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.
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!
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.
Follow along on this lovely adventure and find all social media links at Keith’s website.
Here’s Keith’s Facebook link too!