According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the French have the best healthcare system in the world. The French is a universal system largely financed by government and national health insurance. Believe it or not, doctors still make house calls to people unable to visit the clinic. A GP visit costs about US$30 of which US$24 is reimbursed by the French NHS. I am not telling you this to spark another heated political debate. Nor, am I telling you this to argue for or against universal healthcare provider systems. I have known for a long time most European country’s systems provide excellent service to their citizens at a fraction of the cost of comparable healthcare in the USA. A fact that was highly distorted during the big USA Obamacare discussions. However, it has been a while since I have been amongst the French for any length of time. And, one of my first observations after being on Martinique for a little while is: how come so many of the people here smoke?
We are not use to public smoking. After spending over twenty years living in Atlanta, we watched smokers became increasingly ostracized year after year. Eventually smokers wound up hiding in the back alleys of office buildings during routine fixes for their addictions or they hung about on the city street. This has become the norm. Before entering any public building one must first navigate a path through the smokers on the street who are technically “off property”. It has been years since we have been in a restaurant allowing smoking. Okay, that’s a lie. We did frequent a great burger joint called The Vortex. This is a bar and grill in Mid-Town, Atlanta know for the best burgers in town. The owner escaped the city ordinance and the rule to ban smoking by making the restaurant age restrictive. You have to be over 21 to enter. I was most definitely willing to risk the exposure to carcinogenic second hand smoke because I wanted to clog my arteries with bad cholesterol, very bad cholesterol. The French passed some of the toughest anti-smoking laws in the world ten years ago. But, this hasn’t seemed to faze the smokers. Al-fresco dining became the rage since smoking outside in a restaurant is allowed. I don’t mind other people smoking. It doesn’t really bother me. However, it is making me crave a really good burger. As I sit in the local restaurants of Martinique smelling wisps of cigarette smoke, my receptors in the nasal passage are triggering impulses along the olfactory nerve in my brain making me crazy nostalgic for a Vortex burger and a beer.
On the subject of good health, there seems to be a real lack of toilet paper and toilet seats in the bathrooms on Martinique. Let’s start with the toilet paper shortage. We attribute this to a shortage of all things paper on all the Caribbean islands. Nobody sells paper plates or cups. Plastic ones are readily available. Even on Puerto Rico in Wal-Mart and Costco, we couldn’t find paper plates. This is not really the end of the world for us. However, every once and a while it would be nice to just be able to throw away the dishes instead of having to wash them. I would have thought the reverse would be truer on the islands. They are pretty conscious about waste and landfill limits. Think about it for a second, if it ships into the island, then it has to ship out or be burned. We never really figured why paper products are hard to find. Paper towels are here but they are very expensive. So we just sort of attribute the lack of toilet paper in public restrooms to the overall island paper shortage. While we travel about in our rental car, we have a little pack of toilet paper with us. Just in case.
Now, the lack of toilet seats is something I just don’t get. Are times so hard that people are running about stealing the toilet seats? Where have all the toilet seats gone? Is there a black market on an island somewhere for used toilet seats? Do we need to start carrying a toilet seat with our toilet paper? The chances of finding a public restroom on this island with both toilet paper and a toilet seat is about the same as winning the lottery. Sometimes, if you are lucky, you can get one or the other. As a guy, I really don’t care about these things. I can live without toilet paper, and the lack of a toilet seat is actually a plus. Cindy, on the other hand, is not as content as me on this subject. When one of us goes off to use a public restroom, the topic of conversation upon return is regarding the availability of toilet paper and if having the added level of comfort provide by a toilet seat was an option.
One of the few public restrooms that have had both a toilet seat and paper is McDonalds. Yes, we ate at McDonalds. It is the first time in a couple of years we were able to order something off a menu and knew exactly what we were getting. No surprise food there. However, you can’t just pop into McDonald’s to use the restroom. Why? It is locked! It took us a little while to figure out that printed on the receipt is a code. It is the entry code for the electronic lock on the bathroom doors. Do they lock the restrooms to prevent people from stealing the seats? I have to presume the value of toilet seats on this island has skyrocketed like the price of bitcoins since having become such a rare commodity (see how I cleverly chose the word commodity for the commode seat).
Still on the subject of McDonalds, and all the other restaurants on Martinique, if you order finger foods, do so at your own risk. You are going to be in serious trouble if you have a big messy sandwich. You are going to wind up with dirty hands. And guess what napkins are made of. That’s right! Two people, two napkins. Need more? It’s just not going to happen. What will happen when you ask for more napkins is the English words taught to all French people will come into play. All French children are mandated to learn one English phrase before they can graduate high school, “That’s not possible”.
We love Martinique. We love how clean it is. When touring by car we do not see trash anywhere or graffiti. The people are laid back, except when behind the wheel of a car. The scenery is fantastic. The food is pretty good. Wine, cheese and bread are really cheap here. Guess what our diet consists of? If you come to visit Martinique, and I hope you do, pack a toilet seat and paper. If you can’t get the seat to fit in your carryon bag, wear it around your neck. Don’t worry about walking through the airport wearing the toilet seat like a Hawaiian lei. People will look at you and understand you are on your way to Martinique. Wear it proudly. I bet you could sell the toilet seat here and turn a nice profit. Or, at the very least you could trade it for a few cases of wine. You may have to teach a few local people how to use it because the chances are they’ve never seen one.
We recently walked about the capital city Fort-de-France. We hope you enjoy the pictures.