Courtesy, longevity and the Bermuda connection
Why do I like living in Bermuda? Is it the silver glitter of sun on the restless sea? The blaze of flowers on ancient stone walls?
The delirious rush of wind in the palm trees? The hypnotic peep of tree frogs? Yes, all of that, but something more. Something that touches me as deeply as all the glorious beauty. The people. I appreciate the people here with all my heart.
Yesterday, my co-worker, Adrianne, brought me a big green avocado. “I know you like avocados. It's from my dad's garden,” she said, smiling as usual.
I took it in the palm of my hands and felt its weight and promise.
I had never seen such a huge avocado anywhere and, more importantly, I had never met such friendly, kind and pleasant people anywhere in the world. This small gesture of attention and generosity speaks volumes about Bermudian culture to me.
It is an incredible feeling to be surrounded by people who sincerely smile and wave whenever they see each other, who honk frantically at passing friends and shout greetings out the window of a car.
It took me a while not to jump, look around and try to find out what I did wrong. I now surprise my husband when I energetically beep myself!
I laughed when my daughter, who came to visit Bermuda for the first time, asked me fearfully, “Why do people shout at everyone passing by? What do they want?”
I explained that it is a way of feeling connected and reassured in their friendships. On such a small, populous island in the middle of the ocean, people affirm that they get along together, they laugh in delight to see each other, and this is a way of creating harmony.
Where else will you meet drivers who enjoy giving way not only to pedestrians, but also to other cars? It is a truly rare quality to never use your horn in anger or annoyance.
I laugh when I see a caravan of cars patiently following a lone bicyclist, passing without yelling in frustration, and proceeding in the most orderly fashion, no matter how long the delay.
And what about this incredibly hospitable custom of greeting strangers with “good afternoon”? I challenge you to observe that in any American or European metropolis!
I know here in Bermuda I won't get lost because someone will come to me and offer a hand. Courtesy is in the blood; Bermudians don't consider any other way to live and I cherish this in our troubled world.
When I observe these friendly local interactions, I often think about a fascinating study conducted in a small village in Sardinia.
There are six times as many centenarians as on the Italian mainland and ten times as many as in North America. It's also the only place where men live as long as women.
What is the main reason for their longevity? How much you exercise is important. If you're a moderate drinker, and don't smoke it helps a lot. But, the top predictors are two features of your social life.
First, your close relationships. These are the people that you can call on suddenly for help; the ones who will phone the doctor if you're not feeling well, or who will take you to the hospital.
The friends who will sit with you if you're having a personal crisis or if you're in despair. Having those persons, that small clutch of concerned people, are a strong predictor of how long you'll live.
And then, something that surprised me, something that's called “social integration”. This means how much you interact with others as you move through your day, how many people you talk to.
Not just the people you're really close to, who mean a lot to you, but people you encounter briefly or at random.
For example, do you make small talk with the girl who makes your coffee at the café? Do you greet the postman?
Do you speak to the woman who walks by your house each morning with her dog? Do you strike up a conversation about the weather, or compliment someone on their clothes?
Do you stop and chat with people you know on the street? Those interactions are one of the strongest predictors of how long you'll live.
When I think about Bermudians, I think of courtesy, and the many small acts of kindness that come so naturally to so many.
I think of how connected everyone seems to be, and the time they take to interact with each other, to recognise and affirm each other. This is the Bermuda I love.
• Nina London is a certified wellness and weight-management coach. Her mission is to support and inspire mature women to make positive changes in their body and mind. Share your inspirational stories with her at www.ninalondon.com