The end of August means the approach of la rentrée in France, when kids re-enter school for the year (and thus, la rentrée). Yes, the French have a word for the return to school and work after the school holidays of summer. And they use it. Boy, do they use it.
By mid-August, every supermarket has signs up for the back-to-school needs of kids. Okay, this happens in many countries, but I’m not sure if the scale is quite the same. Newspapers start writing stories about this year’s average cost of la rentrée to students. TV shows present families of different incomes to compare what’s possible on a budget and whether the rich ones really benefit from their annual new backpack. Radio station advertisements revolve around la rentrée sales and deals. Kids everywhere despair at the thought of going back to school while they savour their last few weeks of school holidays. Adults prepare to return to workplaces that have been running on skeleton staff or in a state of temporary closure for weeks. September is the month of rebirth for school, work and government in France.
But la rentrée means something very different for holiday destinations like here in the Aravis. Take La Clusaz, for example. Less than 2,000 people live in La Clusaz out of season, and that number explodes to more than 20,000 during winters and summers, when the holiday-makers flock. So, when la rentrée happens in September, the town goes from buzzing to dead overnight. Hay bales replace the mountain bikers in the fields and the moos of cows replace the hum of the now-still chairlift overhead. Shop owners, who have probably not had a day off since before the school holidays started, simply close up until the pre-winter sales.
So, while everyone else in France gets back to business, the Aravis and other holiday resorts take a break. If you want to hire a mountain bike, too late. Fancy a baguette? Good luck with that if it’s midday. Or Wednesday. Want some tranquil mountains? No problem. Enjoy. I know I will be.