I have a case of envy….French envy. Keith Van Sickle’s new book, “Are We French Yet?—Keith and Val’s Adventures In Provence” is comprised of 40 very entertaining stories about how he and his wife have attempted to adjust to part-time life in Provence. While the process to become (more) French was not without difficulties and many humorous incidents, I envy what they went through because in life it’s the journey to becoming French that matters, not the end result.
Books and movies can give you a general idea of what a place and time period are like. I had visited the D-Day beaches in Normandy, seen movies like “Saving Private Ryan”, “Schindler’s List”, and “The Longest Day” and read books such as “Suite Francaise” and “All The Light We Cannot See”. But being on a historical tour where you hear stories about life in Paris during WWII really brings it to life. I was transported back to the 1940s when Paris was occupied by the Germans when I recently took a walking tour highlighting this time period in Paris and I discovered much more about the city that I have come to love.
If you say, “Pont-l’Évêque” to cheese lovers, many will immediately think of the strong-scented (pungent), soft cheese that is often considered to be one of the 5 stinkiest kinds of cheese in France. It’s my all-time least favourite cheese. It smells really bad and fortunately, doesn’t taste that way. But good news! Pont-l’Évêque may no longer have a negative association to the stinky cheese. There’s a new tourist attraction in the village—a multi-sensory experience devoted to Calvados apple brandy, which has a much nicer smell.
I never really cared for the sciences when I was an adolescent. In high school, I almost failed chemistry and at home, my chemical engineer father would bug me by using chemical terms all the time. Instead of saying, “Pass me the salt”, he’d say, “Pass me the NaCl (Sodium Chloride).” He liked the periodic table of elements whereas I preferred pop music. Had he taken me to the Marie Curie Museum in Paris during my first trip to France, I might have had a greater appreciation for the sciences. This free museum is worth a visit, especially for young women. They will be inspired by the story of one of the greatest scientists in the world.
The French are sometimes unfairly accused of being stubborn, unfriendly, or difficult to deal with. And they love to debate. I can see this if you enter a store and do not say, “Bonjour”. You might not get any response and could even be treated with rudeness. Customs should be followed, no matter what country you are in. I get this and try not only to speak French all the time but also act politely and proper so that I don’t come across like that “obnoxious” tourist. During all my travels to France, I have never had a bad encounter with a native French person. That is, until a few years ago in Paris. I was put to the test and had a lovely argument in French.
“You’ve seen one mountain, you’ve seen them all”. This was said by a 14 year old while travelling in the Canadian Rockies. [Disclosure: that was me]. While Paris is full of historic monuments and museums, I can imagine some people (and especially children) saying something similar as they venture through Paris. Fortunately, there is a way to see the “city of lights” in a way that makes the journey much more interesting (and educational)……by doing a city hunt with Paris In Action.