Life in Provence is Different

A neighbor who feeds baguettes to the local donkeys? Another who wants you to taste his pig-snout salad? Folks who think Americans all wear cowboy hats and six-shooters?

Yes, life in Provence is different than California. I’m thrilled that a chapter of my new book Are We French Yet? has been featured in France Today. It tells these stories and more. You can read all about it here!

Congratulations to our Winner!

Congratulations to Marjorie from California, the winner of our “write a book review” contest! She wins the lovely Provence gift basket pictured below, which is on its way to her now. Marjorie’s name was chosen randomly from among the several dozen readers who entered.

A big thanks to all of you who have written reviews of Are We French Yet? I so very much appreciate your time and effort. And to those of you who are thinking about writing a review…there’s no gift basket but I’ll appreciate you just as much!

Bises,

Keith

The Four Queens of Provence

There have been many famous families in history. Take the Curies, for example: Marie Curie won two Nobel Prizes and her husband, daughter and grandson each won one. Quite the talented family! And then there are the Wright brothers and the Brontë sisters. And let’s not forget those comic masters, the Marx brothers.

But imagine a family where not one, not two, but four sisters become queens, each heading a great European power. It’s hard to believe, but it actually happened in the 13th century! It’s a tale of Pride and Prejudice meets Game of Thrones…

Read the whole story at The Good Life France!

Win a Basket of French Goodies–The Deadline is Almost Here!

Here’s a friendly reminder of my book review contest: I’m offering a prize for those of you who write reviews of my new book. 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 so you’d better hurry! 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!

Sex and Politics redux

The link I sent you in the article below didn’t work properly. Sorry for the technical difficulty! Here it is again with a link that should be just fine.

Sex and Politics…oh la la! I suppose you’ll find them together in any country, but in France they make for an especially entertaining mix.

I’ve had some funny experiences with politics in France that you can read about in the latest issue of The Good Life France Magazine. My story is on page 92 and is adapted from my new book Are We French Yet?

Sex and Politics in France

 

Sex and Politics…oh la la! I suppose you’ll find them together in any country, but in France they make for an especially entertaining mix.

I’ve had some funny experiences with politics in France that you can read about in the latest issue of The Good Life France Magazine. My story is on page 92 and is adapted from my new book Are We French Yet?

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!