Nostalgie, quand tu nous tiens. Nostalgia, when you hold us.

This week, Junior and his friends returned to school. C’est la rentrée, as the French say.

A few days ago, I was watching the French news on TV5. “Le Journal” is a dinnertime tradition in many French households. For me, it is a daily ritual that enables me to keep my finger on the pulse of my homeland. Every evening (I tape the afternoon show broadcast on Antenne 2,)  I get to hear what has been happening in France, in Europe, and in the rest of the world. It’s particularly entertaining to watch the French news cover American current affairs. Thanks to TV5, I know what topics my friends, or relatives, are interested in and what they are discussing at the dinner table or at work. I am always amazed at the variety and scope of topics covered in about 30 minutes. I digress.

The other night, I watched an interesting segment on la Rentrée, or going back to school season, (one of many similar segments last week.) This one was about a French icon, over 60 years old, la pointe Bic, the famous BIC ballpoint pen introduced in 1945. A pop culture icon. An international success.

“Elle court, elle court, la pointe Bic.”
“It runs, it runs, the Bic ball point pen”

Then nostalgia hit, and I remembered the mixture of dread and excitement I used to feel as a young child on the first day of school, my cartable (French school bag,) filled with new school supplies, carefully selected at the local store with my mother a few days earlier.

When purchasing school supplies, French parents look for deals like any other parents around the world. But my countrymen still love visiting specialty stores. They may cost more, but they offer better quality. I wonder how many little Parisian school children bought their supplies at neighborhood stores this month.

“The Narrow Door” bookstore, somewhere in Paris

 

Gaubert stationery store

I am certain the ubiquitous Monoprix chain got a lot of business. It is not quite as affordable as the gigantic hypermarkets found in the suburbs, but it is convenient. It so happens I spent some time taking a few discreet snapshots at a Monoprix this summer, as I was looking for shelter during a rain storm. It was early July, but school supplies were already lined up nicely in a corner of the store. I was the only one there, or so it seemed.

If you have one of these in your ‘hood while staying in Paris,
you are in luck! 

I have always loved the smell and feel of paper, so I headed to my favorite section, les Cahiers (notebooks.)


I was happy to see that my favorite brand, Clairefontaine, still rules the coop. While American students use lined paper, French school children learn to write on paper adorned with the traditional carreau Séyès, named after the Parisian bookstore/stationery store owner who invented it during la Belle Epoque.
 

The red margin is reserved for “le Maître” or “la Maîtresse” (the school teacher) 

Kindergartners get to use a simplified version, but they still learn the importance of penmanship and write in beautiful cursive.


As I made my way along the Monoprix aisle, I bumped into some old friends. First, le cahier de Solfège, used in music class.

Le papier Canson: How many art assignments and special projects did I complete with this strong, quality paper? The folder has not changed one bit. My poor profs de dessin! (art teachers.) May they be thanked for their patience. I did not have a single artistic bone in my body and never really graduated past stick figures.


Pens. Ah, pens! I was so happy to see French school children still write with fountain pens. And what would we all have done without these wonderful effaceur d’encre (ink erasers?)

Stylos et stylos à plume (pens and fountain pens,)
by BIC


Like their American counterparts, French students love to show signs of individuality, or pay tribute to their heroes. As always, I saw many messages and logos written in {poor} English, and photos of international pop stars. I breathed a sigh of relief when I found the following:
 

I can’t imagine a better school buddy than Idefix, Obelix’s little dog!
“My little black dress…” for the budding fashionista
A notebook quoting Simone de Beauvoir is certain to make an impression…

Yes, school is still a big deal in France, and that is a good thing. Children learn early on the importance of reading and learning. During my Monoprix adventure, I spotted a few young customers, and most of them had congregated by the book section of the store.

“Nursery School…” 
“Nursery school: What is it for?”
Jeune lecteur… Young reader…

I was so proud of these two: They walked right past summer toys (well, it was raining that day, remember?) and headed straight for the book section.
 

If I had just woken up in the store, I would have guessed immediately I was in Paris,
or at least somewhere in France, just by looking at their clothes…

Like I said, it was only early July, and there would be more time later to open those summer workbooks, purchase supplies and new clothes, and eventually show up in front of the big gates with their parents, on the first day of school. For now, most Parisian children, like other children around the world, were busy having fun, and enjoying their summer break. As they should.
 

Colonie de vacances (summer camp)
Versailles gardens

 

Trottinette (scooter) escapade on the Left Bank…


A bientôt.

Afterword:

To learn more about the French school system, and its founding principles, read Il était une fois, l’école, (once upon a time, school,) a story I wrote some time ago.

