Vive La Différence!

If it’s Friday, it must be France …

It’s a pleasure to welcome Anne-Marie Simons to this spot today. She and her husband, Oscar, left Washington, DC, in 1998 in search of the perfect place to retire. They settled in beautiful Aix-En-Provence and are living my dream.

7. hiking picture w. rainbow copy

Anne-Marie is a vibrant and energetic woman and no wonder! Her resumé includes positions as a19. Ephrussi gardens Cap Ferrat copy translator, teacher, journalist, sportswriter (covering Formula 1 races), and director of corporate communications. Today she blogs at PROVENCE TODAY where she keeps her readers up to date on the latest happenings in France. Drop in to visit and mention I sent you. And Oscar? Oo-la-la … after a career in international development banking, Oscar has become an expert on Provençal cooking!

They are perfect examples of how it’s never too late to do something different: true possibilitarians ~ which you know is one of my favourite words!

Anne-Marie has written a delightful book of vignettes of life in France ~ TAKING ROOT IN PROVENCE. Reading this book is great way to take your time and be immersed in the lifestyle, customs and quirks of living in France. Here is an excerpt from the chapter Vive La Différence.

Book cover smallAnne-Marie said, “I thought this might be a good choice, not because it is so revealing but because it concerns little everyday differences in such areas as grooming, eating, and a certain view of the world.”

The interest in the body, for instance – particularly by women – is different here than elsewhere. You try to make it look as good as you can, maintain it by putting healthy food into it, and show it off proudly and seductively. It is a subtle game of drawing attention to it and pretending not to care; a certain well rehearsed nonchalance.

Seducing by your appearance, your cooking prowess, your intelligence, your sexiness is the overriding mission of the Frenchwoman that starts young and never ends. Common sense and practicality be damned if it does not look good, and a stressed-out Parisienne rushing to work would rather risk breaking a leg on her high heels than use those awful “American” running shoes. There are more hairdressers and nail salons here than I ever saw elsewhere and they are all doing well. And whenever the hard-working Frenchwoman has some breathing space she is likely to go to a spa for a session of aqua-gym, a massage, a facial, waxing, or nail care for that never-ending maintenance. The fad of anti-aging products, or lotions and creams that promise a flat stomach and a tight butt – they believe in it and buy it. Hope springs eternal, and the job is never done.

So much for the outside, but the inside is not forgotten – especially that most important organ of all: the stomach.

3. market copyCooking and enjoying food is placed above literacy (alright, not quite) and if you live here it is essential that you share that interest. I take a gym class twice a week and all we ever talk about is food and recipes. Oscar goes to the market every day where he picks up not only fresh foods but also cooking tips and recipes, and listens to long discussions about the regional differences of certain dishes. There is not a single meal with friends where we don’t talk about food, and with the same passion as Americans might reserve for baseball or football. Eating here is a sensuous activity which is meant to give pleasure rather than mere nourishment, and people spend vast amounts of time in preparing, testing, eating and discussing food.

Another great pastime in France is debating. No matter what the subject or who does the talking, everyone argues, questions, reasons and protests, from the intellectual to the laborer; and this happens in the street, on radio and on television where most debates end in a cacophony of voices where everyone talks at the same time and nobody listens. Rien de méchant; it’s just the way they are and if you think differently it must be because you are a foreigner and the French know they are superior. Ha-ha.

So what does it mean to us who settled here 15 years ago? We don’t notice the differences anymore us & old chapell copyand have become part of the local fabric by speaking the language and doing as they do – and doing just fine, thank you. So they have weird shopping hours and in summertime close from 12 to 4PM? We too like a siesta, either at home or in the movies. The streets in Aix are dirty with dog poop and discarded sandwich wrappers? Bitch about it but don’t expect it to change. The world will keep on turning. Life’s too short and there is still so much wine to be tried. There is plenty to enjoy: the climate, the lifestyle, the markets, the relaxed pace, the in-town movie theaters and bookshops, and the many cultural events throughout the year − both high (opera) and low (chickpea festival) culture. And of course the great natural beauty of Provence. But you knew that all along, didn’t you? 

Do you have plans to live somewhere different one day or are you already living in the place of your dreams? Is there something new you would like to try when retirement beckons? I know this time of life seems a long way off for many of you, but for others of us the time is now. Dream on! 

Excerpts from Taking Root in Provence often can be found on the fabulous Bonjour Paris website where I love to spend time reading and dreaming. In fact I have a post there today about a village I often visit when I’m in the neighbourhood. Pop on over and visit with me!

Bon weekend tout le monde!

Published by patriciasands

Patricia Sands lives in Toronto, Canada when she isn't somewhere else, particularly the south of France. With a happily blended family of seven adult children and, at last count, six grandchildren, life is full and time is short. Beginning with her first Kodak Brownie camera at the age of six, she has told stories all of her life through photography. Much to her surprise a few years ago, she began to write and has now published three novels, including two that are part of a six-book series set in the south of France. Love France? Love her work! Check out her website She is particularly drawn to the rewarding friendships of women and the challenges many embrace once their families are grown. "It's never too late to begin something new," she enthuses. "As the saying goes, just do it!"

28 thoughts on “Vive La Différence!

  1. What a lovely homage to the French. I love the part about them debating… that would drive me nuts at first, but I imagine after a time you get used to it. Like the dirty streets in Aix. Provence is on my short list of places I’d like to retire. Southeast England as well. Thank you for the lovely stroll through France today, Anne-Marie.

