The rentrée – return to school after the holidays – takes on a significance in France that it doesn’t have in the UK, or perhaps elsewhere, so I thought I’d give a quick run-down of what it’s all about.
It’s always a stressful time when the summer holidays come to an end – not for me of course, since I have an unnatural ability to ignore everything that goes on around me - but for Mrs B and the girls. The panic starts a few days before school restarts, when long lists of obligatory stationery and books are suddenly produced from school bags that have been gathering dust for the last two months.
The list of requirements can run to two or three pages, with hysteria setting in if a single item isn’t exactly as specified. Apparently turning up with a 48 page writing book, when it is supposed to have 96 pages, can have consequences you (and I) can’t begin to imagine.
Text books are easier because there is an efficient system whereby the previous years books are returned to a central depot, and then re-distributed to the following years students. Even better, you are reimbursed for books handed back in (less an adjustment for those that have inexplicably burst into flames or been flushed down a toilet), so after the first year there is almost nothing to pay – you just hand in one set of books at the beginning of the holidays and collect a different set at the end.
Stationery and school books in place, thoughts turn to clothes. Both daughters of course have ‘nothing to wear’ having spent their clothing allowances in cinemas and cafes, and it is only now that they remember that summer holiday clothes aren’t very practical for school. More shopping trips take place.
Despite the apparent absence of wearable clothes, it is about 24 hours before school restarts that they both appear from their rooms with great armfuls of clothes that have been discovered in long lost places and must imperatively all be washed and dried immediately, or ‘I’ll have to wear pyjamas to school, then’.
It is also about this stage that panic sets in about a couple of other things:
1) The list of books that were supposed to be read through the summer. The impossibility of reading five novels in a variety of Spanish, English and French within 24 hours means that the internet gets called into action – happily lots of people like to write reviews of books, which are much easier to read than the books themselves.
2) Who will be in the same class, or more critically for lycée daughter, who will be she be sharing a bedroom with. Rumours abound that there will be about 10 people in a room, with a good chance that half of them are doing drugs while the rest will be a constant distraction to our own daughter – who would of course prefer to be working conscientiously. The reality is that there are two pupils in a room, and they had already said they wanted to be in the same room, but that doesn’t stop the pre-school panic setting in.
On the plus side, this year we get one problem less since neither daughter is changing school. The stress of starting a new college or lycée is far greater than that of returning to the same school, of course – above all the grave risk of turning up in the wrong clothes.
Interestingly one local college (11 – 15 year olds) has apparently organised a two day ‘pony club’ for new pupils before proper school starts – a kind of youth team-building exercise. Now who said the French education system was old-fashioned!?