C'est la rentrée! School's back! If you have spent any time at all in France in late August/early September you can't have missed seeing and hearing these words all over; from shop displays and newspaper headlines to adverts and radio jingles. But this expression means so much more than just the beginning of the school year. It refers to a period of time at the beginning of September (even stretching through late into the month), reflecting a whole change of pace, a return to normalcy after the long summer holidays.
In August (and to a certain extent July as well), major sectors of France slow down or stop completely. School is out, parliament is in recess, many restaurants and businesses are closed completely and even large sectors of the public service grind down to all but minimal functionality. It's holiday time. Everyone is on vacation, nothing much gets done. But come September, everyone returns home, goes back to work or school and life gets back to normal. La rentrée is relevant to practically everyone in France whether of school age or not.
And thanks to this there's a great little expression in French which doesn't really exist in English; and such a useful one at that: "à la rentrée!". This basically means "See you in September" It's a way of saying goodbye while acknowledging that you'll see each other again in the autumn, after the summer break. It's also a way of saying when something will happen, with la rentrée serving almost as a second time in the year for resolutions to be made (after those failed new year ones). One can say "I'll do that in the rentrée..." such as get organised, start exercising, lose weight...start blogging regularly...! (It's a great word for procrastinators...!)
However, there is a truly awful side to the rentrée for any parent of school-aged children, and that is the dreaded "liste des fournitures". This is the list of school supplies that you have to buy for the coming academic year and while that sounds banal enough...trust me, it's not! As the kid gets older, the list gets more complicated, so for now my experience takes me to age 14 - 3è in the French system, equivalent of Year 10 in UK, 9th grade in USA. The lists of note books specify the size: some teachers like 24x32cm books, others prefer 17x22cm and yet others prefer 21x29.7cm. Each book needs a plastic cover (bought separately) in a different colour. French students write on paper with squares, not just lines and some teachers want books with large squares and others want small squares. Each teacher specifies the number of pages each note book must have and woe and betide you if you buy your child a book with 96 pages when they asked for 48. Some subjects require spiral-bound books, others loose leaf sheets of a certain weight (220g was on one of my lists), double or single sided; some require plastic document folders, others loose plastic pockets for certain sized paper... Then there are the pens: x number of red ball point pens, x number of black felt writing pens, x number of green, blue, fluo highlighters, 2H pencils, HB pencils, sticks of glue, rulers of a certain length (not metal)...aaaargh! When you add all this to the fact that it seems 2 million other people are shopping with you at the same time and you're trying to juggle each child's list, trust me, there really isn't anything positive about the experience. But just to add salt to the wound, your child is sure to come back after day one saying that their teacher has changed and the new one prefers big to little, or this to that and you have to go out and get it all again! Tomorrow my N° 1 son "rentre" (yes, it's a verb too...rentrer to go back to school, il rentre he goes back to school) and I'm holding my breath for how many things I got wrong, how many changes there have been and how much more I have to spend...
How is the beginning of the school year where you are? Do you have such a "September" experience? Do you have to provide such specific equipment for your schools? I'd love to hear about your experiences of "la rentrée".
I think I may be slightly French Phoebe! I have been feeling very rentre lately. But it is a much better time than January for celebrating a fresh start! Lovely blog, nasty shopping list x
Thanks Brett! Enjoy your fresh start.
The school supply list sounds like a complete nightmare. But be glad you don't have to then cover all the books in contact (sticky, clear plastic) paper! It's one of the worst parts of having kids in school in Australia.
Ahh Cindy, if only we didn't have to do that TOO! We also have to cover all the text books so that's next week's joy, when the boys bring home their new books, we (well, I, there is no we about this!) have to cover them in plastic. It's a horrid job, I agree.
Well, so glad my plans to move to France didn't work out then! ;-)
YJ, come when the kids leave school!!!
I love the beginning of school, it brings a better routing and things start falling into place. Not that I have not enjoyed the summer, that was grew too!
We are lucky to have lots of the supplies provided by the school, but you are right, some teachers have different preferences, and that's why we do some shopping after the school starts
If only we were allowed to do it after term starts, but the kids would get in trouble if they had nothing at the beginning of term. You are lucky to have supplies provided. Is that all over Canada, or just where you are?
As far as I know it is all across for public schools. It puzzles me that a kid "gets into trouble" just for that
there's a lot a kid can get in trouble for in France that seems a little unnecessary or severe elsewhere...using the wrong pen springs to mind...individualism isn't encouraged
It's la rentrée on the highway too! Excellent blog
oh yes, the fun of autoroute "bouchons"!
We have that here in Holland too. A long list of supplies, but then half of them don't actually get used, and my son just makes his own choices about what sort of notebooks, etc. he wants to use for each class. Most of the teachers aren't actually as picky as the list makes it sound, so we've stopped doing the list (my son, 15, is now in his fourth year of secondary school). I just buy him a new agenda each year and resupply him with new notebooks and whatever other supplies have run out. It seems to work okay, and if there's a particular item the teacher wants, my son will let me know. It was positively painful the first year: having to buy the whole list. And incredibly expensive!
You're so lucky that your son is allowed to choose his own notebooks. That's not an option here! (Well they get to choose the colour I guess as long as it fits the right size, has the right amount of pages etc). I agree, it's very expensive and I only have 2 kids! I can't imagine how complicated as expensive it is for bigger families.