This week is all about the rentrée. We don't really have an English word for this as there is no English equivalent. We'd say "back to school" but la rentrée is much more than that. It's more like the beginning of a new year. School pupils and students go back to school to start a new school year, most people start back at work tanned and looking good after their holidays (the French don't seem to put on 5kg on holiday, not sure how they manage that), it's when new annual enrollments are made - for adults as well as children - for activities: sports, art, language classes. Magazines are urging you to succeed your rentrée.
At first, I couldn't understand all this rentrée business. When I first moved to Paris, I didn't have school-age children so I was not so much a part of it. We took holiday in May or June (people thought we were a bit strange), but then I wondered why I didn't have any students left in August. And why did my dance classes finish in June? And help! My local café and boulangerie are shut, what am I supposed to do now?
Now I get it. And it makes perfect sense. The school summer holidays are 2 months long. (Very civilised. In England we barely get 6 weeks.) It's normal to take 3 consecutive weeks holiday from work during that time and everyone goes away. Paris is dead in August, which is actually really nice if you stay there. There's even free street-parking. Can you imagine free parking for a whole month in London? Unthinkable! No one expects to do any real work in July and August. Factories close production, shops shut for 3 weeks at a time, don't even think about making a dentist appointment. When I go to England during the summer now, and I see that people are still going to work as normal and everything is still functioning like it does in say, October, it seems crazy.
But you know what? It really works, the French system. Everyone knows that it's the summer holidays so no one expects anything to happen, except holiday activities. There's no problem about taking 3 weeks off, because nothing is happening anyway. You're not missing out on your Spanish class or important meeting because they're not on.
If you don't have kids, you hit the jackpot: you can coast at work while everyone is on holiday all summer, and then take the first 3 weeks of September off.
So I am going to stop writing here and go and succeed my rentrée.
My blog has changed! If you're looking for my English-practice exercises, they're all still here, just look in the archives.
Catherine: blogging about learning, language, culture, France and more...