To experience la rentrée (the first day of school,) through the eyes of an American expat parent, visit this excellent post by my friend an American Mom in Bordeaux, C’est la rentrée. I’d say it complements this story quite nicely, wouldn’t you?


 

All photos except when noted by French Girl in Seattle

Please do not use without permission.

— French Girl in Seattle 
 

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What did you think about this article? Let me know in the comment section below, (I love reading your messages and reply to most.) Don’t be selfish and share with a friend! Merci. Véronique (French Girl in Seattle)

37 Comments

  • Ah, ah, ahhhhh! I have been meaning to come comment since your Harry Potter post, and when I finally arrive, I find that your childhood nostalgie hit me smack in the memories, too! My first year in France was as an exchange student at the age of 18; I arrived with very limited French, and one of the first concepts I had to pick up was la rentrée. I was awed and amazed by the intricately arranged windows of les papeteries; I adored learning to use a stylo à plume, and I know I still have mine around here somewhere, 25 years later. And oh! Les effaceurs haven’t changed one bit either.

    Dear me–I had no idea how attached I was to these memories. Oh, and belatedly, thank you so much for the HP post. I’m a little disappointed I didn’t know about it when we were in London two years ago, but on the other hand our days were already chock full. La prochaine fois!

  • Look at how smartly dressed French children are…..(sigh)…..and they still learn cursive…..(sigh)……and use ball point pens………(sigh)……

    I was always excited/apprehensive at the start of a new school year….new supplies (that wonderful smell) and a new outfit for the occasion….but the same old promise…….”I promise I will not wait until the night before to complete an assignment.” Some things never change.

    Thanks for the memories….

    Big bisous, M_T

  • I’m quite addicted to French school notebooks. I always bring scads home with me when I visit. I’ve always wondered why they were lined the way they are. Thank you so much for finally explaining it to me. Rayure Seyes. Chic!

  • I am letting out a sigh of admiration….la rentrée was last week for us, and I am enjoying it, but a bit nervous as I learn how to teach at the secondary level. I have no problem jumping into the instruction, but it’s the GRADING and the technology that I’m fuzzy on! OH VÉRO! This is a great post and I remember MONOPRIX! I would simply walk to my local Monoprix on the corner where I lived in Nice and it was there I could afford my supplies! To see the young children, the Paris boutiques and just the language on les fournitures scolaires is a joy. BISOUS! Anita

    • Ah, so you used that wonderful Monoprix too! I have done some damage there myself, Anita 🙂

      How are you liking secondary education so far? The older kids would be my favorite to teach. I would be clueless around little ones 🙂

  • Bliss! I enjoyed your reminiscing so much Veronique. I like to watch the French news also.. unlike yourself I don’t understand all of it 🙂 but the newsreader reads so beautifully I can’t resist! Our school holiday system is much different I think, we have four, shorter breaks through the year (each two weeks) and then a longer five week break over Christmas. I remember well buying the school supplies and looking for that little something different, for my children not moi, that was waaay too long ago :))

    • A five-week break over Christmas?! Holy cow! I could go for that… except not in Seattle. What would be the point? The weather is generally horrid at Christmas. We are lucky if we are not snowed in. Yikes.

      So you enjoy the French news, eh? Could one of the anchors you refer to be handsome Laurent Delahousse? He is a sheer pleasure to listen to 🙂

  • This tour of French school supplies makes me nostalgic for back to school – and I think I would like to do my réentrée in Paris, please. I may be a little tall for the desks, but think it would be fun all the same – and would hopefully improve my very bad French skills. And penmanship! Happy Monday, Veronique!

    • I am sure you would fit behind those desks just fine, Jeanne. They have changed a lot over the years. As for penmanship, it’s a great skill to master, but some of those elementary school teachers were… formidable! That part at least you did not miss out on!

  • Veronique – Thank you for this post. Even though, I’m the American living in France – it was so nice to have certain things (like why the notebooks are lined the way they are) explained beautifully!! You are right, school is a big deal in both France and the States. But from my point of view, since the French schools emphasize so much on penmanship, and neat beautiful perfectly scripted work – there is definitely supplies to match here. All the pens, all the blanco, all the white tape and correctors. Of course, the ink pens too!! Truthfully as a school counselor and certified Elementary teacher, I find this approach and expectation refreshing!! Now maybe the French get a little too strict or critical on small mistakes or work that is not completed in the margins – but having high expectations of quality of work is important. Personally, I think a lot of schools in the US get too caught up in making sure the student feels comfortable, confident, and self-assured. This all comes at the expense of certain high expectations. There seems to be almost a fear of “hurting” or causing too much emotional damage. As a child who grew up in the 70’s & 80’s, I still had teachers who had really high expectations – teachers who didn’t hesitate to call a spade a spade. They weren’t worried about parents coming in telling them that they hurt “little Johnnies” feelings. My parents always supported the teachers – the rare times my brothers or I got in trouble – we were always made to apologize and make amends. Well enough ranting.. There is balance to be found no matter what system you are in. But I have to give the French credit – the numerous different kinds of notebooks, the beautiful pens to choose from and the trousses!! (pen/pencil holders). Everything is beautifully and intricately down to support perfect beautiful penmanship and work habits!!

