The Lou Messugo Blog - life in the south of France from a British/Australian TCK's perspective, bringing you French culture, travel on the Côte d'Azur and beyond, expat issues and a little bit of je ne sais quoi all mixed up with a hefty dose of photography.
It may come as a surprise to hear that France has the most time zones of any country in the world. Yes you read that right, France has 12 time zones because it has overseas territories and departments spread across the globe; from South America, via the Caribbean, the Indian Ocean and the South Pacific. Each of these tiny (mostly) islands are part of France, not independent ex-colonies and as such function pretty much the same as any region in metropolitan France. They use Euros, fly the Tricolore (flag) and teach the same curriculum in schools. Not knowing a great deal about the DOM-TOMs* myself I thought it would be interesting to run an occasional series of stories from these far-flung corners of France, written by others. To kick it all off today I have a guest blog from expat extraordinaire Clara, an old school friend, who makes my travels and 9 countries of abode look measly.
Clara has just published a book of advice for expat partners based on her extensive life of travel, which I highly recommend for anyone considering moving abroad with their partner. An expat since birth, firstly as the child of travelling parents, then for her own job and now as a "trailing spouse" she is just about to move to her 12th country of residence! Here she tells us about a short visit to the French region/department of Martinique.
Although this is a post about a beautiful Caribbean island, with golden beaches and aquamarine sea, I won't be talking about those things. I'll be ignoring the sound of the waves lapping gently on the sand and the tall palm trees swaying in the tropical breeze. Nope, those things aren't for me. Instead, I'll be discussing French cheese and the play area at the local McDonalds restaurant. I know that sounds strange, but stick with me on this.
Martinique is one of those places that really shouldn't exist. It is basically France – in the Caribbean. It's not like Jamaica, St Lucia, Trinidad or Barbados – all Caribbean islands I have either lived on or visited. These were British colonies, at one point they were ruled by the Brits and as a consequence English is the main spoken language, their legal system follows ours, their parliaments look at least vaguely familiar, they play cricket and....well, that's more or less it really. I can't even say there is much familiarity in the food – no fish and chip shops or Cornish pasties (although there is plenty of excellent fish, and the Jamaican patties would certainly give pasties a run for their money). They also use dollars as their currency. These aren't actually linked to the US dollar, but certainly as many people seem to associate with the States as they do with the UK.
No, Martinique isn't like these former British colonies with their vague links with the UK. Martinique actually is France. It has French supermarkets. The people speak French. The children follow the French curriculum at school and gain French qualifications. It is ruled from France and is in fact one of the 27 regions of that country. It is also part of the EU and its currency is the Euro. The people of the island have the same political and legal rights as someone living in Paris or Marseilles. Arriving in Martinique you are, basically, arriving in France. And that's quite a strange feeling.
We visited Martinique for a long weekend while we were living on the neighbouring island of St Lucia. The two are connected by a ferry service and when we found this out, we thought we'd pay a visit to my husband's colleague in Fort de France. But given that we were already living on a beautiful, tropical island, where perfect beaches were two-a-penny (and frankly we were a little sick of them), the thing we were most excited about was...the cheese! Okay, not just the cheese, but the shops generally. Or should I say, the supermarkets, specifically. For in Martinique they had Carrefour – and when I say they had Carrefour, I mean they had the proper, French Carrefour, not some shoddy imitation with only a handful of the usual stock.
The journey over on the ferry was uneventful as far as travelling on a slightly cheerless ferry between two Caribbean islands is ever going to be. We had to queue a long time to get on....and a long time to get off...but eventually we were there. My husband's colleague picked us up and took us back to their house – beautiful views out over the Caribbean sea, gorgeous swimming pool in the garden....yadda yadda yadda, we had all that back home in St Lucia! Actually it was lovely to catch up with our friends over a cold beer or two, and enjoy some of the food they had already bought that day in the French supermarket.....but we were itching to get to the shops!
Unfortunately our children were not so keen (they didn't know about French cheese at this point!) so we split up and my husband took them off to see some of the sights of Fort de France – which I think mostly consisted of some greenery and a few statues – while I hit the shops. Well, I wasn't disappointed – there was cheese, there was wine, there was fresh bread and pastries and so many other delicacies that we just hadn't been able to get hold of while we were living in St Lucia. There were also aisles and aisles of the sort of things we just seem to take for granted now we are home in the UK (beach toys; cooking gadgets; children's shoes) but that weren't so easy to source in other parts of the Caribbean. As you can imagine, we bought quite a lot to take home with us, although had to sadly leave the fresh bread behind as it wouldn't have lasted. Our friends gave us a cold bag to carry the cheeses and other items that needed refrigerating. I can't recall now how they looked on their arrival back in St Lucia but I am pretty sure we would have enjoyed them whatever state they were in.
