Post a Comment Print Share on Facebook
Featured economía WELTnext LauterbachJörn Brasilien NicolaiBirger

Where France directly borders the Netherlands

"They say we're like twins - just with two different nationalities," says Ruby Bute about the divided island of St.

- 14 reads.

Where France directly borders the Netherlands

"They say we're like twins - just with two different nationalities," says Ruby Bute about the divided island of St. Martin and laughs. “Despite all the problems, including the political ones, the French and Dutch sides belong together. Basically, we are one people.”

The 79-year-old painter and writer sits in a colorful dress on her terrace, which is painted orange and yellow. She looks out at the bright pink of a bougainvillea bush and the green canopy of a buttroot-supported kapok tree.

They are the same colors that can be found in Bute's paintings. Exotic blossoms and fruits, Caribbean cottages, lively carnival scenes – in Bute's works, Saint-Martin and Sint Maarten is a united, brightly colored world.

"Sometimes I wish I could paint like a European artist: in black, brown and gray," says Bute, who exhibits her own work as well as that of other local artists in her Silk Cotton Grove Art Gallery. "I can not do it. Everything is in color here. That's the way the Caribbean is.”

With about 87 square kilometers, the island has less total area than Sylt. It is the smallest inhabited island in the world divided by an international border and the only place where France and the Netherlands share a land border. The French part measures about 53 square kilometers and has almost 33,000 inhabitants, in the more densely populated Sint Maarten about 41,000 people live on 34 square kilometers.

In everyday life on the Antilles island, the almost invisible border hardly plays a role for most residents - many cross it several times a day on the way to work, to school, to the beach or to visit friends. Historically, however, this has not always been the case.

After being discovered by Columbus in 1493, the island was fought over by the Spanish, Dutch and French for a long time. In 1648, the militarily superior French secured a larger part in the north in the Treaty of Concordia. The Dutch were left with the smaller part in the south. To this day, the population consists largely of descendants of European settlers and their slaves who were abducted from Africa.

With her own biography, Ruby Bute can tell a lot about the strange construct that is her parents' birthplace and, since 1976, also her own home. "Since then I belong to St. Martin and St. Martin belongs to me". Bute was born and grew up in Aruba off the coast of Venezuela, then a Dutch colony.

Like Aruba, Sint Maarten is now an autonomous country that is part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands. The head of state is King Willem-Alexander, represented by a local governor. While Sint Maarten, as an overseas country and territory, is not in principle part of the European Union, although European law applies in part, the French part is an unrestricted part of the EU and its westernmost point on the world map. The President of Saint-Martin sits in distant Paris and is called Emmanuel Macron.

Although she was born in the Netherlands, Ruby Bute prefers to live in the French part of the island. "It's quieter here," she says. In addition to Dutch and French, she also speaks English, Spanish and Papiamentu, the Creole language spoken in the Dutch Caribbean.

“Despite speaking different languages, we share our African roots in the Antilles,” says the great-grandmother, “we are Caribbean brothers and sisters. Even though we are linked by one of the worst parts of human history, slavery, today we are united by our music, our dance, our joy.”

People from more than 120 nations live together on the island. Tensions between the different cultural and ethnic groups are less common here than on other Caribbean islands. With its colorful, multicultural flair and English as a slang language (before French and Dutch), the island attracts many Americans and migrant workers from neighboring island states, Central and South America, but also from Europe.

Party tourists will find their El Dorado on Sint Maarten in particular. The favorite spot for many is Maho Beach, located between two lively beach bars. The planes rush over it on their final approach at an altitude of just a few meters to Princess Juliana Airport, which is directly behind. The French Saint-Martin, on the other hand, sees itself more as a gourmet paradise of the Caribbean, inspired by Parisian haute cuisine, Mediterranean and Caribbean influences.

