives about Cayman, next in order might be the absence of racial tension. There is a general tension between native Caymanians and Jamaicans, but that’s attributable to cultural differences, not racial ones. On another internet forum, I have published an essay titled “Cayman’s expats – 57 varieties and counting”. I chose the title because it seemed catchy, but the 57 was an understatement. The total number of nationalities here at any time is closer to a hundred.
The total number of colours represented here would be about the same. Locally, we tend to be pretty exact in our colour-identifications. There’s white and there’s white-white, black and black-black. Then there’s white-ish and very dark, and a hundred shades in between. When I was first here, one of my new employees told me that she didn’t consider herself actually black, because she had some Carib blood in her. (The Caribs were natives of the eastern islands at the time of the first European invasions.) “Oh, sorry,” I said. “No offence intended. What would you call your color?” “I’d say I was dark chocolate”, she said with a laugh. And so she was, when I thought about it.
Most ethnic Caymanians are of mixed African and European ancestry. Some have ancestors who were recruited from the coasts of India and China to replace African laborers in the Caribbean islands after slavery was abolished. After slavery, the descendants of slaves and the descendants of poor slave-owners combined to form a distinct tribe on the three isolated Cayman Islands.
British law was administered from Jamaica until quite recently, and the Jamaican connection remains close. We all speak English of one sort or another, and spell words the English way. We drive our cars on the left of the road, and fill up our cars with Imperial gallons of petrol (though we buy our milk in US gallons). Driving on the left is convenient for the 50% of cars that are right-hand-drive, imported from Japan and Korea: not so convenient for the 50% that are left-hand-drive and come from the USA.
Our local government taxes neither income nor property. It extends the same freedom to foreign individuals and companies and hedge-funds, and that’s what makes us an “offshore” tax-haven and international financial center.
We are a British colony, with limited self-governance – among the last remnants of empire. There is no wish for political independence. That would cost us our prosperity, and we all know it. We are by far the richest territory in our region, and intend to stay that way. Why not?