The rest of the weekend passed pleasantly enough. We left the children one night being babysat by our friends' children and had the most delicious meal in one of the island's Creole restaurants. Blending French food with the spices and flavours of the Caribbean certainly leads to something pretty special, to the extent that I am surprised it hasn't made its way across the Atlantic as the latest fad cuisine. We walked around some of the local markets and enjoyed the sites and music of the Creole culture. We swam in their pool and enjoyed more of the French food/cheese.
And then finally on the last day, before we left to catch the ferry home again, we decided a trip to MacDonald's was in order. Not because we actually fancied a Big Mac (or Le Big Mac as I guess they were called...) but because the local Maccy D's had.....a play area! After living in St Lucia with two very young children for just over a year, the one thing we were missing more than anything else was a safe place for the children to play. There was only one public playground in St Lucia, and the equipment there was rickety, to say the least. It was also unshaded, so playing there never lasted long. But hearing that the MacDonald's in Fort de France had an indoor play area, we decided to make it our last call of the trip. I can't remember much about it now, apart from the fact that we were so keen to get there we had to queue for it to open. But I am pretty sure the girls had a ball in the ball pit. And even if it meant we had to eat un-appetising fast food, this would almost certainly have meant we enjoyed ourselves too.
So we returned to St Lucia happy and full, with even fuller shopping bags. The last hour or two of our weekend was slightly spoiled for us by the attitude of some of our fellow passengers on the ferry, whose, errrr, queuing techniques on arrival in Castries left a lot to be desired. But overall, we had certainly enjoyed our little trip to France. In the Caribbean.
Clara Wiggins is a serial expat, TCK, former diplomat and writer who has published a guide to surviving and thriving as an expat partner or "trailing spouse". She writes her blog The Expat Partner's Survival Guide as a way of collecting all her random thoughts now that her book is finished (and as a way of publicising her book of course!) You can find Clara on Twitter @strandedatsea and Facebook too.
* DOM-TOM = Départements/Territoires d'Outre Mer = overseas departments and territories
*** I am looking for bloggers who have visited or lived in any of the French DOM-TOMS and who would like to contribute to this series. Please leave a comment below or get in touch through the contact page ***
Other posts about far-flung France, on Mayotte, Réunion, Guadeloupe, St Martin, French Guyana and French Polynesia can be found here.
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World map credit: Hoshie [GFDL or CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons, Cheese platter photo credit: Plateau des fromages, Auberge de La Mole via photopin (license), Beach photo credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/cma_photographies/
Martinique is a land of contrasts from where you do not come without good memories.
What a fascinating idea for a series. And what a lovely weekend break - to have a little bit of home so close by to your doorstep
I'm glad you like the idea of the series EE, there are now 9 posts in total, I hope you enjoy the others.
I had no idea France had so many overseas territories, how odd it must be to land on Martinique and be in France I can just imagine the joy at finding good cheese!
Sara, do have a read of the other posts in the series, they're all so fascinating.
Looks lovely!! I can SO relate to so much of this!! Food definitely becomes something to become seriously excited about living on an island, as does kids entertainment!!!
Thanks for sharing this Phoebe, also how cool that you and Clara were school friends!!! X
Haha, yes we've known each other a while and have very similar backgrounds!
That's a great idea for a series - I no next to nothing when it comes to these French territories. Very interesting read!
You should check out the other posts in the series, they're all good reads.
Martinique sounds right up my alley! I love that she was so excited about cheese. I feel the same way.
I have no idea why my photo is coming up on this comment by Kimberley, how odd!!
My French friends always have such great times when they go to Martinique...and they come back to France so tan! Great post, and Phoebe, I'm looking forward to more in this series!
Christy, I hope you noticed the link to the other 4, which cover St Martin, Guadeloupe, Mayotte and Réunion. I have Guyane scheduled for later in the month, another Réunion and Guadeloupe for later this summer and one on Tahiti for after the holidays!! Keep checking back!
How amazing - I don't think I'd realised quite how French the overseas territories were (the closest I've got to Martinique is also St Lucia). Reunion is firmly on my bucket list though. And French supermarkets really are wonderful, I can't imagine how much I'd have bought! #allaboutfrance
How wonderful, the best of France (cheese!!) with the beauty of the Caribbean golden sand and blue sea - sounds perfect to me, will put it on my holiday wish list! #AllAboutFrance
Well I had no idea. That's pretty cool that it's just like France! It's nice to have some familiarity when in foreign countries!
