Last year was my first official ‘la rentrée’ experience. I was arriving as an English teaching assistant and an au pair, and was quickly inducted into this French ritual. I arrived in Paris on August 27th and was greeted with kids running down the streets, mom’s scouring the Monoprixs for school supplies, and boulangers baking up a storm. What was going on? Parisians seemed cheerier than I remembered them and there seemed to simply be an air of optimism and unmistakable enthusiasm.
The mother of the children for whom I was set to nanny seemed amused by my incredulity. “Oh this?” she said, pointing to her three tan, freckled, smiling boys “this won’t last long, so enjoy it while you can! In a month they’ll turn into sickly looking zombies who have been zapped of energy from their schoolwork.” Not the most encouraging words given that I had just been introduced to these three boys and this family.
However, a year later, as I reflect upon how to explain la rentrée to a non-French person, this anecdote seems to sum it up quite well. La rentrée used to signify the return to school for children following the July and August vacation months. While it still holds this meaning in the literal sense of the word ‘the return,’ the expression has taken on a more umbrella connotation that embodies the physical, mental, scholastic, and professional return of all French people to their homes. Gone are the leisurely days of going to bed late, sleeping in, and enjoying hours in the summer sun. Children and parents alike must re-establish the routines that are expected of them when they return to their schools and jobs. There is the expectation that everyone is well rested and geared up for the new scholastic year.
And, for the most part, everyone seems recharged and ready to go. Kids and parents alike fawn over their friends and beg to hear stories of everyone else’s distant adventures. But along with revived city life and rekindled hustle and bustle comes the knowledge that the show must go on. It’s time to buckle down and get back to work. The silver lining to people getting back to work is that if, like me, you’ve been waiting on a visa renewal, bank statement, or any sort of government issued document, the bureaucracy just might deliver—at long last!
In the midst of my second rentrée in Paris, I can say that I like this French tradition. It’s a very official sort of reunion, as if the whole country is turning over a new leaf, ready to start fresh and better than the year before. There is also plenty to look forward to when returning from vacation, the best of which includes new restaurant openings, lingering great weather, and overall cheerier attitudes. Allez! Profitez while you still can!
Tell us: what are your favorite aspects of la rentrée?