As a British overseas territory, the Cayman Islands retain strong links with Britain and enjoy a parliamentary democracy. Not surprisingly, British English is the official language here. However, when Caymanians speak to each other, you may hear a hard-to-understand broken English vernacular, which varies slightly in each district and on each island.
Nowadays, the Cayman Islands population is close to 55,000. About half are native Caymanians, representing a rainbow of racial and ethnic backgrounds. Approximately one in four Caymanians is European, mainly the descendents of British settlers. Another quarter is of African descent, and the rest are interracially mixed.
Historians believe the islands' first settlers, who arrived in Little Cayman around 1658, were deserters from Oliver Cromwell's army in Jamaica. Over the years, a variety of people settled on the islands including refugees from the Spanish Inquisition, shipwrecked sailors and pirates.
Back in the day, these waters were the territory of the real pirates of the Caribbean. Today, the lore of pirates and buccaneers is resurrected every November for Grand Cayman's 10-day Pirates Week Festival.
When you visit, you'll discover that Caymanians are friendly and devout, church-going people. The Cayman Islands is one of the few places where bars close earlier on Saturday night than other nights. Sundays are a day of worship and family time, which often means plenty of gatherings around the table. Sunday brunch is very popular and there are great spreads at Seven Mile Beach's resort hotels and local restaurants.
There is a large number of expats in Grand Cayman, primarily because of the financial industry. Canadians are the third-largest group of the 100 nationalities or so that comprise the expat community in Grand Cayman. This international mix is reflected in the island's diverse restaurants and annual celebration of food at the Cayman Culinary Month in January. You can find any kind of food here, including traditional Caymanian.
Fish and seafood feature prominently on restaurant menus in Cayman. Fish is cooked up numerous ways, but Caymanians typically bake or stew it with tomatoes, onions and peppers. Try the fish 'n fritters (fish seasoned and fried with dough balls in coconut oil) which is an all-time favourite with locals.
Due to the once-plentiful stock of green sea turtles that thrived in the Cayman Islands, the national dish is turtle. Make sure you also try traditional Caymanian favourites like rundown, a coconut milk stew with fish or salt beef, vegetables, pumpkin, christophine (chayote squash), onion and peppers. Other foods to try in the Cayman Islands include stewed conch, dumplings, tubers, starchy vegetables and cassava stretchers.
If you want to learn how to cook Caymanian delicacies, the Cayman Islands National Museum in George Town hosts a monthly traditional cooking class. The museum is also the perfect place to explore the Cayman Islands' longstanding nautical tradition. If you're a history buff, you'll enjoy the exhibits and videos about the islands' past, and the traditional handmade catboat from the islands' early seafaring days.