You know you’re British when the first conversation starts, and continues, with the weather.
I descended upon the Falkland Islands in the early afternoon to glorious sunshine and a cool breeze – exactly what I needed after a long flight full of recycled air. As soon as my ride picked me up from Mount Pleasant Airport, he immediately commented on the weather: “You’ve arrived on a perfect day.” Having been warned of blustering, Antarctic conditions of the Islands, I was taken aback by the mildness of the climate.
The weather remains a staple of British conversation because it changes so often, but in the Falklands, weather patterns are far more rebellious, changing from sun to rain to snow, back to sunshine, often in the course of an hour. The following day, greeted with the cold front I had literally braced myself for, I put on my warm wellies and windproof jacket and took to the streets of Stanley.
My British identity took immediately to the comforts of discussing the varying climates, drinking many cups of tea, indulging in Falklands lamb and taking part in the local quiz night. Yet when I delved into local shops to pick up obligatory penguin memorabilia and Falklands wool and into the local pubs for a bite to eat, I could sense the anticipation of changing times in the Falklands. The territory that formerly relied upon agriculture and farming still define Falklands culture, but new industries and opportunities have started to shape their future prospects.
The past decades have witnessed the Falkland Islands develop into a self-sustaining economy, with a vibrant fisheries sector that fulfills Spain’s love of squid, an agriculture community that provides lamb to European nations and a tourism department that welcomes a wide range of visitors from Europe and Latin America, among them history buffs and penguin lovers. Yet what really struck me was the growing connection the Islanders have developed with the US.
First, the Falkland Islands and neighbouring UK territory South Georgia provide a consistent supply of Toothfish to Whole Foods, a US supermarket food chain well known for its high-quality produce. You won’t find Toothfish in the shops, however, as this white, flaky fish is most commonly known to American diners as Chilean Sea Bass.
Another unlikely commonality is (wait for it) the two-step! Country music has generally been slow to catch on in foreign territory, but I was quite impressed that Shania Twain and Tim McGraw had made their way—way—down South to encourage some dancing. Although Port Stanley is technically a city (it boasts a stunning 19th century cathedral), with a population of roughly 3,000 it feels more like a welcoming village. With well-attended local gatherings at the town hall, having a dance with your husband, wife, neighbour or colleague is often the nightcap for an evening’s festivities.
In recent years, American tourists have contributed to the increasing number of visitors to the Islands, with most arriving by cruise ship. This past season, cruise arrivals brought around 35,000 tourists, often doubling the Islands’ entire population when they come ashore! With Antarctic cruises offered by Princess Cruises and Holland America, there is no shortage of opportunities to visit the Falklands and meet their most adored inhabitants, the penguins.
These links are small, but growing. The booming economy of the Islands in sectors like fisheries, tourism, oil exploration and environmental research suggests that a prosperous relationship between the US and the Falklands has only just begun. With last week’s news by Noble Energy’s announcement last week of its investment in oil exploration—the first such involvement by a US company—I expect that the two-step will soon be joined by significant economic links, putting the Falklands into the US spotlight.