It is quite strange to get off the ferry from St Lucia and suddenly be in....France! But there again I have also lived in Gibraltar and that was equally odd with it's red phone boxes and very British pubs.
This looks a beautiful place to visit. Can't believe France has all those time zones! Kaz x
Caribbean and France in the same sentence? You got me! Jokes aside, it must be a fascinating place. I met people from Mayotte and they described their island as paradise on earth - Martinique sounds just the same!
I think with all these places they are great for a visit - but living there is a different ball game. It depends how you feel about living on a relatively small island where there is little escape! Certainly life in St Lucia could be very like living in a goldfish bowl at times. And very, very hot! However for a holiday - fab!
Martinique, You are so on my list! (Really, I'll go anywhere for cheese!)
Martinique sounds like a lovely place to visit, the selection of cheeses look fab
How fab, now I want to go to Martinique! Yes I know France is nearer but Martinique sounds so much more exotic or should that be exotique #wkendtravelinspiration
Oooh all the delicious cheese has made me yearn for a trip to stock up on some!
It sounds like such a wonderful place to visit and I know my small ones would be happy to find a McDonalds with a play area
Sadly I think for them McDonalds play area was the highlight - but then we were a bit blase about beaches by that stage
WOW What a brilliant guest post and what a great idea for a series. I had no idea. I mean....I knew that Martinique was a French colony but I just had no idea that it was and is FRANCE in every sense. You have just opened my eyes to so much and I really ned to know more about this (and plan a trip!)
Can EU citizens move there then!!! ?
Thank you so much for linking this up with the #REASONStoTRAVEL linkup. You can link old and new posts with us and feel free to add any throughout the month (you'll soon be able to find a tab to the linkup on my blog!)
So nice meeting both you and your guest!
Angie from reasons to dress, fashion, travel and life as a mom in Italy.
Thank you for your comment. It was certainly an eye-opener for me too, visiting Martinique. And yes EU citizens can live there should they wish. Bear in mind though that living on a small island in the Caribbean has its limitations, as beautiful as they are. However, it's certainly a great spot for a holiday!
Hi Angie, I love your enthusiasm! Yes EU citizens can live there, and any of the other DomToms which hoefully I'll be featuring in this series. Tahiti, or Réunion next perhaps? Thanks for hosting your new linkup, good to meet you too.
As a former expat, I completely understand the draw of Carrefour and the opportunity to shop for things you can't get where you're living. You now have me thinking of Martinique. Tropical beaches AND French culture sound like an excellent mix.
It's amazing what you miss when you can't get them - and what you start taking for granted when you're back in your home country for a while. I think it's time we moved abroad again because I'm starting to get bored with British supermarkets! (We've been back for more than 4 years now - but moving to South Africa this summer).
We only visited Martinique as a cruise ship port and it was on a major French holiday, so nothing other than the beach was really open, so that is all I knew. Thanks for linking up at Weekend Travel Inspiration.
The beaches were probably lovely - we just didn't take much notice of them, eyes on the prize (cheese)!
How interesting, I never knew that about France! Martinique looks as beautiful as it sounds!
Thank you - the Caribbean islands are all beautiful but the French ones had the advantage of French food (although also fairly high prices, it has to be said )
This is a really interesting post to read. I completely understand living somewhere and missing the products from somewhere else. Luckily for you, you were able to find at least some of the things you had been missing. Also, this is a great guest post series!
Thank you for linking up with #reasonstotravel!
Thanks Elizabeth. It was a great way to stock up without having to go all the way to Florida (which was were we did most of our shopping) (and couldn't complain about that either!).
Interesting historical information about Martinique. We have friends who live in La Reunion and they told us that everything there is just like in France.
My next posting is to South Africa and I was wondering wether we would make it to La Reunion. However, it will be vying with Mauritius and Seychelles for our attention
What a lovely sounding place to go and visit - I have to admit all I can think is cheese after that delicious looking picture.
Tropical beaches and cheese - what's not to love?
I really fancy a plate of French cheese now! Lovely insight into Martinique, thank you.
Thank you for your comment. (goes to fridge for more cheese).
I had never actually thought about a nationalities having time zones dotted all around the world, of course it all makes perfect sense.
Martinique sounds beautiful, I would be with you and cheese, I love cheese. So interesting to read about your journey. I can not believe there is not a decent playground for the little ones in St Lucia - where you are living, that is a shame. It's amazing the little things you miss when you are away from home, the UK has so much, apart from decent weather.