    Thank you for linking my post to yours – I hope your readers found my slant on things interesting! I look forward to reading more on your blog! You have great insights and perspectives!

    • Bonjour Jennifer. A very insightful comment, and I am not surprised. You clearly know the world of education, and it must be fascinating for you to observe differences between France and the US. Your comment convinced me that I was right about one thing: Do you remember when Pamela Druckerman’s book about French moms came out last year? The French education system she described (sometimes accurately, sometimes not, as it was stereotypical,) was very close to the way things were done in the US thirty years ago. It seems American Society has changed faster than France. That’s not surprising. France is an old country, set in her ways, as reflected in our stories about “La Rentrée.” Let’s stay in touch. We have a lot to learn from each other. A bientôt!

  • I enjoyed your post and yes, schools are different in France. I remember just like you going with my mother to buy all the things I needed for school and they were not that same as what my daughters used here in the US. I even went back to my école maternelle in Paris and took pictures – and it looked the same (at least the outside) as when I went to school there. My little grand kids have been using computers since in pre-kindergarten – I don’t know if they do that in France too – and they are learning Chinese.

    • Yes, Vagabonde, things have changed, maybe for the better if young children learn foreign languages in elementary school these days… C’est le progrès… I am quite happy myself the facade of some French Maternelles and elementary schools have not changed a bit 🙂

  • another great read-I have always loved the smell of new text books and paper too-I would get some funny looks in college as I always would fan the pages and smell the paper(only while they are new)-I adore the French notebook and graph style paper-but fear my penmanship would not have made the grade-school time was always a sad time for me because I love summer- so much, but I didn’t dislike school-still find the classroom one of the most exciting places to be-summer represented freedom from schedules-but once September hits I look forward to the events of a new orchestral season- the theater or ballet and a return to my French studies- which I’m still on the fence about…any word on your return to school teaching- from previous post- cannot wait to hear…thanks once again for sharing!

  • What a coincidence! I have just received a couple of little gifts. Stylish notebooks by Clairefontaine from the same range as the Elle one you have shown here! There are certain items I always bring back from France and stationery is always on the list. I love to wander around this section of Monoprix or independent shops. You are right about those cute children – they just had to be French! As for the French cursive handwriting, I’ve always admired it. In England you may have noticed there are so many different styles of handwriting. Bon week-end!

  • Thank you for sharing your rentree memories, chere Veronique!! The photos are wonderful…and you don’t want to know how many Clairefontaines of various styles and sizes I have stashed around my home! :)) Missing Monoprix as well…ahhh…enjoying all of these French goodies vicariously…
    I love everything school-related (why oh why don’t we have access to inexpensive fountain pens?)….but school itself? Let’s just say I would have been a great candidate for homeschooling…ha! ;))

    Happy September, sweet friend!!
    Bisous,
    – Irina

  • Véro! Bienvenue chez moi, et merci! Je veux être poète moi, et tu sais, je suis en train d’enseigner au lycée le français V – je vais donner mes étudiants un défi (après avoir bien sûr, maîtrisé la grammaire) et ce défi va être la poèsie, autrement dit, LE “SPOKEN WORD”, ou bien, Le Spam Poèsie je crois….alors, on verra!

    Bonne semaine, Anita

  • Last year, when I was studying in Paris, I loved to visit les papetries for supplies. I have beautiful file folders and notebooks. I visited Gibert Joseph for my required texts and was amazed a the quantity of scholarly books. The French seem to take education more seriously than we do in Canada.

    • Gibert Jeunes was my main supplier when I went to college in Paris. It’s always fun to visit their stores in the 5th arrondissement, isn’t it? The French do love books and have great respect for the written word (and for writers,) that is undeniable. I guess that is a good thing. A bientôt…

  • We don’t have a special name for returning for the new scholastic year, here in New Zealand. It’s just ‘time for the new school term/year’, or something along those lines. When I lived in France, most of my friends assumed that we would have La Rentrée in September, just the same. Well, it’s after our summer break, so that part is the same, but of course that’s the end of January/beginning of February. (When it’s still really hot, but that’s another story. All to do with Christmas falling when it does, really.) And I am a great fan of nice handwriting too!

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