What does "la rentrée" mean in France?

In September in France, children return to school. It's la "rentrée scolaire"  back-to-school time. But beware: the word "rentrée" doesn't just apply to childre. In fact, it's used for almost every sector of activity: trade unions have their "rentrée sociale", as do politicians. There's even a literary "rentrée" for novels published after the summer vacations. A German journalist on Arte observes this curious inflation of the word "rentrée" in the September vocabulary and explains that, according to him, the French have two calendars: one that begins in January and the other that starts on September 1.


Our German journalist Hayo Kruze continues to poke fun at French customs. On 4 September, he explains to his fellow countrymen what the very French rite of rentrée consists of. 

"So it's September, and in France, September is the month of re-entry.  How can I describe to my compatriots the frenzy that is taking over the whole of France? In German, rentrée is: die Rückkehr or die Heimkehr.

So the French are going back and they are all going back together because in France, in the summer, there is no staggered holiday. The schools are all closed for two full months in July and August. This is called the "big holidays". The French love to spend their holidays together on crowded beaches, in overcrowded campsites or on long-distance footpaths that sometimes look like motorways. Meanwhile, Paris, the capital, is abandoned to foreign tourists. France's cities, especially in the northern half of the country, are "closed". Have you ever tried to buy a baguette in August, find a plumber or contact your tax inspector? If you are lucky, you will get an answering machine that kindly advises you to call back in September. In France, many administrations and businesses simply close in August.

But on August 31, it's over.  It's time to go home. The first ritual of the new school year: the huge traffic jams on the roads back home: it's the back-to-school traffic jam"les embouteillages de la rentrée".
The children are getting ready to go back to school: it's back-to-school time. That's "la rentrée scolaire"  Naturally, they have to renew their schoolbags and their wardrobe: these are the unavoidable back-to-school shopping trips "courses de la rentrée" for which retailers offer all sorts of back-to-school promotions. "promotions de la rentrée"

But it's not just schoolchildren who are going back to school: when the government returns from holiday, it is "la rentrée du gouvernement". The same goes for elected representatives and politicians: they talk about the "rentrée poltique"
As for the trade unions, they are promising a hot period. "la rentrée sociale". The television channels stop their summer broadcasts to present their new programme : les "programmes de la  rentrée". The fashion magazines present the new trends: the "tendances de la rentrée" and the publishing houses bring out the novels for the new literary season. "la rentrée littéraire".

The French thus have two parallel years with two calendars: a definite source of confusion. So when a French person says to you: ça sera pour la rentrée, don't think that he is thinking of the new year and the 1st of January. No, he's talking about this other year, this other purely hexagonal calendar that starts on 1 September. That's all!

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