During the long summer break, most people have gone away and, as they say in French, “il n’y a pas un chat” (literally: “there is not a cat”), meaning it’s so quiet you can hear a pin drop. They have rolled up the sidewalks and settled their brains for a long siesta.
Then, as if on cue, it all changes. One moment you’re basking by the pool, idly pondering whether to have an ice cream or a cold beer, and the next thing you know, they’ve packed up all the beach umbrellas and closed the bar. Your provincial town is suddenly showing signs of life. Traffic picks up and horns begin to honk. The shops, virtually empty just last week, are suddenly packed with bronzed refugees loading up on food and school supplies.
C’est la rentrée.
The French do not believe in halfway measures. They are either on or they’re off. Summer is off – the rentrée is on. And although they will fondly reminisce about their summer holidays in Corsica, la Côte d’Azur or Saint Malo, they know that the price to pay for all that vacation time is not to waste a minute in getting back to business.
For all the problems in France – the strikes, the complex labour negotiations, the high cost of doing business – the French, when they do work, work hard.
Although it’s been a few years since my student days and even since my own kids went to school, I’ve always loved that back-to-school buzz. After all that laying about in August, there’s a chill in the air and a spark of energy in people’s eyes. Who knows what the year ahead will hold? Anything is possible.
The real beginning of the year in France is not in January but September.
For the school kids, it’s a spanking new cartable (school bag) filled with supplies as per the teacher’s list (this list is no joke – it’s long and detailed down to quantities and brand names of pencils).
For the parents, it’s the whole organization of lives around the school calendar – from daycare to sports and leisure activities.
But it’s not just back to school. Politicians are back to their back-biting agenda, the media have done musical chairs (which of your favourite hosts will be on which program?) and a new season of news and entertainment begins. And for the working world, it’s back to business with a bang – we only have a few short months left in the year to get everything done.
So it’s time to put away my sunglasses, lace up my new shoes, and get back to work.
Vive la rentrée!