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Five Signs You’ve Been to Bermuda

Bermuda may be the straight-up prettiest place I’ve ever visited, with beaches right out of the “Paradise” section of a travel brochure, gaggles of neat, pastel-colored cottages with whitewashed roofs, and a general manicured orderliness that somehow calls to mind a golf course—but without the stuffiness. Other than an insufferably smug expression, here are five signs you’ve been to Bermuda.

1. You actually know where Bermuda is
This may sound like a funny thing to say, but many people have a skewed view of exactly where the archipelago is. Which is understandable, since from a tourism geography point of view, it’s often lumped in with the Caribbean. Bermuda is, however, some 1,500 kilometers north of Puerto Rico, and due east of South Carolina; the nearest landmass is Cape Hatteras in North Carolina. In other words, Bermuda is full-on Atlantic—which helps explain why, when we visited in March/April, the ocean was too cold and choppy to get in, and we had to ride out a few storms. It’s a testament to the island’s charm that, despite being denied the lazy beach holiday we’d been hoping for, we still had a great time.

Bermuda South Shore

2. Your anxiety dreams will involve shorts, socks, and the lack thereof
I had a classic stress dream the other night. You know the sort: I was walking along this beautiful, crowded beach, and everyone was having a whale of a time, laughing and shouting and playing around, when it dawned on me that my fellow beachgoers were laughing at me. I looked down, and realized I was . . . wearing long shorts, but short socks. The horror!

The problem here is that I was only half-dressed—Bermuda shorts are not the short-trousered equivalent to Hawaiian shirts that many people think they are: No! They are smart shorts, worn no shorter than one inch above the knee, and are to be combined with long socks, dress shoes, and perhaps a blazer. In other words, I had, in my careless somnolescence, committed a double faux-pas: Not only had I worn inappropriate attire to the beach, but I had failed to accessorize correctly.

I’m talking this up a little bit, of course, but Bermuda shorts really are considered smart, and should be worn with long socks and shoes. Staff at traditional, high-end establishments like The Reefs dress like this, and it brings a new meaning to the phrase “comfortably classy.” It also makes you feel a little like you are back in school, which brings me to . . .

Crystal Caves

3. You greet everyone you meet
Bermudians are extraordinarily charming, and a large part of this is the effortless politeness they wield throughout the day. Before addressing anyone, you greet them. And not just with a grunt or a nod, or even a “Hi!” Nope, your greeting should be pegged to the time of day, so each interaction is prefaced with “Good morning,” “Good afternoon,” or “Good evening.” (And if you want to see a bellhop squirm, watch him greet a group of dressed-to-the-nines locals arriving for Sunday brunch with a cheerful “Good morning!”, only to have them respond “Good afternoon.”)

It’s by no means ubiquitous, but some locals in the service industries will not even talk to you if you don’t greet them first, which I guess is an understandable reaction to the rush-rush-herd cruise ship mentality. I thought the person who told me this was probably exaggerating, until I got on a bus and asked the driver to tell me when we arrived at the Crystal Caves. There was a long pause, before he replied, with razor-sharp politeness, “Good afternoon, sir. And how are you today?” I didn’t make that mistake again.

Of course, it doesn’t really translate when you get back to the United States, where it’s considered the height of manners to get on the bus and out of the damn way as quickly as possible.

Beach at The Reefs

4. Your internal color wheel skews pink
Bermuda has some of the most stunning beaches in the world. The ocean is impossibly blue—clichés such as “deep cobalt” and “exuberantly luminous turquoise” suddenly start to seem appropriate—and the sand is pristine, sugary, and famously pink. This supposed pinkness, however, was the subject of some debate during our vacation, with my wife, my mother, and I arguing over terms like “pink,” “pink-hued,” “pink-if-you-squint-hard-enough,” “pink-over-there,” and “what-are-you-talking-about-it’s-warm-beige.”

The alleged pinkness is caused by the presence of the skeletons of red microorganisms mixed in with the ground-up calcium carbonate shells. It is, therefore, a matter of perception—looking most pink when you are examining the grains themselves, or gazing down on the beach from above. Although we never fully resolved the issue of pinkness, we did all agree that the further east we walked from Horseshoe Bay to Warwick Long Bay, the pinker the sand appeared. I am therefore happy to report that we all got what we needed from this fiendish marketing Rorschach test, and I have been neither disowned nor divorced.

Fort St. Catherine

5. You’ll be trying to drive on the left
If the sartorial eccentricity and the unfailing politeness were not enough of a clue, try this for size: In Bermuda, you drive on the left. Yes, Bermuda is a British Overseas Territory, claimed by the Crown in the seventeenth century when the flagship of a flotilla bearing supplies to the new colony of Jamestown was separated from its fleet by a storm and wound up beached on the reefs off Bermuda. There is, of course, more to this tale, and Bermudians are extremely proud of their swashbuckling origin story—so between chatting with locals and visiting sites such as Fort St. Catherine, expect to know more of Bermuda’s history than your own country’s by the time you return.

Back to driving on the left. There are no hire cars on the island, but if you do want to get around under your own steam, you can hire a moped. The roads are narrow but drivers are considerate, and used to tourists fumbling along, so this is not so scary as it might sound, and is a great way to explore the 20-odd square miles that make up the country. If you don’t fancy that, the bus service is efficient and easily navigable, and taxis are readily available.