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Beautiful Bermuda, delightful throughout the year

While some may be sceptical over Bermuda's reputation as a value-for-money destination, for many it continues to be one of world's most attractive islands to spend a vacation.

Certainly it made a huge impression on Canadian company executive David Colman. With wife Barb, he recently visited the Island and shared his thoughts in a magazine published by Share Vision, a training and organisational effectiveness company, for whom he works.

This is what he said . . .

For the past six weeks, while winter has been doing its damnedest in the northern hemisphere, my wife Barb and I have been visiting these most beautiful of islands, the Bermudas. No, I'm not going to irritate you with stories about the weather or the beaches. Instead, I'm going to share with you experiences of another kind — human kind. I hope you'll hang in with me.

It all started on our first full day on the islands. I always thought of myself as a polite man — friends and family may beg to differ — and that I say please and thank you, hold doors for ladies, and, unless no one is watching, I don't eat my peas with a knife. And, as a Canadian, if someone accidentally bumps into me, I apologise.

But on this occasion, Barb and I were trying to find a church ruin in St. George's. With a smile on my face and my very pleasant voice, I asked a man, “Where can we find the ruined church in the town”? Now, already I can see you parsing my question and determining how else I could have asked it. Believe me, because of what the man said next, I've been doing that ever since it happened.

Here is his response. With a big smile on his face he said, “First of all, good afternoon to both of you and welcome to Bermuda. The church you are looking for is called the ‘Unfinished Church' and, if you come to the corner, look you can see it. Thank you for coming to Bermuda and enjoy your stay”.

I had no shovel, but if I had, I couldn't have dug a hole deep enough. But his message was clear. In his respectful and candid way, he had told me that in Bermuda we always greet people first before discussing anything else. He was absolutely right and I had no excuse.

Sure, for the previous couple of days, we had jostled our way around Manhattan where respect has been a little rarer than in Bermuda, but that was no excuse. I was busted!

Next, I'd like you to imagine, for just a moment that you are sitting on a bus. It's rush hour. You are off to work. The driver has stopped the bus, waiting for a woman who is at least two hundred yards away, running for the bus. We wait and we wait. As she eventually gets on, she thanks the driver and they exchange a few pleasantries as if they are the only two people in the world.

Then as she huffs and puffs her way to her seat, she says good morning to everyone on the bus — everyone. At the next stop, another passenger gets on and greets everyone on the bus as well. This, as it turns out, is quite common practice in Bermuda.

Also, on every bus there is a notice that outlines the ‘Bus Etiquette'. Etiquette? At home, we don't have bus etiquette; we have ‘Rules and Regulations'. Here are a couple of the Bermuda ‘norms':

‘Please pay the correct fare' — in my city it probably says on the bus that failure to pay the required fare could result in a fine up to a $1,000 and/or a custodial sentence.

‘Please be respectful of the driver and the other passengers'. Although it is written nowhere, this ‘respect' on the buses manifests itself in exemplary manners, almost without exception.

Here's what I mean: younger people, without a word being spoken, give up their seats for the elderly and for women; nobody leaves their seat to get off the bus until the bus comes to a complete stop; the driver does not leave the stop until everyone is seated; the driver also signals to waiting oncoming passengers that there are alighting passengers, and they all should wait until those passengers are off the bus; and, even though there is a line-up at the bus stop, women are encouraged to enter the bus first. Add to that, of course, the fact that everyone seems to talk to each other. It's fun to observe and to be part of. But it's not just on the buses.

The first time I heard of Johnny Barnes was back in the late 1980s. I had seen him in those years standing at the Crow Lane roundabout in Hamilton. He was smiling, waving and blowing kisses to all the folks passing by in their cars and on the buses. At the time I thought it a bit strange. Well what I thought back then doesn't seem to matter much because Johnny is still waving and smiling today.

From Monday to Friday he is there from 3:45 in the morning — yes. I said 3:45 — until mid morning. Oh, and did I mention, Johnny is now ninety years old?

Now, I don't know about where you live, but if I did this in my city, I'd probably be sectioned under some Mental Health Act of 1843, never to be heard from again. But not in Bermuda. Not only do the people love Johnny and what he does, they put up a $70,000 statue in his honour near the roundabout.

Here was I thinking that statues were only for dead people. And if he isn't ‘on duty' for any reason, the switchboard at the local radio station is overloaded with concerned callers.

Simply put, what Johnny does is infectious. Every time Barb and I pass him, we wave back at him like a couple of seven year olds at Disneyworld seeing Mickey for the first time. And we are not alone everyone waves at Johnny.

But back to the buses for a moment. A few days ago, Barb and I were travelling on an almost empty bus. Then, up ahead, I saw what usually puts fear into the hearts of human kind — a class of teenage schoolchildren waiting at the next stop. I had always thought, to protect the sanity of the population at large, that school outings were done by chartered bus and not the regular service.

Obviously, Bermuda didn't see the tweet. As we reached the stop, it became very noisy; really they were just children being children. The young male teacher, however, looked at a loss. He was yelling over the noise, telling the children to get back from the door and that the girls were to get on the bus first. Initially, the driver did not open the door. He just watched what was happening.

Eventually, he got out of his seat, opened the door, and quietly walked towards the noisy teenagers. With all the respect and candour he could muster, he softly but firmly asked the children, “If you can't behave better than that out there, why would I let you on the bus”? There was silence, immediate silence. He then politely informed three boys at the front of the line that the teacher had said that the girls would get on first.

The boys crept miserably away to the back of the queue. As the children entered the bus, they all said ‘good afternoon' to the driver and at least half of them said the same to me and Barb. A complete transformation had happened before our eyes. They were well behaved on the ride and when they left the bus, every single one of them thanked the driver.

Now don't get me wrong. There are people with excellent manners wherever we go. It is the extent of the politeness in Bermuda that is so striking to me.

But why here in Bermuda? My short answer to that is I just don't know. I simply don't have the facts to be certain, but I do have some thoughts on the matter.

Firstly, at a minimum, I think it is a choice, a choice made by this island society that this is the way they want its people to behave. To achieve this choice, de facto they have adopted a couple of tenets: lead by example — a good example; and encourage — no, demand — that the island's children follow the adults' example.

A few weeks ago I was standing at the shore of Jobson's Bay on the island's south shore. I know, I know, I wasn't going to mention the beautiful beaches but I couldn't resist. A man was in the water with his two young sons. He said hello to me and immediately reminded his boys to say ‘good morning' to this stranger. They did without further encouragement.

At another time, Barb was in a shop in St. George's. The owner said to her little girl, “Did you say ‘good morning' to the lady — because if you did, I don't think she could have heard you”? And just the other day, a young boy accidentally ran into me while riding his bike.

There was no harm done. His grandmother, who was nearby, did not apologise to me on his behalf. She made sure that he apologised directly to me. He did so as though it was second nature.

I'm the first to admit that my ‘research' here is not science but just a bunch of stories. But every example we came across seemed to involve parents, family members, and yes, even bus drivers. The thought ‘it takes a village . . ' often came to mind. Respect, through politeness and manners, seems embedded in these islands' environmental DNA.

But whatever the reason for this outlook on life, regardless of my musings, for six weeks Barb and I have been but two of the beneficiaries of it all, to which we say a polite and heartfelt ‘ thank you' to these wonderful people.

Infectious smile: Johnny Barnes

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Published March 10, 2014 at 9:00 am (Updated March 09, 2014 at 11:55 pm)

Beautiful Bermuda, delightful throughout the year

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