Sharon de Rham an Expat Living in Provence
Living in France was an evolution not a forgone conclusion, there was no straight-line from small-town America to small-town Provence. Sharon de Rham is an American with Swiss citizenship who calls Vaison-la-Romaine home.
Born in Charleroi, Pennsylvania Sharon studied languages (Spanish, Romance Linguistics and French*) and settled into her first career as a foreign language teacher. Next was a complete change to the technology industry and several moves along the west coast from Seattle, Washington to the Palo Alto, California. Taking a turn from the “fast” lane to wine country, Sharon entered the retail business as owner of Mostly French (an antique and pottery store in the Napa Valley).
Sharon credits marital changes with her latest (and she says her last) career as a bespoke tour guide in Provence. A stint as a writer and financial analyst gave her the confidence to branch into guiding. Work assignments in Europe for Hewlett-Packard and Cisco rekindled feelings from her student days in Spain – she liked living in Europe. Her bundle of experience laced together with strong language skills, and now deep understanding of Provence is a unique package for any tour guide. You can find out more about Sharon’s guiding by sending her and email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Landing in Provence was not planned it started with a holiday visit to the place, so many had talked about. However, Sharon was not smitten with Provence at her first sip of rosé. A rental house in a sleepy, isolated part of the Luberon confirmed that was not where she wanted to live. It was a fleeting glimpse of Vaison-la-Romaine that sold her on her now home “a small town with lots of amenities.”
Provence’s beauty can at times be the backdrop to a frustrating expat reality and in Sharon’s case why she has three names on her mailbox. I asked Sharon to share some of her expat experiences with Perfectly Provence readers.
“When one lives in France as a tourist, even for periods of several months, you do not realize how different living here as a resident can be. When you are first here, you are in love with everything French; everyone is wonderful, and life is easy. Later, as a resident, things can change.
I think that the biggest challenge to living here is dealing with anything the French government runs (e.g. health care, visas, driver’s license, taxes.) Everything is very complicated, and usually done differently than in the US.
Speaking French is helpful, but there are so many cultural and governmental issues that knowing French does not always help you to understand. Sometimes the heavy accent of the south is impossible to penetrate. For example, when I first applied for health care, I never received any confirmation, even though the office said they had sent me an approval. It took months for me to figure out that here the health office sends mail to a woman’s maiden name. I had not used that name since before I got married, so I never received the mail. Now, I have three names on my mailbox—maiden name, married name, and both.
On the contrary, I heard from an accountant that sometimes the health care bureau mistakenly gives the health care card (“carte vitale”) to foreigners who are not really eligible, and many ultimately have to pay back any funds paid out on their behalf for medical services.
On the positive side, the tax bureau is well run and efficient, and the medical care is good and inexpensive.”
Image Credits: Sharon de Rham provided all images for this article.
*NOTE: Sharon’s impressive list of credentials:
- B.S. in Spanish Education (Clarion University, Pa.
- M.A. in Romance Linguistics (University of Pittsburgh.
- B.S. in French
- M.B.A. in Finance and Information systems