La rentrée simply means the re-entry or the return buts its arrival heralds a shift in the winds in France every September, here's why.
If you spend much time in French cities in August you may have noticed that they are pretty empty – many of the smaller independent shops will be closed and if you're emailing anyone about a work-related or official matter don't be surprised to get an auto-reply informing you that they are out of the office until September.
If you're a politics fan you will notice that the French parliament is not sitting and there isn't much in the way of official business being done. This year has been slightly different because of the health crisis, but in his press conference on Thursday, Prime Minister Jean Castex thought it worth mentioning that “like the virus, the French government has not been on holiday”.
He might not have been on holiday, but president Emmanuel Macron did spend several weeks at Brégançon, the Riviera property that the French state provides so that presidents can take summer holidays by the sea.
And because the long August holiday is such an embedded tradition in French life, the return in September is a big deal.
Bon bah lundi c’est la rentrée mdr super
— ?? ⵣ iamdjzra⭐️⭐️ (@Uchiha_MonkeyDz) August 28, 2020
Here are some of the things that la rentrée means and why it defies an easy translation into English;
La rentrée scolaire is when schools begin again for the new academic year. There is a tradition that this can only happen so September, so this year as September 1st falls on a Tuesday, the schools will restart on Tuesday rather than the Monday, which might seem more logical but is still in August.
A side-effect of la rentrée scolaire is the appearance in shops of huge collections of stationery as stressed-out parents head out to buy the dozens of items on the official lists that schools send out, all of which are deemed essential to educational life.
10 sticks of glue…3 boxes of tissues…2 pencil cases…a shoebox. France set for consumer spending boost as parents rush to get the stationary needed for primary schools kids. This is why French supermarkets have huge stationary aisles…#larentree pic.twitter.com/jHZ0K60rA4
— Ben McPartland (@McPBen) August 26, 2020
Return to work
Of course key workers continue to work throughout the summer but many offices close completely for some or all of August as it's not at all uncommon to receive out-of-office replies simply telling you that the person will be back in September and will deal with your query then.
Many smaller independent businesses including boulangeries, florists, pharmacies, clothes shops and bars also close for some or all of August as their staff and owners enjoy a break.
Well its officially summer in France now. My local boulangerie, pharmacy and florist all closed until September ??☀️ pic.twitter.com/seGXwHJvjI
— Emma Pearson (@LocalFR_Emma) August 3, 2020
If you work in an office, the first few days after la rentrée is often a time for chatting to colleagues, hearing other people's holiday stories and generally easing yourself back into work gently so it's not too much of a shock to the system.
Return to parliament
The French parliament takes a break over the summer and resumes sessions in September and ministers too generally take a few weeks off.
This summer has been slightly different because of the ongoing health crisis, and there have been two meetings of the Defence Committee – one chaired remotely by Macron from his holiday home.
Generally September sees governments prepare to present new legislation or reforms, and the French press generally run lists of what the goverment will be focusing on in la rentrée (this year it's a fairly short list – they will be mostly concentrating on Covid and the upcoming economic crash, which in fairness is enough to keep anyone occupied).
New books are published
There is also a phenomenon known as la rentrée litteraire, which is when hundreds of new books are published in the busiest part of the literary year
This is partly related to people coming back to work, but is also linked to the fact that many of France's major literary prizes – including the Prix Goncourt, the Prix Renaudot, and the Grand Prix du roman de l'Académie française – are held in October and November. Publishers therefore release books that they believe have a chance at a prize in late August or September in the hope that they will be fresh in the judges' minds.
Summer activities end
As people head back to work and temperatures begin to cool, many of the summer activities and facilities close down too, from small town festivals and open-air cinemas to the Paris plages urban beaches that are dismantled in the last weekend of August.
[#unétéparticulier] Baignade et sports nautiques, baby-foot, espaces associatifs, ateliers pour les enfants : #ParisPlages, c'est bientôt fini ! Ne manquez pas les derniers jours de cette édition 2020. https://t.co/x4P8jcXgEm
— Paris (@Paris) August 26, 2020
With most of France heading home from its holidays at the same time, the final weekend in August is usually the subject of dire warnings about traffic jams, so if you have the option it's better to avoid being in the car on this weekend.