Question: I read that France has 12 different time zones – how is this possible?
It’s true, France does have 12 different time zones. In fact (pub quiz fact alert) France has the largest number of time zones of any country in the world, beating the USA and Russia which have 11 each.
But we’re not talking Metropolitan France – aka l’Hexagone – here. There is no time difference between Paris and Marseille, although time does seem to go a little slower once you get to the south coast. Maybe that’s the pastis.
No, the reason that France has so many time zones is because of its overseas territories.
Like many former colonial powers, France has territories outside of Europe, but the difference with France is that some of these territories are classed as départements d’outre-mer (overseas départements) and are counted as part of France. They have exactly the same government structure as the rest of France and therefore the Caribbean island of Martinique is as much a part of France as Brest, Bordeaux or Brive.
There are also collectivites d’outre-mer which have more autonomy and can pass their own laws, although certain areas such as defence are decided by Paris.
France’s overseas territories are very scattered, taking in the Caribbean, South America, the Indian Ocean, the Pacific and the Antarctic.
This gives France a lot of different time zones, as well as – further pub quiz fact alert – a land border with Brazil (via French Guiana) and a presence on all five continents.
— rouge-gorge (@rougesgorges) March 25, 2022
So what are all these time zones?
L’Hexagone – mainland France (and Corsica) are on Central European Time (GMT +1)
French Polynesia – the more than 100 islands that make up French Polynesia cover two time zones in the South Pacific – GMT -10 and GMT -9
Clipperton Island – the tiny (6 sq km) island in the eastern Pacific is on GMT -8. It’s probably not that important what the time is, however, since the island is uninhabited.
Guadeloupe, Martinique, Saint Barthélemy, Saint Martin – the four Caribbean islands are on GMT -4
French Guiana – perched in the top right of South America, French Guiana borders Brazil and Suriname is on GMT -3
Saint Pierre and Miquelon – France used to be a major power in Canada, as evidenced by the Francophone regions, but now its territory in the area is limited to these two islands, which are just off the coast of Newfoundland. They are on GMT -2
Mayotte – in the Indian Ocean, situated between Mozambique and the much larger island of Madagascar, is Mayotte. It’s on GMT +3
Réunion – also in the Indian Ocean but the other side of side of Madagascar is the island of La Réunion, on GMT +4
French Southern Territories – these islands in the Antarctic function primarily as a research station and do not have any permanent residents. They are on GMT +5
New Caledonia – the south Pacific island could have caused France to have only 11 time zones, but in a recent referendum it narrowly rejected independence. It’s on GMT +11
Wallis and Fortuna – situated between Fiji and Samoa in the south Pacific are the islands of Wallis and Fortuna on GMT +12