Expat Living in France
Here are just a few anecdotes from the last month of my life in France as I try to navigate where I come from and where I live now. I love living in France, but sometimes you’ll have to allow me a little rant.
Before I discovered food, my first love was black and white portraiture. When I was 18, I spent a dreamy year living in Florence, Italy. Fresh out of high school, I applied to a small studio called The Florence School of Arts. I arrived with a large suitcase and little idea of where I’d be living, what my classes would be or even how many other students there were.
First to arrive, I wrestled with the medieval key to the apartment and though exhausted, set out to explore the streets of Florence. I found a pizzeria and ordered an entire pizza. I picked one at random, not being able to read the Italian menu. An aubergine covered pizza was placed in front of me, dripping in olive oil. I slowly ate the entire pizza, alone in that pizzeria watching the elegant Florentines on the streets. At first, I was confused by the distinct taste of the pizza. Then, I succumbed to it’s delicious perfection. After that, I could never fully appreciate an American style pizza ever again.
When I got back to the apartment, the other students had arrived. There were only three. Canadian, Irish, Filippino and Belgian (via Sierra Leone) we were certainly an international group. It was the start of a year of history classes that took place in the streets or in museums, fending off persistent Italian men, discovering just how good pasta can be, and a lot of art making. It was wonderful.
It seems my love of markets has always been there, as I spent most of my time wandering them with a small camera. I asked all of these obliging subjects if I could take their photo before I did so. It’s only polite. I asked in Italian. Some days, I would set out to take portraits and approaching each person I would try and work up the courage to ask. It often occurred that I returned back to the apartment on the Arno without having taken a single frame.
Early in my discovery of photography, these portraits have a candid nature that I would find difficult to achieve today. They’re imperfect and I think, better for it. The were taken with film. The negatives were scanned so that I can share them with you here.
Obviously, I found it easier to approach men. Those Italian boys… how could you not love them?
It’s been 2 years since I’ve launched Curious Provence!
A blog takes a lot of love but reading your comments and emails I must say that it’s worth it. Thank you for your support!
I’ve been wanting to address something for a while. There’s something you may not know about me. I’m terrible at lying. I would even venture to say that I just can’t do it. This is a virtue, though, as you can imagine, has gotten me into trouble. With age, I’m learning that lying can be beneficial. Especially for employers and the elderly. Kindness and lying sometimes go hand in hand. Anyways, I digress…
What I wanted to say is that I promise that you won’t find me promoting a product or activity on my site, or Instagram, that I don’t think is worth it. I get a lot of companies asking me to advertise their products without even testing them. I find this fundamentally wrong and quite frankly, unfathomable. Thankfully, in Provence, there are so many people that take their craft, no matter if it’s wine or woodworking, very seriously.
When it comes to restaurants; I just don’t recommend the ones where I’ve had bad experiences. Eating out is soo subjective. I need to eat somewhere a couple times at least until I decide. Anything you wanted me to do a review on?
There’s a theory with immigrants I’ve noticed. I wish I had known it before, though it may not have improved my patience. Apparently, once you’ve been in a new country for three years, it’s only then that you start to settle and find your place. I must say, it’s true.
It hasn’t been easy.
However, now that I’m reading French books (it seems I somehow got by without reading them in French class at school?) and I’m starting to make real friends, life is finally starting to make more sense.
Last Saturday Robin and I took a guided tour of Aix en Provence with Frédéric Paul.
A rising television star and truly passionate about history, Frédéric aims to share insights into the history of his native Provence. From Toulon, he’s a local on a mission hoping to spread appreciation for the little stories that make cities come alive.
Through Le Visible est Invisible (the visible is invisible), Frédéric explains the history of curious public art in the city as well as architectural details. I love this type of thing. I find that in cities like Aix en Provence, or perhaps any city with a lot of history, one can wander the streets and find all kinds of curious details. Remember to look up!
Frédéric offers 2 tours a week leaving from the tourist office in Aix en Provence. You can buy tickets directly from the Tourism office. You have a choice of three different types of tours including The Hidden Details of the Old Town, Aix off the Beaten Track, Aix Antique as well as the Historic Figures of Aix en Provence. These tours cost only 9 euros.
Otherwise, Frédéric also offers private tours that are very flexible. He can pick you up from your hotel and you can cover any type of history about Aix, Marseille or Toulon that interests you. His only requirement is that the tour takes at least two hours in order to do justice to the city. This costs 150€.
It’s a wonderful way to spend an afternoon. When on a tour, the ambling pace forces you to really take notice of the many fountains of Aix that seem to appear in every corner. It’s the perfect dose of history combined with an appreciation for architecture and art.
Frédéric has worked in many sectors but has seemed to find the good life in being a tour guide. His days are spent sharing his passion and wandering around a beautiful town. How could life be bad?!
I was interviewed last year by Adam Rozenhart, who hosts The Expats podcast, where he informally interviews Canadian citizens that have moved abroad.
Why would one do such a thing? Listen to my (perhaps embarrassingly giggly) interview and find out:
It’s amazing to find how much our situation changes here in France. We’re becoming more and more settled. I don’t think I could imagine moving back now.
