Parisian Living

Back to School in France: Frantic Moms and Fading Tans

by Sylvia Sabes

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Emma Stencil

In North America, it’s “back to school.” That time of the year when classrooms fill up and families slip into familiar routines, or start new ones as the youngest step into kindergartens and the oldest fly the nest for college. In France, it’s la rentrée, and is not just about families and their children. Each September, almost the entire population faces their regular routines after a long holiday season.

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Emma Stencil

Since many businesses close for the month of August and three-week holidays are taken for granted, September means Parisians are frantically mourning their fading tans as they get back into the swing of things. Stock that has been arriving slowly over the previous weeks has shop owners scrambling to get their newest collections out on the floor (eg. the Pablo boutiques just announced their collaboration with actress Clémence Poésy, who played Fleur Delacour in the Harry Potter series and dabbles in fashion design on the side). Figs and wild mushrooms also begin to perfume the air at local markets, inspiring chefs to rewrite their menus to reflect on fall’s bounty. And, like Canada or the US, it is also back to school for the young ones. 

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 Isabel Miller-Bottome

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Emma Stencil

Back to school is a unique shopping adventure in Paris. Monoprix stores are clogged with moms trying to decipher the lists of school supplies; teachers are very specific with their demands. Even an elementary school teacher may ask children to bring simple lined paper, perforated, no hole for one subject, and intricately lined paper, folded with holes for another. They’ll be equally as specific about wanting ringed binders or binders with plastic sleeves, of course.

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Emma Stencil

Starting in the second grade, children are expected to use a fountain pen, so naturally some teachers request blue ink, while others prefer black. Children beg for the smoother, more expensive Clairefontaine paper and dependable Lamy pens. Tantrums are thrown as pandemonium reigns the stationary supply aisles for an exhausting six days, purchasing all supplies before stores close the Saturday after the first day of school.

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Emma Stencil

Parents, teachers, and the government are in a particular panic this year because for the first time since the French Revolution, children will be going to school on Wednesdays. Until now, school days were long, with Wednesdays reserved for extracurricular activities. Kids will now be leaving class at 3:30pm, and heading to school five days a week, like they do in most of the Western world. French families are just now becoming acquainted with the concept of “after-school activities,” which may sound like a minor change, but with 60% of French moms juggling life and full-time jobs, the change is creating a lot of stress for everyone.

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Emma Stencil

But la rentrée is not just about getting back to class; it is also about the beginning of “the season,” the time of year when everyone’s social calendars start to fill. For some that means rushing to sign up for a hobby class at the local City Hall, and for others it’s booking season tickets for their favorite theaters, while still others receive a flood of invitations for Vogue’s Fashion Night Out, quickly followed by Paris Fashion Week. And for everyone, it is already time to start making plans for the two-week Toussaints (All Saints) holidays, just six weeks away, because we never wait long for our vacations in Paris.

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Emma Stencil

Related links:

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Emma Stencil

Written by Sylvia Sabes for the HiP Paris Blog. Looking for a fabulous vacation rental in Paris, London, Provence, or Tuscany? Check out Haven in Paris.

Written By

Sylvia Sabes

When not hitting the ol’ cobblestones hunting down the hottest new addresses for her job as Paris Expert for Afar magazine and Luxe City Guides, Sylvia pretends to be swamped disguised as a wife and mom. You can read more of her work at www.SylviaSabes.com (link below) or follow her adventures on FB @SylviaDublanc View Sylvia Sabes's Website
Photos By

Emma Stencil

Emma’s love for France began at the age of three when her aunt bought her a little IKKS gilet and skirt from Paris. Since then she’s jumped at every chance to travel in Europe. She lives in Versailles and spends her days looking after two sweet French children and lounging at Parisian cafés.
Photos By

Isabel Miller-Bottome

A native of the San Francisco Bay Area, Isabel has lived in Paris and travelled extensively around Europe and elsewhere. She currently studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara, where she is Editor of the literary magazine, Spectrum, and Artsweek reporter for The Daily Nexus. Leveraging her network of student and business contacts, she always brings a fresh angle or an unexpected lead to transform an ordinary visit into a memorable adventure. View Isabel Miller-Bottome's Website

7 comments on “Back to School in France: Frantic Moms and Fading Tans

It’s true that some schools, some years, did not have class on Wednesdays.

However, going to school on Wednesdays is not at all something new. All my family members always had class on Wednesdays, and we were born between 1915 and 1990.

We are living outside of Paris, but even here, La rentrée is a big deal! And I thought the lists were specific in America … you nailed it on the crazy specific paper thing!

Where might I find one of those adorable backpacks the French children are wearing?

Hi Mrs.EM, those backpacks are called cartables in France and I agree, they’re adorable! You might try the e-boutique Spartoo.net. They deliver in the USA! Emma from HiP Paris

I absolutely loved this window into the lesser-known side of day-to-day life for many Parisian families!
Children are sweet and silly and funny no matter what country they are from.
My 8 year old son wants us to move to Paris (from the U.S.) and this article eased my concerns about how he would handle the transition!

susan // fleurishing

An interesting read…fountain pens?! Wow.

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