Greetings dear readers and friends! Well, it’s turning into a season of book giveaways and I couldn’t be happier. Especially having just zipped through the altogether charming, and downright hilarious, book: One Sip at a Time: Learning to Live in Provence.
Keith Van Sickle, who makes his home-base in Silicon Valley, California, takes us on a grand adventure when, with his wife Val, he packs his bags for an extended-stay in Provence. Granted, this dream was a long-time in the making, as both experienced a 5-year expat stint in Switzerland where they were surrounded by French speakers and immersed in European culture.
Bitten by the transatlantic bug, but a bit shaky in terms of French skills (Val being the more proficient of the two), they decide to rent a house outside the hilltop village of Ventabren, near Aix-en-Provence. And let me just say, I was incredibly impressed with their ability to adapt and make friends (French friends!) given the language hurdles they had to overcome and the larger-than-life cultural differences they encountered on a daily basis.
And this is really what makes the book so fun. Instead of dwelling on the “faux pas” and cultural missteps he encounters, Keith turns them around and pokes fun at himself (and the French) by using lighthearted and very witty anecdotes throughout the book.
Often, I found myself laughing out loud. I think I’ve had a good 80% or so of the same experiences while living in France. Like when Keith describes French drivers. Oh my goodness, literally “hold onto your seatbelts” because, as he so correctly states,
“The French like to drive way too fast. No matter what road you are on or how fast you are driving, you can be sure that a French driver will be tailgating you. I think it is required by law. You could be setting a new land speed record at the Bonneville Salt Flats and if you looked in your rearview mirror you would see a French driver just inches from your tailpipe”.
Ha ha! So spot on and sums up my driving experience pretty perfectly.
In another chapter entitled, Lunch all Afternoon, Keith and Val invite their new French friends, Jean-Claude and Dominique, to their home for lunch. Well, technically it starts as a lunch, but as the hosts are quick to discover, a French lunch can last the better part of a day. “Our guests showed up at noon and stayed until…almost dinnertime”. Of course, as Keith writes, the three bottles of wine consumed did a lot in the way of helping the day progress, but still, the duration of a French meal can be quite surprising. Not to mention that the whole affair takes place in another language!
And this is one of the first times that Keith realizes that they are passing from “superficial” relationships to making real friends in their new home. Plus, Keith is making major strides in the French language – thanks to language-exchanges and making a concentrated effort to put himself in “uncomfortable” situations where he’s forced to practice his skills. I really applaud Keith’s (and Val’s) efforts as it takes great courage, and a willingness to laugh at yourself, to become a decent French-speaker. And when this happens, a whole other, deeper world opens up to you.
And what a world indeed! Keith and Val share one unforgettable memory after another as they experience some of the best of living in the South of France – including many more long lunches, a birthday meal at a Michelin-star ranked restaurant in Arles, a boat tour of the famous Calanques in Cassis, and simple, everyday situations (do men really kiss other men to say hello?) that make for thoroughly amusing tales of life in Provence.
I have to say, I really loved this book. Bravo to the author and his wife!
If you’d like to enter to win a copy of One Sip at a Time: Learning to Live in Provence please leave a comment below telling us what kind of travel books you like to read.
(I like ones that take me to faraway places that I hope to visit someday – love seeing the country through the author’s eyes before I travel.)
A winner will be chosen at random on Tuesday, April 11th (12pm Eastern Standard Time) using random.org.
Please visit Keith Van Sickle’s website if you’re interested in learning more / purchasing One Sip at a Time: