Living the dream in Provence

If it’s Friday, it must be France …

This photo is one I took from the top of the hill in the beautiful village of Bonnieux. There’s something about that patchwork quilt landscape that inspires one story after another.

Today I’m happy to bring you a visit with Keith and Val Van Sickle who are living the dream of spending part of each year in Provence.

Keith has written a delightful book of humorous vignettes about the daily life he and Val have experienced ~  One Sip at a Time ~ Learning to Live in Provence

PS ~ You live your life between California and Provence.  How did you make this decision?

KVS ~ My wife Val and I once had the wild good luck to be expatriates in Switzerland.  It changed our lives!  We traveled all over Europe on the weekends, trusty dog in tow, and discovered that life is a lot different over there.  For one thing, people don’t work all the time and are not constantly busy. There’s this thing called joie de vivre and it’s real—instead of constantly working, you spend more time with friends and family, especially over long meals.

Once our time in Switzerland was up, we dreamed of living in Europe again.  We searched for other expat gigs but couldn’t find any.  Finally about ten years ago we decided that hey, life is short, let’s figure something out!  And we invented our own expat gig.  We quit our jobs (that was scary!), became consultants to give us flexibility, and began living several months a year in Provence.  Oh, and we didn’t speak French.

PS ~ Excusez-moi! You moved to France without speaking French?  How did you overcome that rather large challenge?

Well, Val could speak a little and I could order at a restaurant.  But that was about it.

The thing that really helped us was finding language partners.  This is someone who is learning your language while you are learning theirs.  You get together regularly and speak in one language and then the other, patiently listening and correcting each other.

I still make mistakes but I don’t worry about it.  I can hold a conversation and that’s what it’s all about, isn’t it—communicating?

But here’s what you have to watch out for…

There are many words that are the same in French and English, like nation, pause, and danger.  If I don’t know a word in French, sometimes I will just fake it by using the English word with a French accent.  It works most of the time but you have to be careful, because some words exist in both languages and have entirely different meanings.  These are the infamous faux amis, or “false friends.”  Ask Val about the time she shocked some friends by talking about preservatives in food.  Oops, preservative means “condom.”

PS ~ With your sense of humour and personality, I ‘m sure you’ve made many friends in France. How would describe those friendships?

KVS ~ Yes!  The French have a reputation for being standoffish, especially with English-speakers, but we haven’t found that at all.  We have lots of good friends in France and they are incredibly warm and generous.  We have vacationed together in France and they have stayed with us in California.  Our French friends enrich our lives.

When we moved to Provence we made a real effort to meet people.  We would make the first move by inviting them for coffee or by giving them a little gift from California—kitchen towels with the Golden Gate Bridge on them were a big hit.  It’s not easy to “put yourself out there,” especially when you don’t speak the language well.  So Val and I embarrassed ourselves plenty of times but what the heck? We have found that most people really appreciate the effort and respond in kind.

Luckily, Val and I love food and wine and there’s nothing nearer to French hearts.  Many of our friendships have been built over looooong meals that were bien arrosé (“well watered.”)

PS ~ I know you have settled in one of my favourite towns and can well understand why you chose it. 

KVS ~ We fell in love with Provence when we lived in Switzerland.  It has beautiful scenery, charming hilltop villages, fascinating Roman history, delicious food and wine—what’s not to love?  And all within a small area!

After exploring different towns in Provence we’ve finally settled on St.-Rémy-de-Provence.  It’s next to the Alpilles, the low mountain range where we like to (very slowly) bike around.

When did you feel inspired to share your vignettes in a book?  Have you always been a writer?

I’ve only come to writing recently, having spent my career in the high-tech industry.  My last company had a product so geeky I’m still not sure what it did.

My book started with a travel blog I kept for friends and family.  I would turn our many faux pas into funny stories—it’s always better to laugh at your mistakes, isn’t it?  My friends encouraged me to turn those stories into a book and I finally decided, what the heck—life is an adventure!

Writing has been a lot of fun and I’m now a regular contributor to Perfectly Provence, The Good Life France, Frenchly and other publications for those of us who love France.

This field of poppies says “Provence” to me.

It’s been a pleasure to chat with you here, Keith. I can feel your humour and joie de vivre resonating through all your answers! I wish you and Val a lifetime of happy years living a dream that many readers share with you. 

Click right here to purchase Keith’s book.

Follow along on this lovely adventure and find all social media links at Keith’s website.

Here’s Keith’s Facebook link too!

About Patricia Sands

Family, writing and travel are my passions … okay, and chocolate … and I’m seldom without a camera. I write women’s fiction and keep in touch with readers by a monthly newsletter that also has giveaways and contests. Come and join us by signing up on the right. See you there!

Comments

  1. What a great story! Keith and Val know how to live… I also remember how people kept telling us about the standoffish French. I can also add it’s not true. We had similar experiences, always. Thanks for the interview. I”ll get the book now!

    • Patricia Sands says:

      Martha, I couldn’t agree more. Keith and Val have established a lovely routine! And yes … French people are delightful company!

  2. Wendy Sebbens. says:

    Just love your photo with the fields of lavendar, it just looks like a patch work quilt.
    Also the field of poppies taken but Keith, it looks amazing and very similar to the area around Gordes in Provence. How fortunate to be enjoying life in this beautiful part of the world. I love where I live too but, it is nice to dream.

    I might be tempted to read the book!

    • Patricia Sands says:

      Wendy, the view from that hilltop changes dramatically with the seasons and is always beautiful. Dream on!

  3. Just popping in to say THANK YOU for bringing these lovely stories and vistas to my inbox on Fridays, Patricia!

    • Patricia Sands says:

      Debra Eve, how lovely to see you here! I don’t manage to ‘hit’ every Friday these days, but I’m so pleased you enjoy them when they happen! And thank you for all the engaging posts you share on your blog. I don’t manage to comment often, but am always popping by.

  4. The same reason we love living in Spain. There is always time for a relaxing coffee or meal with friends. Such a different lifestyle to the rush of North American life. A great interview.

  5. Great interview. I met up with Keith and Val in St. Remy when the Fete de la Transhumance was taking place. They are a lovely couple and really have worked hard to immerse themselves in the culture and community.

    • Patricia Sands says:

      Thanks, Janice. It must have been great fun to spend time with Keith and Val. I hope to do the same one day.

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