5. Get by with Bonjour
If there is any truth to the “rude French” stereotype, it definitely stayed in France. What you will see instead in Martinique, where English is not widely spoken, is a certain sense of reservation. The secret to breaking down this barrier lies in one little word: Bonjour. Learning a few other essential French terms could only help, but that greeting alone draws out the best island smiles. If locals can help you, they will, or they will try. If they cannot, you’ll at least get a Bonjour right back. If you find someone who speaks English, you’ll quickly learn Martinicans have an overwhelming sense of pride in their island and love to talk about it or show it off. Martinique is the safest of all the Caribbean nations, a treasured status, especially for families.
As a writer, it’s difficult to say whether someone is showing you the side they want you to talk about, or the side that is actually accessible to the average traveler. With one Martinican, Guy Ferdinand, the guessing game was over. Notorious for his daily uniform of short shorts, Guy is known by his fans as Chef Hot Pants. I use the word “fans” because that’s what he called them, and they are plentiful. Many renowned chefs of the island trained at culinary schools in Paris before returning home for a career…but not Chef Hot Pants. He started cooking at age 10 in his mother’s kitchen, and has since transformed his talent and passion into an art form. He works everyday at his beachside restaurant, Le Petibonum, where lunch is far more luxurious than the table you’re eating it on. Guy cooks outside, and can’t help but tell himself “I love my life” every morning when he arrives. Case in point? If anyone becomes a “fan” of his cooking, and wants to learn his technique, he would love nothing more than to spend the afternoon, or even weekend side by side in his ocean view kitchen. Guy can’t imagine working in a big city industrial job. He is right where he belongs and invites you to “come, share it!”
After an amazing lunch of shrimp ceviche and crayfish, Chef Hot Pants wanted to “take a jet” with me. We jet skied against the picturesque views of the Le Carbet shoreline and passed a catamaran full of European tourists. They all waved and shouted out to him and we stopped while he greeted each one of them, promising to return. They were not writers, or publicists, or marketers. They were just regular people on a regular vacation to the amazing place he calls home. Chef Hot Pants is a wonderful example of the spirit common on the island. He is brilliant, down to earth, and harnesses the welcoming kindness and exhilaration the majority of Martinicans want to show visitors. He doesn’t have a “big car or a big suit,” but he has pure happiness…and his hot pants.
The strong sense of community in the hearts of Martinicans creates an unmistakable allure to the island. There is always something going on…with at least one festival per month, there is an everlasting reason to celebrate. If celebrating is your forte, don’t leave without trying Martinique’s own Biére Lorraine, or the popular Planteurs Punch. The best places to have a drink on the island are the true Caribbean bars. Watch the sunset at Lili’s Beach Bar and stay for the outdoor movie under the tiki style roof, or head to the ultra local and newly opened Wow Bar [so new it's not on the web]. It’s filled with multicolored mismatched couches, an open-air DJ set, and better yet; it’s right down the beach from Le Petibonum!
For more Caribbean adventures beyond the beaches, check out:
- Cuba Travel Update: Renewed Licenses for People to People Operators
- Tulum Uncovered Beyond Mexico’s All-Inclusive Track
- Off-Season Island Travel: Forget the Crowds and Save
- Hidden Gems: Turks & Caicos–Complete Island Adventures
By Courtney Crockett for PeterGreenberg.com