By Bénédicte Mahé

Back to school, by Michelle Schwartzbauer

Michelle Schwartzbauer

Obviously, after every summer vacation, comes the time to go back to school or career. I do not remember the English language to have a precise word for the first day of school, but in France it is called la rentrée (des classes).

Each year, it is a big event in France: all the media talk about it on TV or on the radio because it is such an institution (for schoolgirls and schoolboys, but also for teachers). The French department of education also constantly changes law on education, which always makes it a very touchy political subject. School in France puts extreme stress on academics—but that may be the topic of another story.

As soon as July, supermarkets and bookstores are packed with everything related to school: pens, notebooks, felt-tips, pencil cases, schoolbags.

In France, when you are in kindergarten, everything is provided for you. When children enter primary school, they have to buy their schoolbag and pencils. When kids arrive in middle school, their parents have to buy school supplies following a very precise list that is sent to them (this size of notebook for this class, this type of paper for another class, what brand of calculator, etc.). Finally, in high school, parents not only need to buy school supplies but also schoolbooks.

Schoolbooks are very expensive and parents sometimes receive financial aid from the government. Generally, you resell the books at the end of the school year and receive a credit note for other books to buy. I remember my mum and I used to go to the library during her lunch break when I was on vacation. You had to only hope you were there on time so as to get all your books that day and not have to return and wait again.

Kids often do not see each other during vacation; summer vacation, les grandes vacances, is very much a family time. We do not have clubs related to school, like the U.S. has cheerleading or football that starts earlier than the official day of back to school. This can explain why la rentrée is so big in France: everybody is always happy to see their friends from school after a two-month hiatus.

I loved la rentrée, but this year I did not have one since I am an intern, so it got me a little nostalgic. The excitement of buying school supplies, their smell, the new pens, a new schedule, a new outfit… (after that list you will not be surprised to know that my favorite of Madonna’s songs is Material Girl). I used to dream about la rentrée at least 10 days before the actual day. Thinking about it got me into a state of excitement that may actually have been closer to anxiety!

In fact, when you enter middle school (and until the end of high school), the big thing about la rentrée is your new schedule. In France your schedule is different every day; it is a weekly schedule and not a daily one. The first day of school, you get a professeur principal who gives you all the information about the year to come, but most importantly all the classes you will have during the week.

You can barely imagine the anticipation of students when they see their new schedule progressively appearing on the chalkboard. I mean, school starts at 8 a.m., but each class of a middle or high school finishes at a different time.

When I was a senior, my class would finish at 5 p.m. on Mondays, at 6:30 p.m. on Tuesdays, at 1 p.m. on Wednesdays (Wednesday afternoons are generally free in France for extracurricular activities), at 5:30 p.m. on Thursdays and at 3 p.m. (woohoo!) on Fridays. Yes, that year my rentrée spirit got slightly crushed. Still, this year, no rentrée for me. Well, I will not miss the tests, quizzes and reports, but a chapter closing always pinches your heart a bit, doesn’t it?

Bénédicte Mahé photo - cropped DuplicateBénédicte Mahé has studied abroad many times, speaks four languages (French, English, German and Italian), and is finishing her studies in Paris in cultural management. She wishes to work in philanthropy for cultural institutions. Among her interests are tap dancing, cooking (with or without success), reading, watching TV shows, and—of course—shopping. She opened her blog Tribulations Bretonnes in 2010 and has been updating it (more or less regularly) since then.

You may also enjoy A Woman’s Paris® post, Les grandes vacances: The grand getaway to summer’s beaches, mountains and countryside, by French woman Bénédicte Mahé who explains the importance of vacation breaks to the French and why they are truly “les grandes vacances” (the big vacation). Including some of Bénédicte’s film suggestions that capture the essesnce of the French vacances.

How to find a (suitable) place in Paris, and other miscellaneous information, by Bénédicte Mahé, a French woman from Brittany who is in her mastère-spécialisé final trimester doing an internship in Paris, shares with students how to find a place in Paris. (French)

My suitable place in Paris, and how I discovered my new arrondissement, by Bénédicte Mahé who writes about her new apartment in Paris and her new neighborhood; a foreign place waiting to be discovered.

A Fairy-tale Weekend in the French Countryside, by Parisian Abby Rodgers who writes: “Cars rolled in, guests suited up in white, delicious cuisine, divine choux pastry tower, sparklers, dancing till dawn…” 

The Child Madeline, by writer and educator Natalie Ehalt who shares her love of Madeline, who brings a deserved respect for girls and children worldwide. Excerpts from Mad About Madeline: The Complete Tales, by Ludwig Bemelmans.

Colette: Gigi meets Anne of Green Gables, by Philippa Campsie who contemplates French novels and their heroines, and wonders if French fiction may well be the important key to the mystery of what makes Frenchwomen the way they are. Including a recommendation of books by Louisa May Alcott, Jane Austen, L.M. Montgomery, and Colette.

Text copyright ©2012 Bénédicte Mahé. All rights reserved.
Illustrations copyright ©2012 Michelle Schwartzbauer. All rights reserved.
Illustrations copyright ©Barbara Redmond. All rights reserved.
barbara@awomansparis.com