There’s this game I play whenever I take a vacation. We’ll call it big-kid make-believe. Basically, I try to imagine what my life would be like if I lived there, deciding who I’d be friends with, where I’d live, what I’d wear, what I’d eat and everything in between. At the end of the trip, I come to my final decision about whether the location should be added to my list of possible future homes. Failing this test doesn’t necessarily mean the trip was a bust—I’ve had great stays in Ireland and Mexico, for example, but would never settle down in either country—but the places that feel like could-be homes are always special. And lucky for me, I recently got to play my favorite game in a place I’ve always wanted to visit: Provence, a region in southern France.
Thanks to my mom’s masterful trip planning skills, my family ended up renting a villa for the week we were in Provence. The villa was part of a large, gorgeous estate run as sort of a B&B on steroids, with the property divided into separate cottages surrounding the owners’ mansion. Cooking our own meals, getting slobbered on by the owners’ dog and having a backyard all made the stay more comfortable, but the true test of Provence’s living appeal happened after we left the estate.
The region automatically won points for beauty. Everything we saw, from adorable villages and vineyards to fields of poppies and mountain ranges, looked like it could have been on a postcard. Idyllic beauty isn’t all Provence is good for, though; it’s also bursting with history. It seemed like every single village, no matter how small, had some sort of thousand-year-old ruin. A 7th century village here, a 10th century castle there—and oh, hey, it’s the Pope’s palace from the 1300s. And I thought Boston was a great place for site seeing.
Provence is worth the trip for the scenery alone, but beautiful places are dime a dozen. The culture and feeling of a place is far more important in my quest for finding the perfect place to live, and the way the Provençal locals live is certainly done with style. My family referred to this lifestyle as “French Chilling.” In short, the locals have made an art form of chilling out. Businesses flagrantly contradict their posted hours, closing at will and observing any and all holidays. Throughout the week, school-aged children seemed to be anywhere but school. One brochure we came across non-apologetically stated that many shops close from noon to 3:30 p.m., “when all of Southern France sits down to a long lunch.” These people truly linger over their meals, putting the American in-and-out mentality to shame. They eat multiple courses and then sit and talk for another hour over espresso—and then go lounge in cafés again after they get out of work a few hours later. Okay, then. Not a bad way to live.
And while we’re on the subject of eating, the food was phenomenal. This is one livability category I could absolutely get used to, though my skinny jeans might begin to object after a while. Baguettes and croissants left and right, bottles of rosé that cost less than a gallon of milk and pastries to die for—sign me up. Part of the reason the cuisine is so good, aside from the—literally—heart-stopping amount of butter used, is that all the ingredients are fresh. This is not a country of leftovers. Street markets are all over Provence, and people get the majority of their perishable groceries there. They buy their baguettes, produce, meat and spices fresh, daily. It would be hard for the resulting meals not to be delicious, so the only reasonable course of action was eat myself silly for seven days. No regrets there.
If I were to live in Provence, however, I’d probably occasionally have to stop stuffing my face with pain au chocolat and, you know, talk to people. Luckily, the locals defied the snotty French person stereotype Americans have come to believe. Nearly everyone we encountered was kind to us, and humored us by pretending our French had some semblance of grammatical correctness. Everyone was more than willing to give directions, recommend restaurants or just chat. Maybe people just have more time to be friendly when they’re allowed to take afternoon-long lunches, but it was certainly a welcome change from the sullen cashiers and harried waiters I come across so often at home.
So, with all these things to consider, would I award Provence future home status? To be honest, probably not. The thing that made the vacation so great—the fine art of French Chilling—is the thing I can’t picture myself doing forever and always. I love to relax as much as the next girl, but I’m a born and bred New Englander. For better or for worse, I’m all about efficiency and productivity. So while it felt like heaven to feast on three-hour dinners and spend mornings leisurely strolling through markets for a week, I know I couldn’t do it forever.
The truth is I’m just not sure I could abandon my rushed American ways for good. I’m hard-wired to be outraged if my Dunkin’s coffee isn’t ready in a minute or less, multitask like its an Olympic sport and risk being hit by the Green Line train if it means getting to Marino a few seconds earlier. I always have and always will love all things French, but I must say au revoir to French Chilling. Those baguettes, on the other hand, I could live with.
Jamie is a third year journalism major and English minor at Northeastern, and the editor-in-chief of Woof Magazine. In the past, she has written for Boston magazine, New Hampshire magazine and the Huntington News. Interests include reading magazines, brunching, watching Chopped, sale section stalking at Madewell and having an inappropriate enthusiasm for DMX and power ballads.