There are many things twice on the island – divided by a 16-kilometer border: two currencies (euro and Antillean guilder, the US dollar is de facto added to everyday tourism), two main towns (Marigot and Philipsburg), two local ones Representative bodies, two independently acting police units, two international telephone area codes with different networks, two tourist offices, two airports.

Things are a lot more leisurely on the French side than on the Dutch side. In the coastal towns of Grand Case, Cul de Sac and Quartier-d'Orléans, life takes place between the picturesque sandy beaches, Creole snack bars and fine fish restaurants. On the Dutch side, with its hotel blocks, 20 casinos, discotheques and bars, you can find a place to party almost around the clock.

Before the pandemic, up to six cruise ships sometimes docked at the cruise port of Philipsburg at the same time, flooding the small island capital with tourists. International guests are slowly returning, even if the number of passengers is far from reaching the level of 2019. The island was only just beginning to recover from the devastation caused by Hurricane Irma in 2017.

At a salt lake surrounded by mangroves, Cornelis “Binkie” van Es uses binoculars to look out for rare birds. Black-winged stilts, curlews and plovers search the bank silt for food. At a distance, van Es spots an osprey.

"St. Martin is not a destination for hardcore birdwatchers," says the 66-year-old, "but it does have a remarkable diversity." He already has 111 of the 150 species found on St. Martin and Sint Maarten that only occur in the Caribbean worldwide on his list. "Psychologists have found that bird watching makes you happier than a raise."

Van Es has lived in Sint Maarten since 1986, worked in wine importation and eventually as a marketing sales manager for a well-known Dutch brewery. "I was the party king of the island," he jokes. But its wild days are long gone.

The Dutchman has been roaming the island as a birdwatcher for 13 years. A group of American tourists rattle past the mangroves on their beach quads. The conservationist looks after them with a shake of his head.

He is annoyed by the excesses of tourism and the fact that large construction projects are still being approved. Nature is still often left behind. Many locals in Sint Maarten are bothered that rich Dutch and Americans are buying up the luxury apartments in new residential towers.

On the French side there are stricter building regulations. Only houses with a maximum of two floors may be built, in the immediate vicinity of the coast new buildings are completely prohibited. Nevertheless, the locals feel excluded from the boom due to the constantly rising prices on the real estate market and complain about the ever-increasing cost of living.

In Saint-Martin it is like everywhere else in French overseas territories. “The French plant their own culture wherever they are. Nevertheless, St. Martin is a multicultural mix,” says Van Es. "The Dutch, on the other hand, adapt when they go somewhere." Sint Maarten is therefore more American than Dutch.

Above all, he wants his adopted country to give space to nature on both sides. “The birds don't care if they find food on the French or Dutch side. We must work together to ensure that we preserve the island's nature.”

How to get there: KLM and Air France have daily direct flights from Amsterdam and Paris to St. Martin.

Accommodation: The "Belmond La Samanna" resort is located on the beautiful Plage Longue beach and is one of the most elegant hotels on St. Martin, double rooms from 721 euros ( Also in a beautiful location on the Petite Plage is the "Grand Case Beach Club" with the popular "Sunset Café", double rooms from 206 euros ( The "Azure Hotel" is one of the most popular addresses in party-loving Simpson Bay, St. Maarten, double rooms from 94 EUR (

Tips: Silk Cotton Grove Art Gallery by artist Ruby Bute (; Ornithology with Binkie van Es (


Participation in the trip was supported by Office de Tourisme de St. Martin, KLM and Belmond La Samanna. You can find our standards of transparency and journalistic independence at

This article was first published in June 2022.

Your Name
Post a Comment
Characters Left:
Your comment has been forwarded to the administrator for approval.×
Warning! Will constitute a criminal offense, illegal, threatening, offensive, insulting and swearing, derogatory, defamatory, vulgar, pornographic, indecent, personality rights, damaging or similar nature in the nature of all kinds of financial content, legal, criminal and administrative responsibility for the content of the sender member / members are belong.