    1. Yes, Tameri, the endless debates do make you want to say “Enough Already” but you do get used to it. It’s a French thing, perhaps because Philosophy is a subject taught in high school. And do philosophical discussions ever come to an end? Your two preferred places for retirement both sound good – no debate about that! A-M

    1. The discovery of the differences is half the journey; accepting them is easy if you have an open mind. What’s “different” is not always better but if in the final tally the “better’s” outweigh the “less good’s” your choice is made and the differences fade away. It’s the start of your new life, and likely to be a happy one because it is one of your own choosing.

  2. I am so jealous! I hope to be like them when they retire. What a beautiful place to spend their lives. They accept the differences and adapted to them easily. They know how to live!

    1. Hi filbio! Don’t be jealous; come on over and do the same. Enjoy what you have today and take your time to dream and read about France. If you still feel the same at retirement you may want to give Provence a try; if not, it’s that you have changed your mind and found something better. Win-Win!

  3. Thanks for sharing this picture of France. I’m lucky enough already to have a place in France. I don’t think my husband and I will “retire” there, though, because we’re not the retiring kind. And I don’t believe in waiting to fulfill dreams because you may not get that chance. That’s why my husband and I jumped on our French apartment when the stars fell into alignment last summer.

  4. Yes, for foodies and culture junkies, this is a good place to be, retirement or before!

    I don’t think my life will change too much pre or post retirement, maybe more time near the sea later on though I hope 🙂 And maybe I will read a little more in French!

  5. I loved reading this. Yes, I agree with so much of it. Talking about food, exchanging recipes and cooking tips is part of life. You can’t go on a country walk with friends, go off to the market, or anything really without food being centre stage for much of the time. Debate too is central to conversation here. But in our corner of the Ariege, I simply don’t recognise that picture of an elegant Frenchwoman. Whether young or old, few people do elegant, sexy, or interested in clothes. Clothing tends to be serviceable, and since I got here, I’ve rarely shopped for things to wear. I wouldn’t fit in if I turned up to places looking coolly fashionable. My gym class is full of women in baggy T shirts, ancient leggings and those universal ‘baskets’. I think it’s about time I bought one of those printed overalls worn by elderly French women here. Then I’d really fit in. As I do already really. One of the pleasures of retirement is not having to bother too much about what to wear. But we’re not hicks, despite all this. Plenty of concerts, films, debate, and things to occupy the mind, as well as the inevitable vide greniers and village fetes. A good place to be.

  6. We love travelling in our motorhome and hope to retire in one in about 15 years’ time. France is a great favourite, as we spend most of our holidays travelling there because it is very ‘camping car’ friendly, but, as I am Spanish, I expect we’ll also spend the harsher winter months somewhere in the south of Spain.

    I love the word ‘Possibilitarians’. I think I’m going to start using it from now on. 🙂

  7. My husband and I are thinking of retiring to Spain. We have already looked at property on the Costa Blanca. It is great to hear of someone who has done something similar.

    1. Isn’t t it exciting, Darlene, to plan a new phase? You’ll learn so much: new culture, language, food. And in the process you’ll acquire new friends and, seeing the place you have chosen, a great tan! 😉

  8. Anne-Marie, I have been away for a few days without wifi! It’s a pleasure to have you visiting here. As I was reading your post it occurred to me that many of us are redefining the word “retirement”. I think it simply means moving on from one active phase of life into another … slowing down really doesn’t seem to enter into it, does it? You and Oscar are perfect examples of embracing change at any age and exploring the possibilities out there for all of us. You are true Possibilitarians!

    1. Welcome back, Patricia! And thanks for your warm welcome. You are absolutely right in saying that “retirement” does not have to mean slowing down. In fact, the contrary is often true because we now get to do all those things we didn’t have time for before. Whether it is in our old home environment or in a new chancier one, we now CHOOSE our activities; and if that includes sniffing around new places and liking them enough to stay, you are following in our footsteps. I have a feeling that you would have no difficulty in doing the same! 😉

  9. I hadn’t thought about moving someplace other than California, until living in London. When I was there I traveled a great deal as I was so close to that side of the world. I still wanted to come back home, until, I discovered Spain. It’s where my heart is. So yes, I do think about being somewhere else, however, California, for all it’s foibles, isn’t half bad.

    1. California isn’t half bad, indeed. I spent 14 years there (mostly San Francisco) and might still be there if an accident of life (divorce) had not made me move on. Little did I expect to leave something good for something better. You just never know, do you? I think the key thing is an open mind – and a bit of luck helps.

  10. My favourite place to move to would be England followed closely by France. In my old age I’ve decided to stay home in Australia though and have made my first CD…with a couple of verses in French in ‘Autumn Leaves’. That’s probably as close as I’ll get to France in the near future! I finally figured out how to add ‘Summertime’ to my blog if you’d like to have a listen. Thanks for sharing Anne-Marie’s book with us…it makes wonderful reading.

    1. Bravo “Brissiemaz”! I just listened to your Summertime and love your voice. I think you should stay right where you are and make more CD’s. Traveling is only one of the pleasures in life – and you can do that vicariously through books and movies. But singing is a passion you should indulge NOW, for yourself and for others. And once the voice goes, you can still hit the road…
      I am delighted that you liked my book. MERCI !

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