Leave the Rat Race Behind and Enjoy Life to the Fullest in Southern France
When I moved to France in 2010, I brought the small selection of publications that had taught me everything I knew about the country to that point—four grammar books, a travel guidebook, The French Chef cookbook by Julia Child, and The French Chef DVD collection.
From these books, I’d learned that France was a beautiful country and that I was head over heels in love with the culture (not to mention the food). But knowing a little about the country is one thing. Moving there is another…and I was filled with doubts.
What did I really know about living in France? About the French lifestyle? About the French themselves? Would they like me? Would I fit in?
I was determined to overcome any and all such challenges. I was intent on “mastering” France—conquering the language and marching my way up the social and career ladder.
Only, when I got there, I discovered that none of the targets I’d set were really that important. No one seemed to care that I didn’t speak perfect French—people welcomed me easily into their hearts and homes regardless. And almost everyone I met was more concerned about spending time with their loved ones than working on their careers.
When I moved to France, I let out a long, slow breath that I’d been keeping inside for so many decades. Gone was the frenzy to climb the corporate ladder and do more and more each year.
My life in California had been one big race to see who could make it to the top, to see who could get the better job, bigger salary, and the cars and homes that went with it all. It was the only lifestyle I’d ever known…and it was exhausting.
In France, I started to live. The first Sunday lunch I was invited to lasted for over five hours. We arrived at about 12:30 p.m. and didn’t make our way home until around 6 p.m. There was the welcome aperitif—sparkling wine with hors d’oeuvre, olives, and salmon canapés—followed by a starter, main dish, salad course, cheese plate, and finally, dessert.
The wines changed with each course—white for the shrimp and avocado cocktail, red for the steak topped with a Boursin-cheese cream sauce. At the end of this elegant feast, our hosts brought out board games and we all sat down to give the dice a whirl as the sun started to disappear.
I couldn’t help but anxiously check my watch now and again. Didn’t these people have to work the next day? I had a pile of laundry at home and the bottom of my oven was begging to be cleaned. How long could all this go on for?
Everyone did have to work the next day…and no one cared a wink. Good food, great wine, and even better company–that’s what really mattered. Now, after attending many long French lunches and dinners (and hosting a few of my own), I no longer check my watch or worry about the piles of clothes in the laundry room. I found work of my own, managing an English-language school, but I feel like I’ve never really worked since leaving the U.S.
There are small pleasures in my job, many of them in fact, but I do as the French do—leave my work in the afternoon and live the rest of my life. I finally have the time to cook in the evenings, and my weekdays are spent trying new French recipes using the seasonal fruits and vegetables I pick up at the local farmers’ market.
Weekends are dedicated to gardening and tending to my fruit trees—lemon, apple, apricot, and fig. I also might take a day trip to one of the many beach towns in southern France, or simply order a few glasses of rosé at a seaside café and watch the world go by. Luckily, I’m always in good company as my French friends and neighbors are doing exactly the same thing…living life to the fullest.
Written by Tuula Rampont