Back to the grindstone

French newsreaders have a perplexing habit of pausing in the middle of a news item before accelerating breathlessly at the end into the start of the next one. Thus a report on the siege of Paris by Breton tractors can morph mid-sentence into an interview with a Star Wars fanatic. I am regularly so baffled at such moments that I find myself musing on whether perhaps it is a deliberate tactic deployed by French radio to ensure the constant disorientation of non-native speakers.

Accustomed as I have become to such periodic non-sequiturs, this morning I assumed that I had again muddled two separate news items together when I heard the newsreader mention la rentrée and les Bleus in one short breath. As far as I was aware, the former referred to the beginning of the school year, whereas the latter referred to the French national football team. Rien à voir, as the French say. Presumably I had missed the moment of transition between current affairs and sports reporting. But no, just as I was once again seething about the journalistic conspiracy to outwit foreigners, the newsreader made a second reference to la rentrée des Bleus. This was, it turns out, a news item about the return to work of the French football team.

Hang on a minute: did this really mean that, whilst the English football team were limbering up at the start of their football season in August, les Bleus had been casually sunning themselves on the Riviera? Shouldn’t they at least have been juggling a football or playing piggy-in-the-middle, or something, to keep themselves on cup-winning form? Besides, every time the newsreader repeated his reference to la rentrée des Bleus, I could not shake the absurd image of a football team trouping into class en crocodile and reluctantly doing its dictées on newly-purchased miniature whiteboards. La rentrée was for children, not for millionaire ball-kickers… surely?

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I should not really have been at all surprised. In France, after all, the flip-side of the entire population vacating its collective post for the month of August, is that, in the first week of September, nobody is exempt from the rentrée. My GP may not have had to traipse around the supermarket equipping herself with a suitcase full of supplies (from pencil cases to kitchen roll) as my children did, but she, too, had her rentrée this week. (Presumably during the three preceding weeks her patients had taken a holiday from being ill.) I myself attended a day of work at the lycée where I teach that was entitled la rentrée des profs. I am only just recovering from my shock at discovering that it is on that day, one day before the arrival of all the pupils, that many institutions recruit new members of staff; allocate teachers to classes; and finalise timetables. So much for our Anglo-Saxon notions of careful lesson planning.

Of course, no self-respecting French noun would miss an opportunity to create some paperwork, and la rentrée is no exception to this rule. Thus I returned from a month in which I was expected to achieve nothing—indeed could achieve nothing because everywhere was closed—to a stack of documents which needed to be filled out tout de suite. On Tuesday I spent a happy evening completing the dossier de la rentrée for the girls’ school, in which I made a note of the persons authorised to collect them from school in five separate places and listed my telephone number six times. I tried to have a fond grumble about this at the school gate on Thursday but was met with blank looks. Presumably in a few years’ time I, too, will become inured to such bureaucratic burdens.

Next week, in order to secure our family’s participation in various extra-curricular activities, I will attend numerous appointments with chequebook at the ready for the payment of annual cotisations, registration fees and course fees (three separate cheques required, obviously). I am already preparing my spine for the strain of lugging round an endless supply of passport photographs, stamped-addressed envelopes, and medical certificates pronouncing us all fit to swim, dance and play jenga. After all, why carry records over year-on-year, if you can experience the euphoria associated with a blank page at the rentrée?

Now that I am getting the hang of this rentrée malarkey I think that, next year, I’m going to apply the principle of a month’s holiday followed by a glorious return to the job of parenting. If the French can manage without doctors, lawyers and teachers for a month, surely the children can manage without us over the same period…

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Clueless expats like me will be glad to learn that the French Government offers plenty of advice on preparing for la rentrée.

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10 thoughts on “Back to the grindstone

  1. Thanks for the chortle 🙂 I’m glad i’m not the only one who is nonplussed by all the rentrée palaver. It’s an amazing marketing tool, too – for some strange reason all the decoration and furniture shops get in on the act too. I’ve told my kids that they don’t get a new bedroom for every new school year. Then there’s the great clothing store ad – have you heard it? The mother who needs clothes for her daughter in primary school who can have “a short black skirt and a leopard-print top for only (however many) euros”. I shudder to think what Kiabi thinks kids are taught at school…
    We’re still waiting for the local bus company to get their act together – they’ve waited till the last minute, too, so I spent two day running a highly unprofitable taxi service to get Rugby-boy and his mates to the lycée 20 km away. Sigh.

    1. I am impressed by your kids’ ability to find creative new excuses for demanding new things. Mine have not yet asked for new rooms, though they seem to motor through the list of fournitures with rather too much relish for my liking… Thanks for stopping by.

  2. Haha, I can’t stop chucking over your line “no self-respecting French noun would miss an opportunity to create some paperwork.” Love it!!! My husband and I are trying to buy a house in the US and our bank was shocked at how quickly my husband was able to produce the massive amounts of paperwork needed. To which he replied that they had no idea how dealing with French bureaucracy trains one in such matters. 🙂

    1. I had not thought of it like that but yes, French paperwork is EXCELLENT training for life in general and for super-efficiency elsewhere. Thank you for helping me see it in a positive light!

  3. Love your thinking about the the month’s parental leave….maybe we should go on strike to demand it? Thanks for linking up to #AllAboutFrance, I guessed there might be a few posts about la rentrée and I’m loving everyone’s take on it.

    1. Thank you for dropping by! Yes, we are nearly there though the reverberations from the shock of going from doing nothing to doing everything all at once in a day will continue for some time, I fear…

  4. I was so shocked this rentrée (my 14 yr old has just gone to lycée) that I didn’t have the stack of forms requesting the same information six different ways, information that hasn’t changed since the last time I filled in the same forms. I’m feeling quite bereft!

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