Springtime in Paris is well acclaimed… but I’d like to make a case for autumn in the City of Light, which, for my money, is just as alluring… perhaps more so.
September in Paris is a magical time. To misquote Nora Ephron, “Don’t you love Paris in the fall? It makes me want to buy school supplies. I would send you a bouquet of newly sharpened pencils if I knew your name and address.”
For most of us, September is a special month no matter where we call home… it never ceases to remind us of our childhoods… and our children and grandchildren. We want to go out and buy markers and notebooks, no matter our age.
North America does a none-too-shabby job of advertising back-to-school supply sales. But, in my experience, nowhere on Earth does September the way the French do.
It’s called “La Rentrée”—and takes in the entire period of the last week of August and the first weeks of September.
Rentrer means to re-enter, and the noun refers to the act of going back. You can rentrer in the literal sense—going back to your house or to your office after you’ve left, for example. The noun, la rentrée, is most often used to mean to go back to school… but the term has taken on a much larger meaning.
At the end of August, many rentrers are going on… everyone is back home from vacation, back to work, back to school, back to the yearly routine, back to colder weather… back to life.
Everywhere you look are signs advertising something or other for La Rentrée. All parents talk about are the impossibly specific lists of school supplies they’re required to find and where to get such-and-such problem item. Shops put backpacks, books, and art sets in their windows.
There’s a jovial optimism and an energy in the air around this time of year… The French have been on holiday for the majority of the previous month, so everyone is relaxed, fully dosed up on vitamin D, and ready to come back home and take on the end of the year.
In fact, La Rentrée in Paris brings more of a feeling of renewal, rejuvenation, and energy than the actual New Year does in January. This makes a lot of sense. It’s hard to be energetic and enthusiastic for positive change when it’s cold, dark, and damp out. There are so many months of chill and gloom left after Jan.1 that it’s hard to stay motivated for any goals you set.
After coming back from summer vacation, though, it’s natural to set out schedules, cut down on the booze, get back to our workouts, and probably diet a little after holiday indulgences. The French leverage this momentum to get their lives back on track for the winter. There’s a lovely attitude of optimization before hibernation. We set ourselves up to have the most successful fall and winter we can have, with a view to the coming spring.
The feeling is infectious. Walking down the street, it’s hard not to get swept up in the excitement and optimism of La Rentrée. You can’t help but smile, put a bounce in your step, and start to think through some new plan you want for yourself. In the last week alone, I’ve started a new workout program, a new diet, and tried to instill some new habits into our family’s daily routine. I’ve made countless lists and been militant about completing several things a day, especially things I’ve been procrastinating for months already. I can’t remember when I was last this productive, and it’s all thanks to the inescapable La Rentrée atmosphere in the city right now.
Once we settle into our new autumn routines, we’ll hunker down for the winter and await the next injection of cheer and optimism that comes around Christmas and New Year’s… Meantime, though, we forge ahead, full of enthusiasm for the self-improvement that can be achieved over the next few months.
This year, all this fanfare is darkened somewhat by the specter of the coronavirus. None of us know how the rules will change over the coming months. Will we be allowed to leave our houses in October? Will gyms stay open? Will kids stay in school? What will life look like by the time we reach the end of this momentous year?
All I can say is that this is one big lesson in appreciation and optimism. Take advantage of what you can while you can and don’t stop hoping for the best. If the coronavirus has put a hitch in your go-overseas plans, keep the dream alive and make whatever small steps of progress you can make with the world as it is right now. Perhaps you can take some vicarious motivation from this dispatch…
Wherever you celebrate La Rentrée this year, keep your hopes up and your aspirations high.
Full-Time Paris Expat