Never Argue With Your French Teacher

My wife Val and I live in California but spend several months every year in St-Rémy-de-Provence. When we first started doing this some years ago, Val spoke basic French and I spoke next to none. So we each took classes in the US to improve our French and then, after a few years of this, started private lessons in Provence with a professor named Geneviève.

I was nervous about starting a weekly class of just Val and me. On the one hand, it would really help me improve because I’d get lots of attention from the professor. On the other hand, Val’s been studying the language a lot longer than me and all that attention would make abundantly clear how much better she is. But part of learning any language is accepting occasional (or in my case, frequent) humiliation so I’ve resigned myself to it.

The first time we had a class with Geneviève, she pulled a book off a shelf and asked us to each read a few paragraphs to test our pronunciation.

We failed.

I knew we were in trouble as soon as Val started. As she spoke, Geneviève began writing notes on a pad of paper. After a few sentences, she started grinning. Then she started giggling. When it was my turn she put down her pen and started laughing out loud and wiping her eyes.

You can read the rest of the story at Perfectly Provence. It is adapted from my new book Are We French Yet?

How to Make a Holiday Toast Around the World

Jill Barth is a well-known wine writer whose work has been featured in Decanter, Forbes, USA Today, and elsewhere. She recently wrote an article on wine-related holiday traditions around the world: Italy, France, Argentina, and elsewhere. She consulted experts about each country and I was thrilled that she contacted me as the French expert!

Here’s her fun article, just perfect for the holiday season.

 

My new book is out! Are We French Yet? is available at Amazon!

Christmas Traditions in Provence

Provence shares many Christmas traditions with the rest of France, like sapins de Noël (Christmas trees) and Pére Noël (Father Christmas.) But it also has some unique ones of its own.

One is the santons, those cute little figurines sold all over Provence. They depict characters from village life such as the baker, the fishwife and the scissor grinder. They are popular with tourists, kind of like Hummel figurines but with a French twist. And their origin goes back to the French Revolution.

Crèches (nativity scenes) had long been popular in France but were banned by the fiercely anti-clerical leaders of the Revolution. What to do? An artist from Marseille came up with a clever solution. He invented santons and turned the crèche into a “village scene,” using his little figurines in place of the usual Biblical characters. This passed muster with the anti-religious zealots, who somehow missed the fact that santon means “little saint,” and a new tradition was born.

Another Provencal Christmas specialty is le gros souper (the big dinner) eaten before midnight Mass on Christmas Eve. It is full of religious symbolism, like the three white tablecloths representing the holy trinity and the seven dishes representing Mary’s sorrows. It also requires a great deal of preparation, so fewer families today have this big dinner than in years past.

Perhaps the most famous Provence Christmas tradition is the treize (thirteen) desserts. Wait, thirteen? Yes!

These are eaten after midnight Mass, which means in the wee hours of Christmas—what a great way to start the day! Like the gros souper, the treize desserts are full of religious symbolism. Thirteen, for example, represents the number of people at the Last Supper.

Each family can decide what to serve but the desserts usually include fruits and nuts, candies and some sort of sweetened bread. My favorites are the two kinds of nougat, one white and one black, symbolizing good and evil.

Like the gros souper, fewer families prepare the treize desserts today than in the past but they maintain a loyal following. Some people just skip the dinner and the Mass and go straight to the desserts!

So at your Christmas dinner this year, when you are debating whether to have another slice of pie—go for it! Just tell your family that you are taking part in an ancient and noble French tradition.

 

My new book is out! Are We French Yet? is available at Amazon!

Win a Basket of French Goodies!

I have two bits of good news for you today. The first is that my new book, Are We French Yet? is now available in paperback. It’s the perfect Christmas gift for the France-lover in your life! You can find it here at Amazon.

The second good news is that I’m offering a prize for those of you who write reviews of Are We French Yet? Authors love reviews and the more the merrier. So I’d like to offer you an incentive to post a review on Amazon.

The rules are simple: just leave an Amazon review of Are We French Yet? and you are eligible to win! That’s it! Send me* a link to the review and your name will go into a drawing. The winner will get the basket pictured above, stuffed with French goodies like olive oil, tapenade, Provence herbs and more!

The deadline is January 31, 2019 and the drawing will be in early February. Sorry, the contest is only open to US residents.

* Please email me at author@keithvansickle.com

Enter soon for a chance to win!

My New Book Has Just Been Published!

I’m very excited to let you know that Are We French Yet? Keith & Val’s Adventures in Provence is now available! It’s the sequel to One Sip at a Timeand I’m thrilled to tell you about it.

Like One Sip at a Time, it’s the story of two part-time expats trying to create a life in France. And it takes a deeper (but still funny!) look at French people and their history, literature, politics, business, sports, and—of course—food and wine.

The Kindle version is available now and the paperback will be out in a few days. Here’s the link on Amazon.

I hope you like it!

Bises,

Keith

 

Can Two Americans Really Become French?

Val and Keith turned their lives upside down when they quit their jobs and began a part-time life in Provence. But they wondered: Can we fit in? And maybe become French ourselves?

Follow their adventures as they slowly unlock the mysteries of France…

– Is it true that French people are like coconuts?

– Can you learn to argue like a French person?

– What books have changed French lives?

– Most important of all, how do you keep your soup from exploding?

There’s more to becoming French than just learning the language. If you want the inside scoop on la belle France, you won’t want to miss this delightful book!

Book Review: The First Noël by Patricia Sands

Few writers capture the sights, sounds, smells and flavors of Provence as well as Patricia Sands. Best known for her best-selling Love in Provence series of books, Sands revisits some of her favorite characters in a new Christmas novella, The First Noël at the Villa des Violettes. Looking for a stocking stuffer for the Provence-lover in your life? Look no further!

You can read my review of Sands’ delightful new book at Perfectly Provence.

What Do the French Think of the United States Right Now?

President Trump will visit France this Friday, November 9, for a military celebration marking the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I. This will be his second visit to the country often called America’s oldest ally. Which makes it a good time to ask, what do the French think of America these days?

Find out at Frenchly!