Enter The Rentrée – The Return To School In France

The strictly legislated summer sales finished a few days ago so all the grandes surfaces (large supermarkets) are now fully geared up for the rentreé – the return to school. Mind you, it’s still called la rentrée even if it’s your first time there.

It is big, big business. From maternelle upwards, parents are issued with a liste de fournitures for each of their children laying out all the bits and pieces they’re going to need for school. For lycée (secondary school) pupils, this includes the textbooks too. Even with secondhand books around and the possibility to hire books through a parents’ association, this is still a very pricy time, particularly as the syllabus seems to change every few years and you can’t always sell the old books on.However, as we’ve happily discovered with one kid now at university and another about to start, that the fac library provides enough copies of the required textbooks that students can borrow what they need. They only have to buy a few photocopied documents for a couple of euro each. To help with the costs, low income families receive an allocation de rentrée scolaire per child aged 6 to 18. These have gone up considerably this year – from €285 to €326 for 6-10 year olds (primary pupils), from €300 to €376 for 11 to 14s (secondary) and from €311 to €389 for the older kids. This is paid automatically by CAF if you’re eligible. You no longer have to apply specifically for the aid.

Back to the liste. In the early days, all we had to buy in for Ruadhri was a box of tissues and a pair of pantoufles (slippers). At école primaire it was slightly more demanding with things like feutres (felt tips), gommes (erasers) and agendas (homework diary) being added, even one year a dictionary and a hole punch. I later found out the teacher had strayed beyond acceptable levels of demands here but we’d bought the stuff already.

Some profs do get a bit carried away. If a request looks a little OTT, these days I hold fire and wait and see if Rors actually does need it at some point. And I refuse point blank to buy pochettes plastiques (plastic pockets) since they’re 100% unnecessary and environmentally ruinous.

This year Ruadhri needs an assortment of cahiers (exercise books), classeurs (files) and intercalcaires (dividers) plus copies simples et doubles (single and folded sheets of squared paper), tracing paper and graph paper (which I know from experience he will use approximately one sheet of each all year!) and pens of different types and colours, paints and paintbrushes and sports kits. It’s not too demanding and the sooner I get it out of the way the better, because the rentrée aisles in the shops get packed come late August. It’s a tough thing to do when the sun is shining and the last thing your children want to do is think about going back to school but I will have to be ruthless.

We still don’t have an official back-to-school date for Ruadhri (first years – sixièmes – sometimes start a day earlier than the rest of the collegians to help them settle in), or details about what time the school bus will pick him up, but this is France. These things can’t be rushed. It will happen, probably at the eleventh hour as usual, so I shan’t panic but simply enjoy the last half of les grandes vacances.

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I’m Stephanie Dagg, author, editor, fishery owner, alpaca and llama farmer – oh yes, and mum and wife too. We live in the rural heart of France in Creuse, an area famous for its hazlenut cake and extremely elderly population. We’re truly Europeans having lived in England and Ireland before coming here. I blog about our daily life as expats with all its pleasures and perplexities, and fun and frustrations at www.bloginfrance.com. You’ll find my many and mostly free ebooks here on my Smashwords page www.smashwords.com/profile/view/SJDagg.


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