How to live a simpler life? Slower? More Zen-like? In a place with good food and wine and lots of sunshine? A few years ago we came up with an answer:
We moved to a French village, my prince and I.
It has an ancient church, a ruin of a castle, a small grocery store, a post office, a bar/coffee shop and five wineries. All that’s necessary for a simple, relaxing life.
What a lovely place!
So we decided to do some renovation to “refresh” (rafraîchir) our small house. Break out a little wall, put in a new shower, some new tiles, a new floor. You know how it goes (on and on and on).
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.
Let’s meet the neighbors!
When that renovation job was finished, we decided to invite all the neighbors in our street for an apéro 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? The Zen of it all?
So much to do!
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.
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 was minimal. We often hadn’t a clue what people were 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.
Here come the kisses! Faire la bise!
And then the neighbors arrived, all of them, bearing flowers, bottles of wine, and smiles.
And they kissed me, three times, all 15 of them including the two little kids. Which makes 45 kisses.
After the kissing orgy subsided, 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 was 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.
They said we were very welcome in their village and they all stayed for several hours and a good time was had by all.
Oh, no, here we go again!
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.
Kissing in France is a national pastime, and for foreigners this faire la bise may take some getting used to. And yes, 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. Kiss everybody.
But don’t hug! That’s much too intimate for the French.
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Have a good kissing story? Sure you do! Scroll down, hit that comment button, and ‘fess up!
Ah, the French kissing. The funny thing is that once you get used to it, it feels natural.
You made your own fig preserves! That sounds delicious.
fantastic Living in such a gorgeous place and having a party with beautiful people. I love France and it all sounds like a fairy tale to me Despite the work. I remember three kisses to be the norm in Holland as well but only on birthdays etc. We always went to the Ardennes in Belgium on holiday and had to go through a long line of kisses each time we met the belgian friends lol
Good luck in your piece of paradise Au revoir
Move to Norway: no kisses at all over here! It’s brilliant!!
The only kissing story I have is of a (French as it happens) guy who once wanted to kiss me, but me being very young and even more naive and not liking him that much didn’t want to be kissed. He then told me I was inhuman for not wanting to be kissed by him! I got away from him very fast!!
Very funny! Wonder if he ever found himself a woman who did want to be kissed by him…
Greeting the Swiss can leave you with a lot of kisses too 🙂
The hard work that goes with entertaining can be quite off-putting, but it’s well worth it!
At our old home, we entertained often, we had so many people, different races, nationalities, religious beliefs.
I hope you and yours have a wonderful life in your new home.
Oh, this makes me feel so nostalgic. First for France, where I spent several summers as a teenager and remember well the kissing, and second for South Africa, where life was also slower and more relaxed. though definitely with less kissing:-)
It is lovely to be surprised by the openness of strangers who are neighbours and I agree, wonderful to have a patient reception for emerging language skills. Kissing in Belgium is a mine field. There are different rules and numbers of kisses depending on whether someone is French, Wallonian, Flemish, Dutch or expat. It is best just to lean in and wait for the one who’s counting to lead the way ;D
I get it wrong half the time, depending where I am — France, Holland, the US. Oh, well…
What a lovely gesture on your part to invite the neighbours and lovely of them to make you feel welcome in their village.
The Portuguese kiss twice, so I’m familiar with kissing, but I remember my daughter saying that at her former job in Marseille, the work colleagues, bosses, etc would kiss each other on arrival and on departure! Now that’s a bit too much intimacy in a work environment!