I made a terrible discovery today about the island at work.
We’re so far from “civilization” that the gospel of McDonalds hasn’t reached these tropical shores. I don’t even eat McDonalds that much (those fries and hash browns though…), but I never thought I’d go somewhere that DIDN’T have a McDonalds. I mean, everyone has a McDonalds. Everyone.
Somehow Burger King and Dominos and even the stench of every Walmart (Subway) made it here.
The horror. The horror.
Well, we survived a week in a tropical paradise. We’re getting used to life on the island, bit by bit. We’re intermediate drivers now—driven through rush hour traffic four times this week. We only feel like we’re going to die once or twice while driving, instead of the whole time. Of course rush hour is a relative term. It takes us 20 minutes to get from the hotel to the office. A commute like that is only possible in Boston if you leave at 6 in the morning. Nat and I arrive at 820, before most of the other KPMG employees.
A 20 minute commute is a precious gift from the island. Our co-workers tell us that it won’t be long before we squander the gift and complain that 20 minutes is too long to drive. We still need to figure out where we’re going to live after our time in hotels and corporate housing is up. Do we want this headache of traffic, or that headache of traffic?
Our lives are still in a state of flux. We’re still living out of a
suitcase (or six). On Monday we move out of the hotel and into corporate housing. We don’t have our own car, so we drive a tiny rental KIA Picanto. When I say tiny, I mean TINY. Imagine the Honda Fit, a compact hatchback that is fairly common in the United States, and then cut off two feet from the back end, that’s the Picanto.
A glorified golf cart.
Ours is silver with a white license plate, just like the other rental cars. Olga tells us that the white license plates indicate rental cars. As though erratic driving wasn’t indicator enough that we weren’t from around here.
First Week in the Office
The Cayman office is a mash up of accents from all over the English speaking world. The HR lady taking us through the orientation speaks with an Irish accent, emphasizing the H in HR as “haych.” (Gotta give it some air). Her assistant speaks with a Jamaican accent, the guy sitting next to me with a South African accent, and the girl sitting next to Natalie a Zimbabwean accent.
In front of me is a kid from Nova Scotia, Canada who sits with an arm across the back of his chair, slouching heavily into the seat. The stereotype of Canadians in America is that Canadians say “oot and aboot” when we’re trying to say “out and about.” For the most part it’s a lie–the Canadian accent has become so universal and standardized that many of the regional quirks have faded. This guy is an exception to the rule. The maritime Canadian accent is alive and well, and an “oot” and “eh” slips in as we chat. It makes me homesick for Canada.
When HR finishes they invite representatives from a local cell phone company and a local bank into the room to make their presentations. The phone plan is a good deal for the island, but not for us (Project Fi!) and as the representative finishes up the final slide includes the contact information for a man named “Evil Ritch.” At least he’s not the bank guy.
The gray man from the bank speaks with a Scottish brogue, rolling his Rs heavily in each sentence. He has gray hair, wears a gray and white shirt, and gray pants. “He has a little bit of a rat face,” says Natalie. Natalie thinks he looks like Peter Pettigrew from Harry Potter.
It’s not his face or his accent that stands out to me, it’s his mannerisms. When he talks he’s straight faced and serious. He only smiles or laughs slightly at the end of a declarative point, using his smile like a writer would use a period. It’s a biiiiiiiiiiiig smile with all teeth, but it’s only the smile and a few vigorous nods. No words. Try it yourself. Read this whole paragraph out loud with a straight face and stop and smile only at the end of a sentence.
His presentation was both unnerving and hilarious.
The rest of our first day is a whirlwind. Laura, my buddy (the firm assigns people that you may be working with to be your island buddy to help you transition into your new life), takes Natalie and I around the office. We step between the standard trappings of a corporate office–cubes, printers, the kitchen on every floor. By the bathrooms the Air Conditioning rumbles overhead. It sounds like an airplane at 35,000 feet. The florescent lights vibrate slightly. I imagined the office would be similar to what we had in the Boston office. I’m wrong. Technology here seems to be five years behind. The laptops are giant monstrosities (by today’s standards). Back in America everything seemed to have a nice corporate sheen to it. Down on the island, it seems like no one really cares about it. I can’t decide if I find the lack of polish is refreshing or appalling.
I’ve become a corporate snob and I had no idea.
Our tour continues through every floor of the building. We are lost in minutes, and we shake hands and smile at everyone we pass. The accents continue to add up. Bulgarian accent. Israeli accent. South Korean. New Jersey. Southern. Filipino.
Later that day we sit across from a black bank teller who sounds American. “How long have you been on the island?” I ask her.
“Oh I’ve spent my whole life here. I just went to school in America, and my elementary school teachers were all American.”
I still have no idea what a native Caymanian accent sounds like.