Back to school is a pretty big deal everywhere, but it takes on a whole new level of meaning in France (and some other European countries) as it truly is the "return" to normal life in the country. Particularly in a large city like Paris, the change is astonishing.
See, in Paris, most of the locals leave the city for the better part of the summer. Although the city is still crammed with tourists, outside the major tourist areas it actually becomes more like a sleep village. My parents were here in July, and local shops were already starting to post closed for the holidays signs in their windows. Small shops often close down for much of July and all of August. Most daycare centers are also closed in August as demand is quite low. Even major retailers, like our local chain grocery store, can sometimes post shorter summer hours.
So when everyone returns to the city at the end of August, it really is a type of reawakening of the city. Restaurants and shops re-open, traffic picks up again, the market stalls are no longer semi-filled. It's not uncommon to see neighbours chatting on the street, catching up on all they missed over the summer.
For my family, this is our first back to school in Paris. We were travelling in the country last September, but we didn't yet live here and our children were not enrolled in school here. We followed the French lead and took most of August off for vacation. One of the perks of the French system is that my husband's holidays are still rather generous despite not having worked here for a full year yet. In fact, I thought three weeks was a long time to take off, but most people in his office took the full month.
It is nice to have the break from the everyday and to have time to spend with family, whether you travel or not. We were fortunate to spend three weeks in Portugal on our vacation this year, but it would have been fun exploring the city as well.
Over the past week our neighbourhood has come alive, and we've started recognizing faces on the street again. Our local baker is back from vacation, which means my son can get his gluten free bread once again! We also spent some time getting our son's school supplies together.
For my youngest, the back to school list is short, consisting mostly of an extra outfit, a teddy bear, and some tissues. My older son is entering CP, or Grade 1, and the school supply list was crazy. Supplies were listed with specific requirements, such as the size and number of glue sticks (2 x 21 grams), the colour and point of the pens (red, green, blue, black, fine point), and some plastic wrap stuff that apparently is used to cover books. I actually have absolutely no idea how that's supposed to work, but I'll figure it out. Eventually.
The back to school lists are notoriously difficult for parents to understand, so this year the department store Monoprix offered a service that allowed you to drop off the list, have them gather the items, and then you pick it up later at a 10% discount for buying everything at their store. Worked for us!
Armed with our school supplies and new back to school clothes, we are ready for la rentrée. Perhaps a bit too ready. All the information we've read states that back to school is August 31st. Including the info from the principal of the school at the parent meeting in June. Turns out, that's for the teachers. The kids actually go back to school tomorrow. I'm not going to tell you how we figured that out, except to say that if the school staff members didn't know we aren't French before, they do now!
So, on our unexpected last day of summer, the kids and I are enjoying one last day of freedom, for them at least. I'm thinking of getting all crafty mom and making some salt dough cut outs that they can paint, or maybe creating a great big picture.
And then sending them off to bed early for the REAL rentrée tomorrow.
Vive la France!