Keith Van Sickle, a part-time life in France
American born author Keith Van Sickle first visited France, and more especially Provence, almost 30 years ago.
As he and his wife described this early France encounter, “ it was love at first sight ” !
But it was not until 2008 that the couple decided to make the final step : to start living a part-time French life, “ between Provence and California ” .
Hello Keith and, first of all, thank you so much to be part of UzEssentiel in English.
How did the idea to travel, then to live your part-time life in France, come to you ? That’s such a giant step from life in California, isn’t it ?
I have always loved to travel. I studied in England for a term during college, and I backpacked around the world as a young adult. Then about 30 years ago my wife and I had the opportunity to live and work in Switzerland. Those five years changed our lives ! We travelled all over Europe and really came to appreciate la joie de vivre.
When our expat assignment was over and we returned to California, we found that we really missed Europe. We tried to find another expat gig but with no success, so we decided to invent our own. We quit our jobs (scary !) and became consultants so we would have more flexibility in our work lives. Then we began living part of the year in France and working with our clients from there.
While we had loved Switzerland, it is very expensive when you no longer have a Swiss salary ! And we had visited Provence many times because we enjoyed it so much. So, we chose that as our location, finally settling in St-Rémy-de-Provence after trying different towns during our first few stays.
What captivated you the most in the French life ? Did you move as a couple or with part of your family ?
It is just Val and me, and our trusty dog Mica.
We appreciate the pace of French life, especially in the south. I like to say that Provence moves at the pace of the seasons, rather than the speed of the internet (we live in California’s Silicon Valley, which is a go go go place.) People in France really take pleasure in small things, whether it’s a meal with friends or a walk in nature.
What are the first souvenir you have of Provence, the region you chose to live in ? What conquered you the most ?
Our first trip here together was in 1994, when we lived in Switzerland. I remember being captivated by the open-air markets, with all their wonderful tastes and smells. And the scent of garrigue in the countryside. And oh, the food and wine is so good here !
How did you manage your professional life between France and the US ?
We are retired now, but when we were working, we tried to do more work when we were in the US and less when in France—something we could manage as consultants that would be harder if working for a company. We made sure to have good internet connections and sometimes had to have phone calls at odd hours to accommodate the time difference. It was a bother but completely worth it for the opportunity to live in Provence !
Did you know French before, or did you have to learn it on the fly ? That’s true that there is no better way to learn a language than by living in the country… That’s hard work but, at the end, you do meet the objective.
Val spoke a little French when we started but I was basically worthless, which led to some awkward moments like the time I got into someone else’s car by mistake and couldn’t explain myself. But after much study we are now conversational.
One key was our language partners, French people who were trying to learn English. We would spend time speaking one language and then the other, each person patient and encouraging to the other. Many of our language partners have become our friends and we love spending time with them.
For my part, I first discovered your work by the books you published : One sip at a time (2017) and Are we French yet? (2018).
Have you been writing before ? How did the ideas of those books came to you ? Do your French friends help you to find the best subjects you are writing on ?
I keep a travel blog so friends and family in the US can follow our adventures. Given my many foolish mistakes in Provence, the blog includes a lot of funny stories. My friends encouraged me to use them as the basis for a book and I ended up writing two.
You have then published late 2021 An Insider's Guide to Provence, where “ you share your favorite things to see and do, both the well-known and the insider secrets”, soon followed in March 2022 by a more precise touristic guide An Insider's Guide to St-Rémy-de-Provence and the Surrounding Area, presented as “ the guide that will help you make the most of this glorious corner of France ”… How do you prepare your books ? Being kind of a writer myself, I know this could take some time and that, among others things, rereading is one of the most important parts…
I write articles about Provence and France for publications like France Today, Perfectly Provence, and The Good Life France. These articles formed the basis of the guidebooks, and I agree that checking for errors is a big part of the job !
Apart from writing, and taking care of your website Life in Provence, do you have another “ main ” occupation, any other professional activities, such as conferences, workshops, journalism ?
My writing, between the articles and the books, takes up a fair amount of time. I’m also active in charitable work, like the college scholarship foundation my wife and I started in honor of my parents, who were both educators.
Do you have any other project of books on the way ?
Not at the moment, but I’m sure I’ll be inspired again one of these days. I never saw myself writing one book, much less four, but life has a way of surprising you. In the meantime, I’ll keep writing articles about this wonderful country, France.
Thanks a lot to Keith Van Sickle for his collaboration with this article.