March 16, 2010


Island Tango: With their afternoon tea, brogue accents, and fields of diddle-dee, just who do the Falklands Islanders think they are? (STEPHANIE PEARSON | MARCH 5, 2010, Foreign Policy)

The fact that Argentina is still contesting the sovereignty of the islands, especially after one extremely unsuccessful invasion, doesn't sit very well with most Falkland Islanders. Their general aversion to Argentina's claim may be due to the fact that only a handful of Argentines actually live in the Falklands. Most of the islands' 2,478 residents are an amalgam of "sheepocracies" -- i.e., distinguished families who have owned large farms here for decades -- mixed with more recent immigrants from the U.K., the Philippines, South Africa, Chile, Australia, and other British Overseas Territories, like St. Helena ("Twenty-three nationalities are represented in the phone book," one proud resident told me when I visited in January 2009 on assignment for Outside magazine). The islanders' accents vary widely, but many speak with variations on a thick brogue or with a tinge of formal, cheerful "British colonial."

In most regards, the Falkland Islanders have life pretty good. Aside from the 1982 war, there's been only one civilian murder here since the 1970s. If residents can tolerate the occasional 60-knot wind, most come to love these treeless, undulating islands and the pure and pragmatic way of life it offers. Falklanders choose to live here because they want to, not because they've been relegated to the outermost ends of the earth by a force outside themselves.

Take Alan Henry, a British customs agent and avid birder who took me hiking across a boggy track to find the elusive Hudsonian Godwit. "I absolutely fell in love with the Falkland Islands from the minute I came," he told me. "There's no crime, no vandalism, no litter, and no graffiti. We're healthy, we've got no money worries, and have great family. Do we miss Chinese restaurants? The answer is no. Plus, the art of conversation is not dead."

Indeed, the Falklands feels like a throwback to a pre-modern Britain, a place where Milton or Keats might feel more at home than in fast-paced 21st century London. Today in the Falklands, the ritual of tea accompanied by fresh-out-of-the-oven shortbread is still very much alive, and kids can kick a soccer ball through downtown Stanley until midnight without their parents worrying about crime or kidnapping.

Yet that doesn't mean the Falklanders consider themselves to be fully British. For all their flapping Union Jacks, red phone booths, and birthday celebrations for the Queen, Falkland Islanders view themselves as distinct. "That's like saying Texans are Mexicans," one local farmer told me. "We're Commonwealth citizens, but we're not British."

Posted by Orrin Judd at March 16, 2010 11:37 AM
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