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getting back to normal after the summer

Sharon Revol: La Rentrée - getting back to normal after the summer

Sharon Revol
About the Author

Sharon Revol has been living in France for the last 14 years and is married to a Frenchman. Her daily experiences of life in France can be read at pigletinfrance.wordpress.com

La Rentrée is one of the first French phrases I can remember learning and literally means "The Return" or the start of the new school year. This was of little interest to me until I realized just how much French culture differed to the British culture and what a great impact La Rentrée was to have on my life each year.

You see, those two words actually mean so much more than just the start of a new school year. La Rentrée is very aptly named as it is synonymous with the start of everything in France, almost like the start of a new year except it takes place in September rather than January and you don’t make New Year Resolutions (although I’m sure if I searched hard enough I would find some French people that do!)

It would have been helpful if I had also learned that trying to get anything done during August in France (and sometimes even July) is a complete waste of time. Want to see your Doctor, an accountant or have your hair cut? Forget it, they’re all absent during the summer.

Even our local shops shut down for a month so we are left without being able to buy the very staples of French cuisine which we have come to rely on. No crispy baguettes to accompany the fresh cheese from the cheesemongers or to accompany the fresh vegetables from the greengrocers or tender meat from the butchers. The only option left for us is the local super market and their inferior quality of produce, exactly what we have come to avoid!

Heaven forbid that you have a serious problem during the summer with anything requiring a tradesman, such as an electricity problem or water leak – you’ll have to wait until September!

Wish I was there
Wish I was there!
Two years ago our neighbour’s tap sprung a leak in June and the water came through our ceiling, flooding the garage. It took until September before the insurance company could send someone out, leaving us in limbo, with a soggy ceiling that we weren’t supposed to touch, and our 6 month pregnant neighbour with no bathroom! So just remember if you live in France, make sure you don’t have any emergencies either immediately before, or during the summer or you’ll be on your own to deal with them.

Living in a large city I wonder how many people really do go away during the summer for such a long period of time. It is true that the streets are deserted, most public car parking becomes free of charge and traffic jams and rush hour are just a bad memory but I wonder just where everyone could possibly go and how they can afford it?

Another mystery of French culture is just how small businesses survive during the summer months. They must be making far too much money during the rest of the year and have obviously not felt the negative effects of the recession if they’re able to shut up shop totally for a whole month. They must have a lot of confidence that their clientele aren’t fickle, although having said that, there’s not many places to jump ship to!

Come September, all the businesses reopen and the streets are once more congested with crowds, honking cars, tremendous traffic jams and pollution. The quiet of the summer months quickly becomes a distant memory. If all of that wasn’t too much of a reminder of La Rentrée, then the start of more French strikes and public service chaos will make sure that you well and truly realize that it’s back to business! I can’t say I missed the strikes during the summer months; maybe it was worth going without fresh bread after all?

Read Sharon's previous columns here

Sharon Revol has been living in France for the last 14 years, is married to a Frenchman and has written business columns in the UK as well as articles about French life for various publications. Her daily experiences of life in France can be read at pigletinfrance.wordpress.com

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