Wondering what I do when I feel homesick? I take pride in my Canadian-ness and jive to this video:
I found this crumpled piece of paper in a pile of forgotten souvenirs under the bed the other day. I was compelled to go through the papers as my cat had a mad moment ripping and jumping and generally making an ecstatic mess.
I think I’m still scarred from childhood attempts to pronounce English tongue twisters. Remember the old “she sells seashells by the seashore?” My British father was constantly coming out with random limericks and elaborate tongue twisters.
My French accent is pretty good, I must admit. My problem is that my sentence structure and verb conjugations are far from perfect. Some French people think I’m French if we’re having a basic conversation about what I’m doing in this part of the world etc. As soon as it comes to telling a story, oh my.
Un chasseur sachant chasser chasse sans son chien.
A hunter who knows how to hunt hunts without his dog.
Les chaussettes de l’archiduchesse, sont-elles sèches ? Archi-sèches.
The archduchesses socks: are they dry? Very dry.
Ces six saucissons-secs-ci sont si secs qu’on ne sait si s’en sont.
These six dried sausages are so dry that we don’t know if they are (dried sausages).
This one is hard, the “oie” sound is tricky in French:
Où niche la pie? La pie niche haut.
Où niche l’oie? L’oie niche bas.
Où niche l’hibou? L’hibou niche ni haut ni bas !
French tongue twisters can be great for understanding verb conjugaisons:
Un pâtissier qui pâtissait chez un tapissier qui tapissait, dit un jour au tapissier qui tapissait: vaut-il mieux pâtisser chez un tapissier qui tapisse ou tapisser chez un pâtissier qui pâtisse?
Do you have a favorite tongue twister in either English or French?
Curious Provence offers free trials of lessons with Frantastique to improve your French.
Sisters Sonia and Linda have created a different type of salon that caters to events such as weddings, and soon bachelorette parties. The salons are private, off the main street, so that you feel as if you’re receiving a personal experience with each visit. Service is available in English.
Events Story specializes in threading as well as Lebanese style make-up. My idea of applying make-up is adding shaky eyeliner, a brush of mascara and if I’m feling wild, a little red lipstick. When Sonia offered to do my makeup as well as my eyebrows, I knew this was to be an adventure for me.
First, I was treated to a wonderful facial using Dermalogica products. I’ve been using my beloved Yonka face care since I was 16. I must admit that I’m honestly considering switching to Dermalogica after that facial.
After failing to convince the salon girls, all unfairly beautiful in figure hugging dresses and heels, that my eyebrows couldn’t possible be thick enough for threading, I leaned back in my chair and acquisced. A minute later, with no pain, I had for the first time a shape to my eyebrows.
If you haven’t tried threading I would, now, highly recommend it. It’s quick, effective and doesn’t damage the skin like waxing.
Normally a red kind of girl, rather than pink, I found that I looked like an entirely different person after I had my make-up done. It’s amazing what you can do with makeup. If you’ve seen any beauty bloggers on Youtube then you know what I’m talking about. I like this video:
Another unique service provided by Events Story is the option to have a photo shoot after your beauty treatments. These photos of me were taken quickly by the owner. What I’m talking about is a full photo shoot in a studio with a professional photographer. Fun! I think I would need some bubbly beforehand to loosen me up a little. Many models in Marseille have used Events Story to create their portfolios.
You may wonder why there haven’t been many posts on CuriousProvenc recently. Well, I’ve been busy photographing couples in the villages of Provence.
Vacation photography, with sites like Flytographer, is growing in popularity. Couples are not only getting married in gorgeous environments but they’re having their vacations documented too. It’s a great souvenir. I’ve even had someone approach me about catching the moment his girl says “I do!” in Provence. Talk about pressure.
Unfortunately, these are winter photo shoots. I can’t wait to take some more photos during the warmer months. Summer dresses! Then again, I think the Frenchies will still wear black. This was the wardrobe I got when I told them NOT to wear black.
The french will be french. One thing that’s nice, is that they aren’t shy about physical affection. If you hire me to take your photos, you better be ready to show some love.
Two of these couples are Anglo-French mixes.
If you don’t consider yourself a romantic, scroll no further. If so, enjoy these examples of Provence vacation photography.
Merci à tous les couples qui ont participé!
Feel free to contact me for photo shoots in the area. I make sure they’re fun and easy!
For more of my professional photography:
I can’t speak for the entirety of France but if you’re looking for expats in Provence here are a few suggestions.
When I first moved to France I had it in my head that I would only meet French people. I soon learned that in the countryside, meeting any people was a bit tricky. Throw into the equation a lack of funds and a lack of confidence in my French skills… Let’s just say I didn’t make many friends during my first couple years here!
People in Southern France are known to be more closed that people from the North. I’ve known of even French people who move here from other areas and have trouble. Small villages can be the trickiest. Where everyone has grown up together, they’re not jumping to make new friends unless they have a particular interest in speaking English.
After two years, I accepted the fact that I need to do some serious reaching out to other expats. People that have moved here from abroad will automatically have common ground with you. They will often lead to French friends and tips on where in your area to seek friends.