La Rentrée

You'll Start Seeing This Again

I hope everyone enjoyed their socially distanced summer vacations and is ready for Fall. I love Fall so I’m always happy for it to come around. I genuinely look forward to this time of year, the time of year when you walk down the streets and the leaves crunch under your feet. The air is crisp. It’s heaven. No other time of year makes me more happy.

I will be taking a few more holidays though because September and October are great to travel around and not encounter crowds. Everyone is too preoccupied with getting back to life so no one will be thinking of going on holiday. And in Paris that can’t be more true. 

Everyone is back in Paris after summer travels. They had their two months of fun and now it’s time to come crashing back to earth. I thought I’d dedicate a post to this important time of year. I’ve touched on it here and there, but have never really dedicated much to the time that marks everyone’s (in France) entrance back into life: Rentrée.

I never really paid attention to this time of year because I rarely left Paris in the summer, but it’s actually a very important time in the French [social] calendar. Some consider it the start of their “New Year” (which explains why December 31st doesn’t really mean much to them). Most French take their summer vacation for either the entirety of July, or August, or both if they can swing it, so the city is dead. It is a period I hate, but that a lot of French people love. There are even some Parisians who prefer to stay in the city, but I say some because it really is awful being in Paris in the summer. Everywhere has notices saying “be back in September” and it’s not fun living in a deserted city.

September is rentrée. Rentrée is named for the period when children go back to school. In America we call it “back to school”, and it’s not a big event because our summer vacations are not long. Children get 2 months off for the summer, but most American adults do not so we don’t need to integrate back into society. If you’ve ever seen Some Like It Hot where the narrator explains the tradition of mass migration to the Hamptons, you’ll know that shipping your family off for the summer (while the husbands stay in the city because they have to work) is kind of an old fashioned thing. They still do it in certain parts of society, but most Americans wouldn’t dream of taking that much time off from their jobs. We’re instilled with the idea that doing so would be career suicide. You would be out of the loop, someone would steal your job, your boss would think you’re lazy, the company would crumble, and all of the time you’ve put in would turn to dust. It’s just not done in our culture. 

But in France they still do that. I knew some women who were executives and they stayed in the city. But I also knew a lot of rich women who didn’t have jobs so they all went away for two months. This entrance back in to society is called Rentrée, and it’s so much more than just children going back to school. Because people have been gone for so long it’s a time to reconnect. For the French it’s almost like the restart of everything.

I used to have a friend who threw her annual “rentrée” dinner party. I hated attending it because she wasn’t a very good host, but that’s the kind of thing you get during this time of year. People reconnecting after having been away for so many months. Restaurants, boulangeries, and businesses open back up. Politics comes back into session. Events begin to take place again. It’s the start of publishing season. It is truly the reawakening of French society after it’s summer hibernation. 

I once knew a woman who went through deep depression during this time of year. Going back to work, going back to life, after such a long period away, turned her positively suicidal. She would lock herself in her bathroom after she came home from work and would not come out for hours. She wouldn’t even speak to her children. It was strange, but then when you realize just how long the French stay away for summer holidays, it kind of makes sense. It’s probably really unhealthy (mentally) to be gone for so long and then have to adjust or ease yourself back into it. 

But come September schools reopen, and everyone has to come back to the real world. In my opinion Fall/Autumn is the best time to be in Paris. Because of global warming it’s still warm well into November. The sun shines pretty much all year round these days (which is weird). It doesn’t rain as much. There are tons of events around the city to be had. It’s just a great time to be here. 

So expect invitations to start flowing in. Expect to be invited out again. Expect your social calendar to start filling up with plans. And expect the annoying traffic buildup around school runs. Enjoy it as just another one of those weird French society quirks.