Lost in Paradise

A while back I had to call the national hotline of my internet service provider about a problem I was having with my TV channels. The young man in Paris who answered me was relatively helpful, but was unable to solve my problem, which was related to the fact that I was based in Reunion. As the conversation came to a close he consolingly told me, “oh, but at least you’ve got sunshine”, as if that made up for the fact that for all manner of services we generally end up paying more for less in Reunion.

As a long-term inhabitant of Reunion, a recurrent grumble of mine is the propensity of others to slap the label of ‘exotic paradise’ onto tropical islands. Yes, Reunion has beaches and a generally pleasant climate, but we’re also subject to tropical diseases, storms … and big hairy insects. Many islands such as Reunion can be more or less remote, difficult and/or expensive to get from and to, and this can be reflected in consumer prices, as well as indirectly in the level of employment. The creation of the ‘tropical paradise’ that tourists want (palm trees, hotels, electricity, running water, sandy beaches, and wifi etc.) often comes at a high environmental price, as our Mauritian neighbours are beginning to realise.

The belief that tropical islands are paradise is recent – the biblical concept of Eden was very different, and for centuries tropical destinations such as Reunion were a source of unbearable heat, illness, fear and even death for the European settlers, as well as the slaves who were forced to work there until they dropped.

The notion of what is ‘exotic’ is also worth pondering. Last year, I was interpreter for some Czech clients. While appreciating their surroundings, they wondered where people in Reunion went for a holiday. They were very amused when I told them that for our honeymoon my husband and I had chosen to go to … the Czech Republic! It was different from our every day life in Reunion, and thus exotic to us.

Current opinion tends to be that paradise and exoticism can be purchased as commodities via a travel brochure. The idea that they may be bought could prevent people from looking for a different kind of paradise, one that is closer to home, rather than projecting it on to islands half a world away.

As long as people feel the need to travel to a tropical island to relax, switch off their smartphones, and spend more time with loved ones, Reunion’s tourist industry has a great future ahead of it!

Vocabulary

to come to a close – se terminer
consolingly – pour réconforter
all manner – tout type
grumble – ronchonnement
propensity – tendance

to slap a label – coller une étiquette
hairy – poilu
running water – eau courante
belief – croyance
concept – idée

unbearable – insoutenable
to ponder – méditer
surroundings – environnement
honeymoon – lune de miel
commodity – denrée

travel brochure – prospectus touristique

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American Bouchon

Most people’s opinion about American food, outside of the United States, tends to be not so positive. The trend seems to be, the idea that, American food is pizza, hot dogs, hamburgers and fries; gross, greasy, and disgusting. And these are our favorites to some degree. I could argue, but that’s not my point right now.

So if our grub is so bad, then what’s up with all these food options here in Reunion that are, quote, end quote, American? What’s more, there’s not much that is really very American, about them. Take the case of the snack bars in Reunion. My first time ordering off the menu and I was really shocked.

“Pain américain! What the hey is this?” I asked my lunch companion. “Oh, well, fries, on a sandwich, with melted cheese,” he answered. Did I forget something? I tried frantically to look back at my life in the States. Was there some big, food trend that I had completely not participated in? Let’s see; steak fries, curly fries, sweet potato fries, Cajun spicy fries… and the list goes on.  But always served as a side. I do vaguely remember eating fries, with gravy and melted cheese, late at night, in high school.  That’s about as close to the cheese and fry association that I could get.

In bread, on top of meat, with melted cheese. That was a new one. So, I asked my friend, “If you guys don’t think highly of American food, why name dishes after it?” He really couldn’t answer that one. This first time, I shied away from the sandwich, even if it was so proudly named after my homeland. But then I saw, smelled and was tempted to taste, his sandwich of hamburger and its so-called American bread. And although it goes against all health advice and is probably illegal in certain states in the U.S., that thing was good!

Next, my friend washed down his sandwich with a “Limonade Americain!” Ok, cool I thought. I love a good lemonade. Gets me thinking to summer, picnics and grandma’s house. And pink lemonade, that’s the best! After having grubbed some bites of his tasty, so-called American sandwich, I was more than willing to wash it down with some lemonade.  Not a good experience, if I may say so. Sorry to offend the good people of Reunion (my husband and daughter love Limonade Americain) but to my taste buds, there is nothing lemonade about that drink. There is good reason for that, as I learned some time later. Good old lemonade is citronade and Limonade is like regular lemonade with some weird twist.

