16 Nov 2014

Provencal Split Personality

provence, provencal, vickiarcher

I had a revelation as I waited in the local bank in Saint Rémy de Provence.

Banking, a task that would normally have my impatience cranked up to the highest level.

I have developed “Provencal split personality”.

What is Provencal split personality?

And yes, I made this term up. 

I realised as I waited for the longest time that I was content to do so.

No expletives under my breath, shuffling from foot to foot or exasperated heavy breathing.

I understood that it didn’t matter whether the simple took five or fifteen minutes.

Provencal calm and quiet had taken over my body.

When it was my turn, after what seemed like forever, I even smiled and laughed.

As I walked out in a happy mood it hit me how unusual that was.

Out of character for me, I find jobs like that tedious and un-rewarding. Who doesn’t?

Not here in Provence. In Provence I have developed this split personality.

Back in the big city and the short fuse returns. I have no illusions about that.

In Provence, I have become accustomed to the slower life and I play by the Provencal rules.

This split personality surprises me.

I do feel like a different person when I am here… not better or worse, just altered in some way.

It is as if there is a Provencal “beta blocker” taking control.

Days broken with delicious long lunches and friendship, evenings punctuated by long baths and much page turning.

I even managed to keep a sense of humour about the non-functioning internet… that is rare.

Who has posessed this woman? Why, Provence of course.

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Rosalie Carmichael

You are so right Vicki, just the feelings Kelvin and I felt when we visited St Remy sitting at the dining table in LPB with those big doors open, watching people meander down the laneway and writing in our journals on the days adventures. Bliss!


Perhaps I have, Sam… see how you feel when you come next year… tell me if it’s apt… ;)

Anita Rivera

I swear, “she” has the power to possess so much, and when she has possessed US, then you know you are dealing with a special place and people.

Oh Vicki, how I hear ya. When I lived there for a time, I changed. I came home to the USA totally different in that I slowed down. I conserved not only water (and toilet paper!) but I conserved my impatience at the market here. To this day, I just wait as the person in front of me shuffles out tons of coupons, holding up the line. I remember Provence- I remember the cashiers taking the time to CONVERSE with their customers. I remember at La Poste, the people behind the counter being cordial, attentive, slow.

Slowing down is imperative to taste the flavors of life all around us, and for me? Only in Provence….


Sometimes Anita in the ciy I feel the opposite as if I must accelerate to enjoy and samlpe all of the urban flavours… and therein is the joy… releshing both lives… :)

Caroline Lacroix

Dear Vicki, I feel exactly the same when I am in Charente. I think it is the joys of countryside!


Love the slower pace of Provence and the way the staff talk to customers and are so helpful.
When we lived for two years in Colombo (Sri Lanka) everything happened very, very slowly, wherever: shops, banks, restaurants. You could easily tell the locals (including expats) from the tourists.
We belonged to the Pool Club of the nicest hotel at that time and enjoyed going there for a swim and a meal. When you wanted service you put the flag up on the little flagpole in the middle of the table (out in the paradisical tropical gardens). It might then take anywhere between 15-30 minutes before a waiter came. We all knew that, so everyone would just chat and stay cool while we waited. You could see the tourists getting agitated after 5-10 minutes and begin jumping up and down and waving and running around looking for waiters. It didn’t speed things up because the waiters just thought they were rude.
It was really a matter of adjusting completely to a different time and mindset. We came to enjoy it – but anyone who didn’t was soon frustrated and stressed out. Best wishes, Pamela


I am presently living in the South-West of France and the same can be applied here. Interestingly, while in line – at the bank, bakery, butcher or post, anywhere, patience abounds. However, put the same people behind the wheels of their cars, at least in my experiences, and therein lies the “split personality” of the French!


Exactly Joy!I thought exactly the same thing today… and when they overtake blind… that is seriously scary!!


Hi Vicki,
You and Joy’s comments transported me straight back to Provence. Life is a slow pleasure there and it now brings a smile to my face to remember the patience shown by everyone when I was on foot compared to the “split personality” of the same people when behind the wheel of their cars and the many times I held my breath when they overtook blind. I agree with you ……. Seriously scary! Le Petit Bijoux was my beautiful refuge after wonderful days of exploring (and feeling a bit stressed driving). I think my personality was split between feeling relaxed and happy/ stressed out driving but with a real sense of freedom to explore!


Vicki, you have motivated a whole series of possible “split” personalities for those non-French of us observing and living within France.