We left St Lucia a few years ago but it was one of the things we found hardest living there, the lack of things to do with small children. I think it was harder because they were born in the UK and we had spent a few years there with them as babies and toddlers so had become used to all the activities, events and play areas for little children this country has. Perhaps if they had been born and brought up on a small Caribbean island we wouldn't have known any difference and would have been perfectly happy with the beaches and sea as their playground. It didn't help though that our eldest daughter didn't like the sea or the beach!
It sounds like a very exotic place, not somewhere I have ever been x
Thank you Rachel. It was exotic, but familiar all at the same time. Quite surreal really.
Oh how fun. All the best bits of France but with better weather!
Exactly! Although to be fair the weather in that part of the Caribbean was hard work when you weren't on holiday - very, very humid so you constantly felt sticky and tired. Best thing to do was go and sit in the sea!
I'd never heard of Martinique but this sounds fascinating! A French island tucked away in the Caribbean! It must be amazing to experience the French culture alongside a Caribbean climate! X
It was certainly different! And very different from St Lucia, where we were living - and which you could practically see from Martinique, they were so close together.
Wow, that is so interesting. I can not imagine it really. A french island in the sun!
It's one of those places that is hard to imagine until you are there. And then it makes perfect sense! Sort of...
Well, I just learnt an awful lot about Martinique, Euro, French schools and Carrefour!!!
I love the fact there is so much about cheese in this post, it's made me positively hungry!
You can never have too much cheese! Thank you for your comment.
Hi - I learnt about this from Clara's blog, a nice idea! If you need anyone for Mayotte, give me a shout.
Yay Curtis! Look forward to seeing your post!
Hi Curtis, Clara mentioned you and I'd love to hear about Mayotte, I'll be in touch through email.
I love this idea for a blog series! I had no idea France has so many time zones. Friends told me that when we move back to the States to keep Martinique in mind for times when we really miss France but want a shorter flight. I can certainly understand the excitement of finding a Carrefour - when we leave France in June, a Carrefour is going to be a welcome sight one day!
Martinique or Guadeloupe is another one. Or Saint Martin. I haven't been to those two so don't know what they are like but assume they're pretty similar!
I'm glad you've found a solution for when you're missing France, but I had no idea you're leaving us. I hope you continue to write about France and link up (old posts) to #AllAboutFrance. Where are you moving to?
Very interesting. I. Must read the book. What a lovely photo of a gorgeous little girl.
Hi Catherine - I would love it if you did read the book, and if you do leave some feedback as I'm always keen to hear what people think. Thank you for your comment!
Yes you must read it Catherine, a lot of it will resonate with you.
The DOMs and TOMs are pretty interesting concepts. The school network I work for has schools in Martinique, La Réunion, Nouméa and Guyane (the EGC network.) Sometimes their directors come to our meetings, but unfortunately we never have meetings there
Have you read this book? I'm sure you would enjoy it -- I did.
I loved that book and thought of you (Phoebe) and this book after I wrote my post so glad someone else has remembered to recommend it to you! Thank you for your comment Betty.
Thanks for the book recommendation Betty, I hadn't heard of it but another friend also recommended it and I've downloaded it on my Kindle now. What an amazing concept for an around-the-world journey, I'm really looking forward to traveling along with them. Pity you don't get to go on work jollys to the DomToms every now and then!
We went to Martinique once (and also to Guadeloupe and St Bart's - also overseas France in the Caribbean), and it was certainly fun to be in "France", with French shops and so on. But I had an uneasy feeling of a certain tension - that it was better to be a white metropolitan Frenchman with a nice holiday villa there than to be a black truly local one. The anglophone Caribbean states were constantly predicting trouble in Martinique etc, but as this was nearly 20 years ago and it hasn't happened maybe they were being unduly pessimistic, or perhaps sour-grapish.
There was quite a lot of tension in most of the Caribbean while I was there due to the influx of drug traffickers but I agree I think there was something slightly different in Martinique where there was more obvious divides. Although I wasn't really there long enough to understand the culture properly.
An interesting point Richard, I visited Martinique once nearly 20 years ago too and felt the same undercurrent of tension. I remember vividly a statue of Marianne with the head chopped off and red paint poured down like blood. But as you say no troubles have occurred in the mean time so I wonder too whether it was undue pessimism or sour grapes.
Ce n,est pas la statue de Marianne.c' était la statue de l'impératrice Joséphine qui était originaire de Martinique et comme Napoléon a rétabli l,esclavage qui avait été abolie sous la révolution.Forcément les martiniquais ne l'aiment pas
Effectivement, maintenant que vous le dîtes je me souviens que c'est une statue de Josephine et pas Marianne. Merci de me l'avoir faire remarqué Nicolas.