How to live a simpler life? Slower? More Zen-like? In a place with good food and wine and lots of sunshine? We came up with an answer:

We moved to a French village, my prince and I.

Our Village

It has an ancient church, a ruin of a castle, a small grocery store, a post office, a bar/coffee shop and a couple of wineries. All that’s necessary for a simple, relaxing life.

So we decided to do some renovation to “refresh” (rafraichir) our small house. Break out a little wall, put in a new shower, some new tiles, a new floor. You know how it goes.

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What were we thinking?

The pounding, the hammering, the sawing, the noise! Where was the peace? The quiet? The house was covered in dust. We had a rotten wall, mystery wires, dead switches. The work! Fortunately we had help.

When that job was finished, we decided to invite all the neighbors in our street for an apero which means drinks and appetizers. We wanted to be nice, to be friendly. I wrote invitations, in French, stuck them in the mail boxes.

We cleaned the house in preparation for the event. The dust from breaking down the wall was everywhere, in every nook and cranny. We swept and mopped and sweated.

What were we thinking?

What had happened to the relaxing life I had envisioned? Sitting by the pool? Reading a book?

We visited several local wineries and taste-tested various wines. This is a lovely way to spend an hour here or there. It puts me right into a Zen-like mood. Okay, maybe not Zen-like, but something like it.

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Winery. Inside this old building they will offer you samples of various wines from their domain (estate).

We bought what we liked, and hoped our choices would meet with the approval of our French neighbors. As you know, all French people are wine experts (not). We also bought a bottle of pastis. A must-have we were told.

Then I set about fixing appetizers. I bought goat cheese, made my own wild fig preserves, baked blue-cheese crackers, cut cantaloupe cubes and stuck twirls of prosciutto on them, and so on and so forth.

What was I thinking?

The kitchen was a mess. I was a wreck. What if they all showed up? All 15 of them? Would they bring the kids? Our French is minimal. We often haven’t a clue what people are saying to us. What were we going to do with 15 French-speaking people in our house?

I closed my eyes and tried to breathe a calming, Zen-like breath.

And then the neighbors arrived, all of them, bearing flowers, bottles of wine, and smiles.

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And they kissed me, three times, all 15 of them including the two little kids. Which makes 45 kisses.

After the kissing, we moved to the terrace, and we poured wine and orange juice and one pastis. All our guests ate my various munchies with appetite. We spoke our sorry French and they complimented us, which is the ultimate of kindness, trust me. They drank more wine and said we’d made good choices and they admired our (adopted) nymph Daphne by the pool.

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They said we were very welcome in their village and they all stayed for several hours and a good time was had by all.

And then they left, and I was kissed again, another 45 times, which added up to 90 kisses in one day. I have never been cheek-kissed that much. Not even on my wedding day.

It takes a lot of time, all those kisses. But this is the south of France, and you need to take time for the good things in life. Go slow. Relax. Kiss a lot.

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Have a good kissing story? Sure you do! Scroll down, hit that comment button, and ‘fess up!

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Don’t you just love learning a foreign language? It is so much fun! Okay, it’s also exasperating, difficult and often confusing. I am now learning French, and I know whereof I speak. However, even a language you are familiar with spoken in other parts of the world can offer up befuddlements, discombobulations and mortifications.

It is a truth like a cow (a Dutch expression) that as an expat or a world traveler you have a great advantage if you speak English. You’re especially lucky if you live in a foreign country that actually has English as its official language. It makes shopping for food and reading signs so much easier, don’t you agree?

Road sign in KenyaNo Picking or Alighting!

So, having learned English (in school in my native Holland and later living in the US) paid off for me when I lived in Kenya, East Africa, where both English and Swahili are official languages. I did learn some Swahili, like Cho iko wapi? (Where is the bathroom?) and other such useful phrases.

My mate was an American Peace Corps volunteer at the time and we lived in a shabby little house loved by spiders and army ants. The kitchen was a built-on little shack without a fridge or oven. But I was delighted with the little lemon tree in front of the house and other (to me) exotic plants and flowers in the garden.

A maize field started at the bottom of our lawn and often we would see women tending the corn. Kikuyu farm women toil like no others. Most stunning to me was seeing women carrying huge loads of firewood on their backs, often with a baby strapped on in front.

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I was home one afternoon when a rain storm hit. A deluge of water poured forth from the heavens, drumming on our corrugated metal roof. Somehow, above the noise, I became aware of voices outside the front door. I opened it to investigate and found two young Kikuyu women hiding under the roof overhang, farm implements clutched in their hands. They were drenched. They must have come running over from the shamba below to take cover.

They looked at me wide-eyed and terrified. This was a new experience for me, since it’s not usually the reaction I get when people look at my most ordinary person. Clearly these girls – they were teenagers, really – had not expected to see a white human emerge from this little house. They may never have had a close encounter with one of my kind before, since not many wazungu lived in the area at that time.

Since the rain kept a-pouring, I did what was the right thing to do: I invited them in to wait out the deluge. Their eyes grew wider and they looked even more terrified than before, they with the pangas (machetes) and other sharp tools in their hands.

What to do? Clearly, they’d be happiest if I just closed the door and left them alone out there under the overhang. I understood this, although it made me feel uncharitable. So I decided to do the other proper thing, at least for a Dutch person, and offer them a cup of tea.

A green field of black tea. Kenya is the largest exporter of black tea in the world. India is the largest producer and consumer.

“Would you like some chai?” I asked. Chai is the Swahili word for tea, a most beloved beverage in Kenya.

“I don’t mind,” one of the girls said. This took me aback a little. I looked at the other girl, who had said nothing.

“Would you like some chai?”

“I don’t mind,” she said.

Sheesh, I thought, you don’t mind? You can take it or leave it? If I really want to make the effort to fix it, you’ll do me the favor of drinking it?

Peeved a little, I went to the shacky kitchen and brewed the chai, the Kenyan way. I steeped tea leaves in a pan with boiling water, then poured in a copious amount of milk, added a motherload of sugar and brought the lot up to a boil again. No spices like the Indian variety. I had a package of British cookies (biscuits) and put some on a plate, because in Holland you never just offer tea and coffee without something sweet to go with it. The girls said thank you very nicely when I handed them the tray. I left the door ajar, since it seemed so rude to just close it in their faces.

After the storm blew over, I went outside again and found the girls gone, the cups empty, the cookies eaten, the world sparkling.

It wasn’t until later that I learned that in Kenya “I don’t mind” simply means “Yes, please.”

As in many countries that have English as their official language, Kenya too has its own local usages and idioms. It’s often referred to as Kenglish. Here are a few:

“Let me give you a push.” No, that does not mean your Kenyan friend will shove you in a corner. It means that when you’re leaving to go somewhere, he’ll walk along with you.

Say you’ve been gone for a while, on vacation, or on home leave. After you’re back in Kenya, people are happy to see you again and will comment: “You’ve been lost!” (And been found again!)

“Can you pick me?” Pick you for what? To win a prize? To join your team? No, it means: Can you give me a ride/lift? And when you’ve reached your destination you ask the driver to stop because you want to alight. Now you can make sense of the sign at the top of the post.

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Have you ever been flabbergasted by some language confusion? Do share! The more colorful and embarrassing, the better. Go ahead, scroll down and hit that comment button!

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