Caroline Longstaffe

Oh Vicki having lived in Provence how I have described that feeling to others, and now I am not there how I miss it! The sense of calm, of slowing down, of having time…….just heaven! Enjoy it! X

Nancy in Naples

You are so right, Vicki. When my husband and I were staying at your lovely LPB a few weeks ago, we were amazed that even the 80 kph Mistral wind didn’t interfere with the Provençal calm and quiet that you so aptly described. Every interaction with the St. Remy residents was so pleasant and thoroughly enjoyable. We left for Paris completely rested and as a result, I believe that we enjoyed our most relaxed visit ever to the City of Light. Vive la France!


Before I head to my bank this morning here on Long Island, NY, I am at peace to think of the meandering streets of Gordes and Roussillon. Where time was slower and just seeing the landscape and stone buildings was excitement enough…my 4 year old at the time was also perfectly content to walk the streets and just be. I think we all have a split personality when it comes to Provence….thanks for the wake up ;)

Esther-D. Abad

Vicki, do not know how you mean. I live 80% of the year in the field, it’s my slow life. Everything is different without being deliberate, since the schedule, the cuisine, the dress, and sometimes even the way you talk … other topics of conversation, the importance of weather, from rain or sun to grain harvest, cultivation of lavender and rosemary, pastures, livestock. And suddenly an hour Madrid there is everything changes, sophistication, evening lounge, taxi, theater, fine dining, intellectual dinners, sushi, fashion …. split personality? chameleon or adaptation?
With regard next week I will be in London.


Unlike the NY personality which is to shuffle your feet, twitch, complain, mutter, keep looking at your watch and complain some more.

Jenny Barton

Considering how to respond to your post, Vicki, I’ve just realised I have spent 7/8 minutes watching big black clouds sail past our window. If I was in London, that would be cause for curses and lamentations, elbows sharpened to be the first to jump into a taxi or on the tube. In Provence, time slows down and there is time to appreciate beauty, even if you know the rain clouds are about to dump more water on already saturated ground. Patience is a virtue? Perhaps, but it gives us the priceless gift of time.

Anne Woodyard

I can relate…except for your patience with lack of internet. That drives me crazy wherever I am! Looking forward to returning to lower-key Aix from fast-paced DC on Sunday!


Is it patient or apathetic. ?What else you can do
but waiting in the line, looking around and calm down with smiling. Patient is more a character attribute and is impartial from a place, even it
is such a nice one like St.Remy.


I find the same thing when we are down in the South of France, time seems to slow a little and there seems not rush. In London everything feels frenetic.
The exception is the French drivers as far as I am concerned they are all “fou”.

Mimi Gregor

I have a theory about this subject, and I came up with it because of Christmas. I do not celebrate Christmas — no buying of gifts or rushing around getting things together for a big feast. Nada. And yet… every year around that time, I found myself hurrying (even when I have no reason to hurry) in an almost panic-stricken way, cursing at other drivers, and even um… gesturing… at them. I finally came to the conclusion that THEIR vibrations were influencing my own. THEY were all panicky, getting their gifts and food together for the big day… and I somehow got caught up in the zeitgeist of the season. A version of “mob mentality”. Although, I must say, the “mob mentality” of Provence sounds wonderful! I wish it would catch on here in the States. Now that I realize what is going on, I am a bit better… more mindful… about what is happening. But still, I get that awful panicky feeling sometimes in the pit of my stomach at that time of year….

Gigi Thibodeau

This makes so much sense to me, Vicki. I do believe a place can have this kind of effect on one. When I’ve lived in large cities, I always find my heartbeat speeding up and my patience diminishing. Since I have moved back to the slower pace of Maine I’ve felt a shift in my overall outlook and ability to slow down. Maybe I’ve even become a wee bit too lackadaisical! ;) xo Gigi PS I LOVE the photo in this post!!!

sylvia faye

Phil Harris had a saying, “And that is what I like about the South (Southern US).”
What happened to you also happened to me one year while visiting my mother in Virginia and we were in a grocery store and the clerk was chatting ‘everyday things’ with the customers and it seemed ages before my mother’s turn. I found myself getting irritable. Suddenly it hit me how much faster pace my life had gotten in Western Canada. I never forgot that moment.
When my brother and I did a ‘trip back in time’ to see all the states/places we had lived growing up the joy of being with him (as he still lived the slow pace and just flowed with whatever happened each day) I found myself savoring each place we found ourself. Slowing down is good for the soul, n’est ce pas?
With a joyful heart,


Very funny . I grew up in North Carolina. I talked “southern” and I moved “southern” … slow and easy. It is funny how fast that changes though, when you go live somewhere like New York City.
Now I think sometimes it would be nice to go back to the slow and easy way of things. And no snow.

Lorraine Wafer

Love the phrase. Our time in Provence was one of the best weeks ever. I know what you mean. Life was elegantly simply and delicious. From daily fresh produce and crusty bread to wonderful hilltop markets and late afternoon rose at the local cafe. Life was relaxed and uncomplicated. If I could I would move to Provence ..it is my dream.
Thank you again. Lorraine from Australia.


