Beyond the beach: life in the French Caribbean
Martinique is a small island tucked away in the Lesser Antilles of the Caribbean. As an overseas region of France with a complex colonial history, its heritage is a unique blend of Créole, African, French and Indian cultures. Since living in Martinique as a language assistant, I have been lucky enough to experience this fascinating cultural melange, which is apparent in the vibrant Créole costumes, the fast carnival beats of Zouk, the aroma of exotic fish, fruit and spices ... Martinique is simply bursting with colour, life and culture.
The island’s melting pot culture is evident everywhere you look, from the colourful colonial architecture framed by tropical palm trees to the streets filled with traditional French boulangeries and charming Caribbean rhum shacks. It’s truly a place like no other. This rich diversity can even be found in the language. Although French is the official language, most local people speak Créole, a mixture of French, English, Portuguese, Spanish and native Caribbean dialects. For many native people of Martinique, Créole is an important part of their cultural identity and a strong reminder of their roots. There are many schools offering Créole courses for beginners in Martinique, so I decided to seize the opportunity and have recently started taking lessons. Being able to speak even a few words in Créole – even if it is very broken and often comes out wrong – shows to locals that I am willing to learn about their culture, and when you show willingness you get a whole lot back. Speaking and understanding Créole has made me feel more connected to the island and to the people who call it home. It also means that I don’t feel completely lost when the language suddenly switches to Créole in the staffroom!
Learning Créole is not the only way to feel connected to Martinique’s heritage. Whether it is exploring one of the island’s historic plantations and century-old distilleries or taking part in one of the many vibrant celebrations and events, there has been no shortage of culture. So far it has been an experience like no other and I can’t wait to see what will come next!