One Small Island, Two Large Countries

So the island of St. Maarten (or St. Martin on the French side) will be my home for the next two years. St. Maarten is located in the eastern Caribbean, about 186 miles east of Puerto Rico. The island is only 34 sq. miles and so the county I live in now, Clarke County, Georgia, can easily swallow three St. Maarten’s whole and still have a little room for dessert! But despite its size, the presence of mountains, lagoons, and the fact that it is split between two countries make the island seem much bigger. Yes, that’s correct. The northern half belongs to France while the southern half belongs to the Netherlands! In fact, they say that it is the smallest inhabited sea island in the world to be split into two political entities. Since the Netherlands and France are both very dominant countries, both sides of the island stick loyally to the standards of their respective motherlands, at the price of island unity. As a result, the citizens of the two sides live life very differently:

  • The Dutch side speaks predominantly English, despite the official language being Dutch, while the French side speaks French.
  • The Dutch call it “Sint Maarten” while the French call it “Saint-Martin”
  • The Dutch side uses 110 volts, same as the US, whereas the French side uses 220 volts.
  • The Dutch side officially uses the Netherlands Antillean Florins (NAF, or Guilders) while the French side uses the Euro. However, on the Dutch side, the US dollar is dominant and the most common currency used. On the French side, the Euro is still dominant.
  • Philipsburg is the capital of the Dutch side while Marigot is the capital of the French side.
  • The country code for the Dutch side is 721 (as of October 2011) while the country code for French side is 590. Calling from one side to the other is considered an international phone call.
  • Each side has its own international airport, despite the island already being as small as it is.

St. Maarten is probably the only place in the world where France and Netherlands share a border, since they certainly don’t touch each other in Europe! There is still some unity on the island though… they both have nice beaches, island culture, and trade winds… And since so many American tourists come to the island each year, the American dollar is widely accepted everywhere and English is widely spoken on both sides. Seems like the tourists are the ones that unify Sint Maarten and Saint Martin! Oh, and like in the European Union, there are no border patrols at the international borders, and so it’s not uncommon for AUC students to live on the French side and go to school on the Dutch side, traveling internationally everyday. Live in St. Maarten/St. Martin and you’ll be a world traveler! Take the 20 minute ferry ride to Anguilla and you can add the United Kingdom to that list as well! With so many countries in so little area, the Caribbean truly is its own cute little world.