Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Cayman’s friendly expats

The headline in last Friday’s newspaper read Cayman friendliest country in the world. Beneath it, the usual braggadocio and false comparison with countries like China, USA and India that have thousands of times the population and area of our tiny Island. I scoffed at this practice in a post called Apples & Oranges in January 2011, and my comments are still valid.

The report was based on a survey by the HSBC bank of 5300 expats (not visitors) in 100 countries – including dependent territories, apparently. Cayman is “the easiest nation in the world [for expats] to make friends and integrate into the community and its culture”, the survey concluded: and that’s probably correct. Considering that two thirds of the community are expats, making friends and integrating is indeed easy. Most migrants rarely get to interact with the native-born, except individuals.

Several posts on this blog (e.g. House of Cards in September 2011) have reported on the societal schism that exists here, fostered by politicians and our Immigration bureaucracy. Many of the ethnic, native-born, Caymanians resent being outnumbered in their own tiny territory, and resent being indebted to the expat flood for all the recent comforts of life such as air-conditioning and good food.

To appease the natives, the British Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO) in London allows them a monopoly of political power with the authority to control the foreign workforce and to exploit the lower-paid unskilled migrants.

If we ever cease to be a British colony, the mutual resentment will catch fire, and end our status as an international financial centre – which will end the prosperity that attracts so many expats. We are in the middle of a minor crisis at the moment, with our governing political party positioning itself to demand independence from Britain – the independence that would destroy us. (See A day late and a dollar short, September 2012.) We could be in deep trouble a few weeks or months from now.

Nevertheless, the HSBC survey’s finding may well be accurate: this is a very friendly place for expats. I would have answered favourably, too, if the Bank had surveyed me. Since most of the population are expats, it is expats who display the friendliness that was reported, and the ease of integration. Socially, the usual national divisions apply, though loosely, and the usual occupational divisions too. There are no racial divisions, as such, or religious ones either, except on Sundays.

We have Jamaicans and other West Indians, Filipinos and Indians from their respective different islands and regions, Latinos from all over Latin America, British and other Europeans, and North Americans galore. Most of the Europeans, Canadians and Americans are middle-class and overpaid, most of the others working-class and underpaid. To a man and woman, they are delighted to be here, and it shows in their cheerfulness and general attitude.

For further information, let me recommend a website called Expat Focus and the first report from Cayman that I wrote in it, called Cayman’s Expats – 57 Varieties and Counting. To find it, the easiest way is to Google “expat focus 57 varieties”. I’ve just done it, and it works!

Last month we had friends staying with us. (Cayman for Visitors, October 2012). Except for Captain Marvin’s sons on the Stingray City tour, they rarely encountered any true-born Caymanians. As for the nationalities, colours, races and accents of the people they did meet during the visit, it’s all a blur to me. Living here, describing an individual by colour or voice often becomes a serious test of memory. Cayman’s expats don’t all look alike, of course; but it does seem that way sometimes.