Remember the movie, “When Harry Met Sally” and the infamous scene in the deli with Meg Ryan ? Well, to paraphrase a line from this movie, all I can say is:
“I’ll have what he’s having” and “I want to do what he’s doing!”
Who’s the “he”? He is American Keith Van Sickle, who recently published his memoir called, “One Sip At A Time: Learning To Live In Provence”. After reading it, I want to move to Provence…..NOW.
I love reading books about foreigners moving to France to live, short or long term. I think deep down it is France-envy. Quite honestly I want to live in France and hopefully it will happen one day. While most of these lucky devils choose Paris, a few (wise ones), like Keith choose, Provence. After Paris, Provence was the first region I ever visited and I fell in love with it. I am still drawn to this area above all others. Who wouldn’t love it there? Hilltop villages like Gordes and Lourmarin. Chateauneuf-du-Pape wine. Olives. Tapenade. Warm weather.
My Dream. Their Reality…One Sip At A Time
Keith and his wife Val are living the life many of us dream about. As Keith wrote:
“Three months in Provence! We dreamed of fitting in and eventually going native, cooking daube de boeuf and sipping fine Burgundy late into the night. Maybe Val would became Valérie with that cute little accent mark”.
The Van Sickles live in the Silicon Valley in the United States and had their first foray into expat living in Switzerland, which is a stone’s throw away from France, so they were able to visit often. However, at the end of Keith’s Swiss posting it was time to return to California. After a while, they felt the itch to go to Provence and fortunately, they were able to do their work remotely. So they became part-time expats.
“One Sip At A Time” is not a technical “how to” book on how to live in Provence for an extended period of time. That would be boring. Rather, it is a glimpse into the experiences Keith and Val encountered during their different stays in Provence and how they coped. I was particularly intrigued to learn about their French language immersion. This was a recurring theme throughout the book: Keith’s struggle to become fluent.
Initially, Keith’s French wasn’t very good and he had a tough time. I could empathize immediately with his difficulties as there have been (numerous) occasions when someone has spoken to me in French and I have returned a blank stare (aka “deer in the headlights”), having absolutely no idea what they have said to me.
So how did they do it? How did they slowly fit in and learn about all the intricacies of French culture? Their journey is what made the story so interesting. Sure, everyone wants a perfect stay where nothing goes wrong but life isn’t like that. In fact, life is more interesting with a few ups and downs.
Making (French) Friends
The most important question I had while reading this book was: did Keith and Val ultimately make friends with some French people? I have read many times that it is very difficult to make friends with the French or to infiltrate (??) their tight social circles. They were very smart in reaching out to the community to find language partners.
When Val initially put out a post about getting a partner, a lady named Viviane reached out to invite them for coffee one Sunday. They expected the meeting would be about 1 hour. This hour stretched into 4 or 5 hours combined with cake, coffee, pastis, hor d’oeuves….and a handful of neighbours dropping in. What an authentic, “real” way to force yourself to speak French and learn French. Much better than being in a classroom. While courses can be helpful, just having a meaningful conversation about things one is interested in can be much more beneficial.
To improve one’s French, the best way is to talk to another person. Keith and Val were very fortunate to have had this and many more get-togethers with Viviane and others. OK, it didn’t hurt that wine and food were involved. Sharing a meal and wine just make French conversation so much easier.
French Savoir-Faire (Understanding The French Ways)
The French do things differently than Americans and Canadians in many areas. Keith shares many anecdotes about adjusting to the French way and very often his stories are amusing. He provides glimpses into the well-known bureaucracy of the French government when he has to retrieve his car from a locked underground parking lot. They had to deal with the police and a stack of forms. Everything seems just a bit more complicated (but certainly more interesting) to get things done.
I think one of the qualities of a good book is the author’s ability to transport the reader to a new setting, or at least convince the reader that they need to make a trip. Keith’s stories conjured up so many fond memories of Provence: Cavaillon mellons, the Mistral winds that can whip up a fierce storm, Course Camarguaise (a bull fight without any killing) , and of course drinking Chateauneuf-du-Pape wine. The more I read Keith’s book, the more I wanted to go back to Provence and realized it should be not just for a few weeks, but for a few months.
So if you want a great escape that is real, have a read of “One Sip At A Time”. You’ll be transported to a beautiful region of France and perhaps, like Keith (and me) you’ll decide you want to move there, at least temporarily.
Keith Van Sickle provided the book, “One Sip At A Time” for me to review. I was not compensated for the review and as always all opinions are my own.