What NOT to do in Reunion


Part of the fun of being somewhere that's not home is discovering all the little differences. People in Reunion Island are generally fairly easy-going and tolerant, but here are a few tips to help you avoid some faux pas. Overall just use some common sense and observe what others are doing. And remember - it's OK to make mistakes, and a smile always goes a long way.

What not to do in Reunion:
  • Refer to mainland France as 'France'. Reunion IS (part of) France.
  • Refer to Creole as 'broken French', a 'patois' or a 'dialect'. Reunion Creole, like all Creoles, is a fully-fledged language, albeit non-written.
  • Try and stereotype people into racial/ethnic/religious categories. That doesn't work in Reunion.


  • Talk about an 'indigenous' population. There was no indigenous human population before French and Malagasy arrived in the 17th century.
  • Refer to Reunion as 'tiny'. The island has a surface area of 2500m2, similar to Luxembourg. If Reunion was a country it would be the world's 180th (out of 249 countries and dependencies) in terms of surface area - it's bigger than Mauritius (yes), Hong Kong, Singapore, Bahrain etc. 'Tiny' is Monaco, the Vatican, Liechenstein, Bermuda to name but a few.
  • Swim in the sea (outside the lagoon) if there's no lifeguard. Shark problem aside, there are several beaches with deadly strong currents.
  • Swim in the sea after a cyclone or very heavy rainfall. Soil and various organic matter can get washed into the ocean  with the result that there can be a health risk and a higher likelihood of sharks (thanks to Jean-Marie Salmacis for suggesting this).

Sign at Etang Salé Beach (source)

  • Assume the person you're speaking to will always understand English. If they do, so much the better, if not - you have been warned.
  • Forget to be polite. Even if you don't speak French 'Bonjour', 'Merci' et 'Au Revoir' will always be appreciated.
  • Assume you'll be able to get vegetarian (let alone vegan) food everywhere you go.
  • Assume you'll be able to find a taxi quickly and cheaply.
  • Make comparisons out loud with your home country if they're unfavourable to Reunion (of course this applies when you're visiting any country). 
  • Leave sun protection behind if it's cloudy when you start a hike. (I got a second degree burn at the volcano from doing this).
  • Go hiking for several days during cyclone season without some means of checking upcoming weather.

photo taken during Cyclone Bejisa, Jan 2014

  • Drink tap water after a cyclone/heavy rainfall.
  • Expect to find a Starbucks. Or a decent cup of tea anywhere in public.
  • Litter.
  • Expect red meat to be well-cooked in a restaurant.

Meat cooked how you like it? (source)

Anything to add? Let me know in the comments below.

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