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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!
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