Vocabulary

trend – tendance
grub – bouffe
what’s up? – quoi de neuf ?
quote, end quote – je cite
order – commander

what the hey ? – c’est quoi ce truc ?
fries – pommes frites
let’s see – voyons
spicy – épicé
gravy – sauce viande

melted – fondu
side – garniture
dishes – plats
to shy away – éviter
homeland – patrie

to wash down – boire
to grub – bouffer
twist – nuance

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Something Only Adults Do

About six months ago I decided to become a grown up. I’d done lots of grown up things in my life before; I’d emigrated to Reunion, opened a company, had children, killed a chicken, but all of this was child’s play compared to: ‘Getting a mortgage!’

You don’t have a word for mortgage in French, you do have a word for ‘re-mortgage’ though, which I’ve always found odd. The English word ‘Mortgage’ does have French roots, the word literally means ‘Death Pledge’. Scary stuff.

Anyway, enough of that. Once all the boring bank stuff had finished, we started looking for land. Our stipulations were simple: The land had to be cheap, big, and close to the coast. Sounds simple, doesn’t it? Well, you’ll be surprised to know that land like that does not exist in Reunion!

We wanted to move out of St Louis to somewhere in the west so that the wife could be closer to her job, teaching in St Paul, also so that we could be near the beach for the kids’ sakes. We visited some land in the St Leu area that looked promising; 500 square meters for about €100,000. Right in our budget! The only problem was that it was in La Chaloupe. If you’ve never been up there, it’s high. Really high. So high, in fact, that it took forty-five minutes just to reach the route du tamarins. Back to the drawing board.

Anyway, weeks of stressful land-hunting continued, until we found the perfect spot. Just the right size, just the right price and only ten minutes from the route de tamarins. We found it right around the corner, about one hundred meters from our current place. Now I know we said that we wanted to move to the west, but hell. I love the south. I love going to St Pierre with the kids, I love the new school that my youngest started in this year. Also, of course, I love being near my parents-in-law. Who, not only look after the kids free of charge, but who cook the second best rougail saucisse on the island. (Second only to my wife’s, of course).

So it looks like I’m staying in the south for the perceivable future. No worries, the girls in St Gilles won’t miss me that much. Plus, to be perfectly honest, I much prefer the lagoon in St Pierre to that of Hermitage. There are far fewer tourists taking up the space! And you show me another free babysitter that cooks rougail saucisse on this rock!

Vocabulary

grown up – adulte
child’s play – un jeu d’enfant
mortgage – prêt immobilier
pledge – gage
boring – ennuyeux

land – terrain
to move out – se déplacer
promising – prometteur
to reach – atteindre
to go back to the drawing board – retourner à zéro

size – taille
but hell ! – bref !
parents-in-law – beaux-parents
worry – souci
to miss – manquer
space – place

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Poulet ou Poisson?

My travelling from South Africa to Reunion was my first international travel experience as well as my first time on an airplane. So the entire process at the airport along with how everything works on board was unknown to me.

After already having offered myself and my carry-on up to a very confused South African Customs Officer at Johannesburg’s O.R. Tambo International Airport out of fear of being arrested for any reason whatsoever – I was really hoping to not have to face any more public embarrassment.

As I took my seat in the front row on board the Air Austral flight, I noticed two boys on the opposite side of the aisle. Looking like flying in Comfort Class is part of their daily commute to school – I decided that I would just do whatever they do. So we put on our seat belts and settled in for the take-off.

Just after 11:00 am, a few minutes after boarding, the air hostess came out with glasses of juice and champagne flutes filled with, of course, the real thing. I had never had champagne before and was very excited to be starting off my French experience in style. However – I had one question – are we allowed to drink yet?! Now, in South Africa, if someone wants to know whether it is an appropriate time to have a drink, we have an Afrikaans saying which translates to: “Has the Boeing flown over yet?”. Not having anything to do with actual aircrafts – the saying sounded in my head. All I could think was “Oh please, please, please let her offer champagne to someone else first!”. Already feeling out of place being, apparently, the only non-French speaking person on board, I did not want to top it off with frowned-upon behavior. To my great relief, the champagne was accepted by another adult before the air hostess reached my seat and so I had my first taste of actual champagne.

Later on, too busy staring out the window at my last view of the country I have never left before, I did not notice that everyone had already set up their trays for lunch. As the two boys were offered their meals, I frantically tried to figure out how to set up my tray without appearing completely clueless. With little success, when the question “Poulet ou poisson?” was posed to me – I had to say “Non, merci” out of fear of more public humiliation. Also, I had no idea what “poulet” or “poisson” was.

At least during my return flight next year I will know that I am being offered a choice between chicken and fish. The tray, however, will remain a mystery.

Vocabulary

arrested – arrêté
daily – quotidienne
commute – trajet
whatever – tout ce que
however – cependant 

appropriate – approprié
actual – réels
apparently – apparemment
to stare – regarder
tray – plateau 

meal – repas
frantically – frénétiquement
to figure out – comprendre
to appear – sembler
clueless – désemparés

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