Friday, February 8, 2019

Retour en PROVENCE

ARE WE FRENCH YET?  A Book Review 
Are We French Yet

After living demanding and fast-paced lives in Silicon Valley, taking on a less commanding pace of life living in Provence is a welcoming change but not without surprises and the challenges of diverging cultures and the language barrier for Keith and Val.  Take a trip to France with Keith Van Sickle Author's website and discover and experience the splendour of  French living through his travel memoir.

 Dresher Publishing
One Sip at a Time Keith Van SickleAre We French Yet BannerASIN: B07L6N3JK7
                    157 pages

Years ago,  Keith Van Sickle and his wife, Val had a chance to live abroad when  Keith  was  offered an expat assignment in Switzerland and during their stay they had a chance to travel all over Europe and they found that every country had a different language and culture and cuisine. When they returned to the Silicon Valley, they felt that life back home was akin to black and white while life abroad was in colour so they decided to become part-time expats splitting their time between two countries and they chose  Provence/ France as their second home. For a long time they were living two separate and different lives, the French and the American but gradually their two worlds started to collide and blend together bit by bit. Their adventures have proven to be most fulfilling as they forge new friendships and make significant progress in learning a new language, not just French language but Provençal patois. 

Keith is observant and informative in sharing his entire French experience and he muses about how neither he nor his wife has a talent for languages and the idea of speaking French is way beyond what he ever thought he could do. In  Are we French Yet the Van Sickle's French experience is portrayed to be positive   and their optimism is certainly infectious and inspiring.

 Keith and Val are indeed the lucky couple who live the best of both worlds, spending some months  in the centre of the dynamic and technology driven world and the other part of the year living the balance in French life and indulging in sipping wines at vineyards,  picnicking  with new found acquaintance amidst olive trees and rolling hills and playing pétangue. What started as a vague idea how they would do it, together Keith and Val have made it happen and together they courageously embrace twenty-six tenses of French verbs (not easy for someone in their 40s and 50s)  and together their hearts are in France and America. Last but not least, together  Keith and Val enrich their lives as a couple with new found friends and endless new surprises.
In Are we French Yet, Keith Van Sickle writes,
 ‘ In France, they say that the best wine, the very best , is a wine that you share with friends. It doesn’t matter what kind of grapes are in it , or the kind of grapes are in it, or the vintage, or the name of the label. It’s the act of drinking it with friends that make it great.
He also writes,
'.......but to really know Provence takes longer. It needs time to seep into you because Provence, like the best things in life, can’t be rushed.'

Besides liberally sharing his French education and knowledge on festivals such as  Fête de la Transhumance and history of France, Keith’s narrations are interjected with humour, insights and warmth. Are we French Yet is indeed an engaging and delightful read particularly if you are a Francophile like me. The book will kindle the sense of adventure in travellers who do not just want a vacation but to live like a local.

I thank Keith Van Sickle for answering the following interview questions. 

 1.  Mr Van Sickle, you are presently splitting your time between Silicon Valley and Provence. What was the turning point that made you decide that that this was really what you wanted to do?

My wife and I were once expats in Switzerland. It was a wonderful experience but over far too soon. After we returned to California we tried to find another expat gig but no luck, so one day we decided to invent our own! We quit our jobs (that was scary), became consultants for the flexibility, and started living part of the year in France. Oh, and we didn’t speak French at the time.

2.     How long did you normally plan for a sojourn in France ?
We start about six months ahead of time, finding a place to stay and buying airline tickets and organizing the car. Then not much happens until about two months before departure, when we begin working through our long checklist of things to do. We’ve been doing this for ten years and you’d think it would get easier but there’s always plenty to do!

3.     You started on St Rémy and after trying out different parts of Provence, you decided on St Rémy as your favourite. From your description of St Rémy, it is quaint and compact. Is St Rémy that different from the other towns like Avignon or Arles? What was it about St Rémy that made it stand out to you?
St-Rémy is just the perfect size for us, about 10,000 people. It’s big enough to have a nice variety of shops and cafés, but small enough that you can walk across it in ten minutes. It’s also right next to the Alpilles Mountains, which we enjoy for hiking and biking (slowly). Arles and Avignon are lovely towns but too big for us (50-100,000 people).

4.     Did you pitch the idea to a publisher  before you completed the travel  memoir?
A friend of mine, who is a successful author, advised me not to. He said that for an unknown like myself it was such a longshot that it would probably not be worth the time and effort. Because self-publishing is so easy today, he advised me to go that route. I’m glad I did because it’s worked out well and I have much more control that I would with a publisher.

5.     What was it like adapting to the lifestyle in France? What were the most challenging aspects?
I live in the so-called Silicon Valley in California, where everything is always gogogo nownownow. By contrast, Provence moves at the pace of the seasons rather than the speed of the Internet—it was easy to adapt to that! As for the most challenging aspect, it was definitely learning the language.

6.     How did you build a new social circle?
We decided that we wanted to make French friends in France, rather than connecting with the established English-speaking expat community. Not that we have anything against English-speakers, of course! But we wanted to really understand France and make French friends.
One way we’ve done it is through our language partners. These are people we’ve met who are trying to learn English. We get together for language exchanges—part of the time in English and part of the time in French. We’ve met some wonderful people this way and become friends with many of them.

7.     Did anything about the French culture surprise you?
One thing I’ve been very impressed with is how the French can disagree without being disagreeable. In the US, serious disagreements can easily become personal, rather than remaining at the level of ideas. Whereas in France, I’ve been in a number of discussions where people have had passionate disagreements and then moved on, still good friends. “Ok, we’ve discussed that, now who’s ready for dessert?” that sort of thing.

8.     Have you always been interested in European history ?
Yes! I had the good fortune to study in England for a term during college and took some fascinating classes on European history. I was hooked!

9.     Food is obviously a big thing in France. Do you divide your time fairly between eating out and dining at home?
We usually have breakfast and dinner at home and lunch out, because we are usually out and about during the day. Often our lunch is a picnic in the wild and beautiful Provencal countryside. Three years ago I learned that I have celiac disease (severe gluten intolerance), which makes restaurant dining more challenging, but we’ve found ways to deal with it.

10.  Can you share any anecdotes about misunderstandings caused by language barrier ?
We’ve made the classic mistake of mentioning preservatives in food (oops--“préservatif” means condom). And I once served our guests a goat cheese with edible ash on it. Not knowing the French word for ash I faked it and assumed it was the same as in English. Not so! Announcing “Chevre avec ash” was actually saying “Goat cheese with marijuana.” The children were shocked and their parents were not amused.

11.  Regardless of where an individual come from, all humans have the same fears and insecurities, do you agree?
We are certainly affected by the circumstances in which we live—a child in Syria has very different fears than a child in Beverly Hills. But at the end of the day, I agree that people are people.

(Note : I received a copy of the title from the author for purpose of writing a review. I was not compensated for this review: all conclusions are my own.)
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  1. Thanks for your nice review and for the fascinating interview

    1. Thanks Emma. Are We French Yet is such a delightful read.