The third post in my series on far-flung France is about the island of Réunion. My guest writer today is Annabelle, a multilingual, multicultural French blogger living in Germany. Here she writes about her experience of visiting France in the Indian Ocean.
Guest post by Annabelle at The Piri-Piri Lexicon
Réunion is a small island next to Mauritius (roughly an hour by plane), off the Eastern coast of Madagascar. The climate is tropical (softened by the Indian ocean breeze). Before my visit, I expected it to be similar to Mauritius: beaches, sunshine and, despite being part of France, African in essence. After all, these two islands share the same history. They were discovered together, settled by the same people (mainly the Portuguese in 1512 then the French in the 17th Century). To me, Réunion was going to be another sandy beach resort island (albeit with an active volcano in its centre). I could not have been more wrong! Réunion is rugged, wild, beautiful and surprising….
I had no real understanding of what a DOM-TOM meant. I had never visited any other before that one. You are taught in history and geography classes that these are integral parts of France. Réunion, like many other Départements d’outre Mer (overseas territory) is an integral part of the French Republic (as opposed to some other territories) since 1946 and its inhabitants enjoy the same status as those situated in Europe. The currency is the Euro. It is part of the European Union. I only needed my ID card to visit, despite flying for almost 12 hours from Europe. All of the major French brands and companies have offices, shops or branches there. So is it France in the Indian Ocean?
As we got off the plane, coming from Mauritius, our first impressions were quite shocking. Had we made our way back to France? We thought so. The infrastructures, the signs, the cars, the buildings, the shops let us believe we had. We found a Carrefour supermarket to fulfill our immediate needs as well as thousands of other French brands to shop at. We fixed a small scuba diving incident by going to a doctor’s practice and simply showing our ID. We were paying with Euros. We drove on motorways with all of the European commodities (as opposed to the more African-like style of roads and driving in Mauritius). I certainly didn’t expect this. France was well and truly here. It is France after all. I was feeling uneasy and a little disorientated.
As the road started winding up the volcano and the rugged interior, we discovered a very different story. People do not look like they do in France (for the most part). Ethnicities are mixed, varied and wonderfully different from those found in the French countryside’s villages. Creole cultures are alive and well. The creole language is spoken widely and even taught in some schools. Indian and Cantonese cultures make this creole culture so interesting. Local food is influenced by Africa, India, China and Europe, making it amazing and magically unique. The carry (or cari) is a kind of Indian curry dish but with no curry spice! It is truly one of a kind and so delicious.
Sugar cane grows here too, just like in Mauritius. The earth is extremely fertile in most parts thanks to the volcano. Vanilla, grape vines and lentils are also found. The landscape is surprising, dramatic and goes from lush forests to dry and moon-like in just a few kilometres. The main volcano (Piton des Neiges) had just erupted when we visited. We found ourselves with a limited view of the South of the island as the roads were being rebuilt yet again.
Yet, we loved the inside and wildest parts best. The capital (Saint-Denis) is just an exotic part of France. And I mean exotic in a positive way: Christmas shopping in shorts and flip-flops was cool! The South and interior of the island were much more interesting, to us. The further you go from the traditional coastal resorts of the East coast, the luckier you will be in finding true Réunion: not the French part, but the melting pot part, the creole part.
I discovered that this was not really France after all. Réunion is a huge melting pot where many cultures meet/have met (just like its neighbour). It has just been influenced by the French ruling the island and unlike Mauritius has never achieved independence.
Mauritius had been Africa with a touch of Indian culture; mostly flat and with amazing sandy beaches (the volcano has long been inactive there). Réunion could not have been more different. If you ever find yourself in Mauritius, hop onto a plane and go and visit both islands. They are closely related sisters yet very different.
Annabelle is a former Linguist, mum to two little European citizens. Currently living in Germany, she writes about life as a displaced multilingual mum. You can find her at The Piri-Piri Lexicon and on Twitter. All photos are provided by Annabelle.
If you’ve enjoyed this you might want ot read the other posts in the series on French DOM-TOM about Martinique, Mayotte, Guadeloupe, St Martin, French Guyana, French Polynesia another one on Réunion and another one on Guadeloupe.
*** 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 ***