After 2 and a half years in Provence, I’m hoping that pace will stay with me when we move! Love Provence!


Vicki if I were living in France, and especially Provence I have no doubt I would become both possessed and obsessed!

The Arts by Karena

Helen Tilston

Hi Vicki
It is great that you are aware and do not forget where you are. I wonder if small towns make us more accountable. We are not as anonymous as when in the city (or so we think).
I just returned from the market, here in Cork, and the cashier talked to every person and no one seemed rushed. Here in Ireland the mother will have three or four children with her as she shops. They do not believe in baby-sitters. I suppose the child is learning too.
Have a peaceful weekend

Helen x

The Enchanted Home

I wouldn’t mind if that kind of affliction became an epidemic….”provenceitis”. I could use a dose of calm as I find myself less and less patient but I so agree that the surroundings have everything to do with our state of mind.
When I am by the beach in the summer, I am MUCH more relaxed and at ease then when I am home managing a busy and overloaded schedule….thank goodness for those getaways!

Anita Rivera

Vicki! I just saw your message about changes coming to your site? I will be here for it all! Anita

Leslie in Portland, Oregon

Thank you for the lovely reminder of what I experience each September when my husband and I spend a week at a 9-cabin rustic resort on a beautiful lake at the base of alpine mountains. While there is a welcoming village 2 miles away, the area hasn’t one traffic light and is 5-6 hours from the nearest city. The rustic resort was designed and built by a pilot who had spent much of WWII in France being hidden from the Germans. Its simple, comfortable pine cabins have everything we need, a telephone in the lodge for emergencies but no televisions, internet access or cell phone service or telephones in the cabins. Each cabin has a big porch facing the lake. We spend our days in and on the fresh, pure waters of the lake with our dogs and our evenings dining on the porch and lying in the grass looking at the stars. When we go to the village for supplies (or a gallery opening), we chat with local farmers, artists and purveyors. Our time in this paradise is relaxing, refreshing, rejuvenating, and I try hard to preserve the mindset I regain there when I return to the city where we live and when we visit our 30-year-old son in New York City. And it is a big part of why rural Europe (and particularly France, of course) draws me like a magnet.

princess diane von Brainisfried

I know what you mean Vicki, about the split personality! I had the same before and after, vis a vis my French Bulldog Lalo! I write with her on my lap, and petting her puts me in a “zone of calm.” After some time, I realized this carried through the day. I actually exercised this zone like a muscle! Similarly, if you exercise the “Provence Muscle” long enough, you will see that it will become the default! sending love- I found you by your wonderful book My French Life. A votre sante!


Bonjour Vicki, it has been a long time here at French Essence, I am looking forward to your surprise. You help me feel like I too am in Provence, my dream, besides Italy, hee hee….what an international audience here, amazing lives your followers live….I live thru their posts and travels….hope this finds you well dear Vicki, as I write you from across the pond in Santa Rosa Beach, Florida! hugs XO

tara dillard

A gift arrived with the discovery of alcoholic husband and loss of marriage, and every dime, over a decade ago.

Gained my true self. A lot of work in a group setting with many women in similar situation, voila, my life rich in grace, and calm with several deep friendships from that group of women.

Was able to work/save with joy, buy my beloved house/garden, let go in happy forgiveness all that was taken. He has a bad problem, not a bad person, I was merely collateral damage. Find it humorous Providence used him to get my attention, poor him !!!

Why tell you this?

I know life can be lived in a tiny orbit, with little financial resources, creating a garden/home that take me deeply away from all, take me into the depths of any E.M.Forster milieu. In joy. In all, every day. Bloom where you are planted, is true. Make the choice.

Prior to learning of ‘his’ alcoholism, I was the queen of fear. Another element in happy days, conquering a great enemy, fear. A great feeling to enjoy reading of your life, within the confines of mine, and happy for you in a selfish manner. Selfish? You enrich my life, thank you.

Garden & Be Well, XO Tara

“If you have a garden and a library, you have everything you need.”
― Marcus Tullius Cicero
How stubborn am I? Needed to divorce an alcoholic to learn Cicero is right.

Congrats on the new website, luff.

D L Peters

My husband and I, along with our young adult daughters, will be staying in Saint-Remy-de Provence next week for four nights. Any suggestions for the area? Thanks!


If you have a browse through the Provence category you will find some ideas… :)
Arles, Avignon and Aix are favourites as is the Luberon area… Lourmarin on a Friday.

L’Isle sur la Sorgue is wonderful on a Sunday for a browse and lunch..
Have a wonderful time… xv


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