Souriez, c’est la rentrée!

Frenchie smiles

It’s that time of year again. Drum roll, please…

C’est la rentrée!

Time to get back: back to school, back to business, back to the grind that is French life. Although you might think this would mean long faces, around here it seems that getting back to work gives us a lot of reasons to smile.

I’ve posted before about how this is my favourite time of year. And it’s not just for the school kids. Although I still have one (mostly) mature student under my roof, la rentrée is the start of a whole new year on many different levels.

First, there’s la rentrée des vacances. The French are back from vacation and they are smiling, at least for the first week. We did not go away anywhere this summer. Instead, we took shorter breaks in the spring, then lounged around all summer while everyone else took off. Although we live in an area that is a draw for tourists, we still feel the deadness of the summer season. Shops close, streets are oddly empty, anything administrative gets lost in an overflowing inbox. We began feeling the first signs of life again last week. Traffic reports went from green to red, tanned faces appeared in the shops and long line-ups sprouted in the grocery store.

Then, there is la rentrée politique. This means that the brief lull in rhetoric is over. My ears had barely stopped ringing from all the noise over Brexit and Trump’s latest antics. And with presidential elections in the offing next spring, French politicians are back with a bang. Nicolas Sarkozy broke the silence by officially announcing his run for a spot on the ticket in 2017. Since he declared his Republican candidacy with a proposed France-wide burkini ban, he will not be getting my vote.

Today is la rentrée des classes. It’s back to school for the kids, which means we will see a lot of freshly scrubbed faces and bright new backpacks on the street. It’s been awhile since my kids were small, even longer since I went back to school myself, yet that buzz of newness and energy still gets me.

The teachers have been back for a week already, having completed la rentrée des professeurs ahead of time to get things ready for a new crop of students. This means new security measures in schools, although I doubt they will be enough to reassure everyone after so many terrifying incidents in the past two years.

I have been enjoying the rentrée audiovisuelle this week. My favourite French access-to-prime-time talk show, C’est à Vous on France 5, is back. Next week will kick off a new season of Le Grand Journal on Canal Plus. And I’ve just learned that Les Guignols, those political puppets extraordinaire, who were banished from the show last year having crossed some sort of line, will be back.

In a week or two it will be time to sign up for activities: yoga, zumba, choir…I’m still debating what to make time for but have decided there will be at least one thing that gets me out each week!

It seems there are lots of reasons to smile. The summer sun is still with us, yet there’s a chill in the morning air that heralds the change of season in a few weeks’ time. I love the fall, and I feel energized at the thought of getting back down to work again.

What’s your favourite thing about la rentrée?

La rentrée: We’re back!

Ready for his first ‘rentrée’: my son, Elliott, in the early 90s.
Ready for his first ‘rentrée’: my son, Elliott, in the early 90s.

It’s been more years that I care to remember since I went back to school. Also quite a few since I took my kids for their first day of école maternelle. But every year in the first week of September, I get that back-to-school buzz. It feels like the real start of the year.

‘La rentrée des classes’ heralds much more than just the start of a new school year in France. It’s the rentrée for a whole new schedule of radio and television programs, sporting activities and holidays. It’s also the return of political infighting, strikes and tax bills. We got off to a running start this year, with the entire government under Manuel Valls resigning at the end of August.

The school calendar, set by l’Education Nationale, provides the structure and framework for French life.

French school calendar 2014-2015
French school calendar 2014-2015

France is divided into 3 zones: A, B, and C. This is supposed to help control the chaos on the roads when everyone heads for the ski slopes in February. I like being in zone A, mostly because Paris is in zone C. That means fewer traffic jams for us, although we still get stuck in the stream of vacationers on their way to and from their holiday destinations.

Spreading out the school breaks helps ensure a profitable few months for the resorts during ‘les petites vacances’ in the fall, winter and spring. The year-end break at Christmas and ‘les grandes vacances‘ in the summer are the same for all.

The French returned in droves from summer vacation last weekend. There are always the inevitable ‘tardataires’ (late-comers) who must stay away until the last possible moment, but the poor weather this year added to their number as people delayed their departure in hopes of sunnier skies.

The lineups at les grandes surfaces (shopping centers) were long as parents jockeyed to get that last item for the long list of school supplies. They don’t really have to have everything on the first day, of course, but we all have such a sense of fear and awe for the educational system in this country that we daren’t send our children to school without that heavy cartable loaded down with every item the teacher has indicated will be essential for the school year. We are talking about hundreds of sheets of loose leaf paper, whose squares must be of a defined size and color, a specified number of pens and pencils and rulers and erasers and notebooks of various types. In primary school you must add gym slippers and coveralls for art class. Pity the poor parents desperately seeking to satisfy the list. I remember it well. And am feeling just a tad…nostalgic for those lost years.

So today I will go to the local papéterie (paper shop) and buy myself several of my favorite writing tools: fine-point pens and sharp pencils and bright notebooks. Just for old time’s sake.

What’s your fondest memory of going back to school? Or was it rather ‘school’s out for summer?’

La rentrée

shutterstock_80819302Every year in the final hours of August something astonishing happens in France.

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!