COSMOPOLITAN CULTURE

Just 37 square miles, St. Maarten/St. Martin is the smallest island shared by two nations, France and the Netherlands, and its residents represent the cultures of more than 100 nations spanning the globe.

Originally settled by Arawak and Carib Indians from South America’s Orinoco Basin, the island came to the attention of European colonizers after Christopher Columbus sighted it in 1493. Both France and the Netherlands coveted the island as a strategic outpost between Europe and North America but avoided conflict by dividing it in 1648. The French would keep Saint Martin in the north and the Dutch would maintain an existing fort in southern Sint Maarten. The inhabitants then would share the island’s natural resources.

In succeeding years, St. Maarten/St. Martin drew people from around the world. Africans worked sugar plantations and salt flats until both sides abolished slavery in the mid-19th century. Migrants also arrived from India and neighboring Caribbean islands, as well as from French colonies in southeast Asia and Dutch holdings like Indonesia. Today St. Maarten/St. Martin is one of the most culturally diverse destinations in the world.

On the French side, French is spoken in government departments and schools; on the Dutch side, Dutch is used in government departments and some schools, but English is widely spoken everywhere. You also may hear Spanish, Creole and Papiamento on both sides of the island.

If you’re a people person, interested in the ways and traditions of others, you’ll be right at home in St. Maarten/St. Martin, where two European nations have spawned a vast cultural mélange that’s reflected on the menus of its many restaurants.

Only a marker separates the French and Dutch sides, yet each retains its distinctive flavor. Quiet elegance and world-class cuisine characterize French St. Martin, while the more casual Dutch side favors casinos, shopping malls and vibrant entertainment venues.

 

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