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LANGUAGE AND CULTURE

Why ‘la rentrée’ means so much more in France than a new school year

As we arrive at la rentrée, here's a look at this French word which, while it's often translated as merely the start of a new school year, in fact has a cultural significance that goes much deeper.

Why 'la rentrée' means so much more in France than a new school year
Photo: AFP

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 spent much time in French cities in August you will have noticed that they were pretty empty – many of the smaller independent shops close up and if you email anyone about a work-related or official matter you’re likely to get an auto-reply informing you that they are out of the office until September.

And because the long August holiday is such an embedded tradition in French life, the return in September is a big deal.

Here are some of the things that la rentrée means and why it defies an easy translation into English;

Schools restart 

La rentrée scolaire is when schools begin again for the new academic year. There is a tradition that this can only happen so September, and this year schools go back on Thursday, September 1st.

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.

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.

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 usually resumes sessions in September, while ministers too generally take a few weeks off.

This summer has been slightly different for political reasons – the loss of Emmanuel Macron’s party’s absolute majority meant that parliament sat until the beginning of August in order to pass urgent bills such as financial aid for the cost-of-living crisis. The late end of the parliamentary term means that parliament won’t reconvene until the end of September, but government business restarts on August 24th with the first cabinet meeting.

Usually la rentrée sees governments prepare to present new legislation or reforms, while this year Macron will also have to deal with the deadlocked parliament. Many French newspapers are talking about la rentrée agitée or la rentrée chargée to describe this difficult and politically charged return to political business. 

READ ALSO ‘Agitated return’ – 7 things Macron must deal with this fall

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.

READ ALSO La rentrée litteraire: When France goes book crazy

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.

Traffic chaos

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 this weekend.

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PROPERTY

New French State aid to help older people make home improvements

A new accessibility scheme recently announced by the French government gives grants for home improvements such as installing a stair lift or widening a doorframe to allow wheelchair access - here is how you could benefit.

New French State aid to help older people make home improvements

According to a recent survey in France, the vast majority of retired people expressed a desire to stay in their homes long-term, rather than entering a care facility.

While there are several schemes by the French government to provide assistance for renovating homes in order to make them more accessible for elderly people, the newly announced “MaPrimeAdapt” seeks to streamline the process.

When was it announced?

MaPrimeAdapt was part of President Emmanuel Macron’s re-election campaign, with plans for it first announced by the president last November.

Most recently, the government aid was earmarked to receive funding in the upcoming 2023 budget, which also hopes to increase the number of nursing home employees, as well as boost public funding for care centres.

The budget is set to allocate €35 million to the National Housing Agency (ANAH) in 2023. In response, the ministry of housing said to Capital France that one of their top priorities is “a single aid for the adaptation of housing to ageing” that would replace several existing government subsidies.

What is the goal of Ma Prime Adapt?

Similar to Ma Prime Renov, this programme hopes to provide additional funding for home refurbishment.

But while Ma Prime Renov focuses on environmentally friendly home adaptations, Ma Prime Adapt aims to make it simpler for older people or those with disabilities to refurbish their homes in order to maintain their autonomy and avoid falls.  

The French government also aims to reduce the number of fatal or disabling falls of people aged 65 by at least 20 percent by 2024, and by 2032, the goal is for at least 680,000 homes to be adapted, particularly those of low-income older people.

Who can benefit?

According to reporting by Le Monde, this aid is not solely reserved for people who already have decreased mobility. 

Instead, it is intended for older people generally. When applying, the applicant must be able to demonstrate that they are an independent retiree and need (this could be based on income, age, health, etc) to adapt their housing in order to make it more accessible.

The amount of assistance offered will be means-tested based on financial status.

What types of work would qualify?

Some examples of work that might qualify for assistance might be:

  • adapting the bathroom (for example, adding grab bars or enlarging the door)
  • replacing the bathtub with a shower
  • installing a bathtub with a door
  • installing a stair lift
  • adding access ramps to the home

The benefit is not limited to those options – any project that aims to increase home accessibility for a senior could qualify, as long as it is not simply aesthetic-focused.

Can it be combined with Ma Prime Renov?

They have different criteria, but Ma Prime Renov and Ma Prime Adapt can be combined in order to provide maximum support to elderly people wishing to adapt and stay in their homes.

How can I apply?

In order to apply, you will be required to meet the conditions stated above, in addition to being able to demonstrate that the housing in question is at least 15 years old and that the amount of work being done would cost at least €1,500.

Keep in mind that the renovation will need to be carried out by a recognised building company or contractor – specifically one with the label “RGE.”

You will be able  toapply for the Ma Prime Adapt aid via France’s National Housing Agency (ANAH). A dedicated website will be created to facilitate the process, with a launch date TBC. 

On the site, you will submit an application form that includes the estimates of the work planned. According to Le Monde, €5,600 will be the maximum amount of aid to be offered, and the cost of work will be capped at €8,000. However, this information has not yet been published by the National Housing Agency. 

What have the other available schemes been?

Currently, retirees in France can apply for the “Habiter facile” scheme from the ANAH (Agence Nationale de l’Habitat), which also helps to finance work that promotes the ability of elderly people to remain in their homes.

“Bien vieillir chez soi” is a similar aid scheme which is offered by the CNAV (social security).

The elderly and disabled can also benefit from tax credits on accessibility or home adaptation work. 

These will likely be replaced by Ma Prime Adapt, which will combine all benefits into one package.

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