Even though Bermuda isn't in the onion business the way it used to be, a born and bred islander is still called an "Onion." The term dates from the early 20th century, when the export of Bermuda onions and Easter lilies to the U.S. mainland were the island's major sources of income.
The "Onions" -- a term that still carries a badge of pride -- have their own lifestyle and even their own vocabulary. For example, "Aunt Haggie's children" are frustrating, stupid people; "married by 10 parsons" is a reference to a woman with huge breasts; "backin' up" means gay. You don't vomit in Bermuda, you "Go Europe." "Cockroach killers" (a term you may also hear in the American Southwest) are pointy-toed shoes. Although you'll rarely see it on local menus, the bream fish is called a "shit-bubbler."
Residents of more troubled islands to the south often look with envy upon the "Onions," who have a much higher standard of living than Caribbean islanders do; they also pay no personal income tax and suffer from only a 7% unemployment rate. The literacy rate is high: An estimated 99% of females age 15 and older can read and write, as can 98% of Bermudian males.
Today's 62,000 residents are mostly of African, British, and Portuguese descent. Bermuda's population density, one of the highest in the world, is about 3,210 per 2.5 sq. km (1 sq. mile). The population is about 61% black, 39% white. Many ethnic minority groups are represented, the largest and most established being the Portuguese; the majority of inhabitants, however, are islanders from the Caribbean or The Bahamas. Some Bermudians can even trace their ancestry back to the island's first settlers, and some to successful privateers and freed slaves.
Britain's influence in Bermuda is obvious in the predominantly English accents, police who wear helmets like those of London bobbies, and cars that drive on the left. Schools are run along the lines of the British system and provide a high standard of preparatory education. Children 5 to 16 years of age must attend school. The Bermuda College, which offers academic and technical studies, boasts a renowned hotel and catering program.
Bermuda Shorts: Not Too Far Above the Knee -- Most Bermudians consider the winter months too cold for Bermuda shorts; but by May, just about every businessman along Front Street has traded in his trousers for a pair. Bermuda shorts weren't initially Bermudian; they originated when the British army was sent to India. Later, when British troops were stationed in Bermuda, they were issued the shorts as part of the military's tropical kit gear.
By the 1920s and 1930s, the shorts had become quite fashionable, although they were not considered acceptable at dinner parties or at church. Now suitable attire for businessmen, the shorts are worn with a blazer, collared shirt, tie, and knee socks. They shouldn't be more than 7.6cm (3 in.) above the knee, and they must have a 7.6cm (3-in.) hem.
An Island of Religious Tolerance
About a third of Bermuda's population adheres to the Church of England, which has been historically dominant in the colony. Indeed, the division of Bermuda into nine parishes dates from 1618, when each parish was required by law to have its own Anglican church, to the exclusion of any other. That division still exists today, but more for administrative than religious purposes.
Religious tolerance is now guaranteed by law. There are some 10,000 Catholics, many of them from the Portuguese Azores. There are also many members of Protestant sects whose roots lie within what were originally slave churches, among them the African Methodist Episcopal Church. Established in 1816 by African Americans, the sect was transported to Bermuda from Canada around 1870. Today, the church has about 7,000 members.
Also found in Bermuda are Seventh-day Adventists, Presbyterians, Baptists, Lutherans, and Mormons. Less prevalent are a handful of Jews, Muslims, Rastafarians, and Jehovah's Witnesses.
Bermuda today boasts more than 110 churches, an average of 5 per square mile. They range from the moss-encrusted parish churches established in the earliest days of the colony to modest structures with only a handful of members.
Who's Minding the Store?
In essence, Bermuda is a self-governing dependency of Britain, which protects its security and stability. The governor, appointed by the Queen, represents Her Majesty in the areas of external affairs, defense, and internal security.
By choosing to remain a British dependency, Bermuda rejected the trail that many former colonies in the Caribbean (including Antigua) blazed by declaring their independence. Although they remain under the protection of the British, Bermudians manage their own day-to-day affairs. And ever since the people of Bermuda were granted the right to govern themselves in 1968, they have done so admirably well.
Bermuda has a 12-member cabinet headed by a premier. The elected legislature, referred to as the Legislative Council, consists of a 40-member House of Assembly and an 11-member Senate. Bermuda's oldest political party is the Progressive Labour Party, formed in 1963. In 1964, the United Bermuda Party was established; it stayed in power until it was toppled by the Progressive Labour Party in 1998.
Bermuda's legal system is founded on common law. Judicial responsibility falls to the Supreme Court, headed by a chief justice in a powdered wig and a robe. English law is the fundamental guide, and in court, English customs prevail.
The island consists of nine parishes, each managed by an advisory council. The capital, the City of Hamilton, is in Pembroke Parish.
Tourist Dollars & No Income Tax
Bermuda's political stability has proved beneficial to the economy, which relies heavily on tourism and foreign investment.
For much of the island's early history, the major industry was shipbuilding, made possible by the abundant cedar forests. In the second half of the 19th century, when wooden ships gave way to steel ones, the island turned to tourism. Today, tourism is the country's leading industry, with annual revenues estimated at $450 million. Approximately 550,000 visitors come to Bermuda each year; an estimated 86% arrive from the United States, 4% from Britain, and 7% from Canada. Bermuda enjoys a 42% repeat-visitor rate.
Because Bermuda has enacted favorable economic measures, more than 6,000 international companies are registered there. The companies engage mostly in investment holding, insurance, commercial trading, consulting services, and shipping -- but fewer than 275 companies are actually on the island. The reason for this curious situation? Bermuda has no corporate or income tax, so companies register on Bermuda but conduct business in their home countries, thereby avoiding taxes that their home countries would otherwise deduct.
The island's leading exports are pharmaceuticals, concentrates (primarily black rum and sherry peppers), perfumes, and beverages. Leading imports include foodstuffs, alcoholic beverages, clothing, furniture, fuel, electrical appliances, and motor vehicles. Bermuda's major trading partners are the United States, Great Britain, Canada, the Netherlands, and the Caribbean states.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.