See you in September

September 30, 2010
September can be like a box of chocolates – you never know what you’re going to get.

rentrer – to come back, to go back, to return home
la rentrée“the re-entry”; refers to the period in September when everybody is coming back from vacation and returning to work or school
les vacances – vacation; also refers to the month-long holiday break that many French people take in the summer
l’energie (féminin) energy
le farniente – an Italian word that has been adopted by the French, the art of lazing about and doing nothing
un projet project, endeavour, undertaking
un défi a challenge
une boulangerie – a bakery
une boîte (familiar) – firm/company, office
rouler – to run (as in function)
Allez, c’est parti ! – All right, and we’re off/here we go!
une chambre de bonne – a “maid’s room”; many old residential buildings in Paris have what used to be servants’ quarters converted into low-cost one-room rental units (often for students)
une plaque – an electric stovetop burner; a hot plate
faire du lèche-vitrine – window-shopping (literally “window-licking”)
Je faisais du lèche-vitrine… – I was window shopping…
une nouvelle robe pour la rentrée – a new dress for la rentrée


“The year does not begin in January. Every French person knows that. Only awkward English-speakers think it starts in January. The year really begins on the first Monday of September.”
Stephen Clarke, A Year in the Merde

There’s something about the arrival of September that always makes me want run out and buy myself a brand-new box of pencil crayons. This impulse doesn’t actually make any sense, as it’s been years since I’ve taken an art class, and I can’t remember the last time I picked up a sketchbook. Yet for some reason, without fail, every September I am struck with the overwhelming urge to run to the local art supply store and buy myself a pretty new set of coloured pencils, preferably in a shiny tin case like the one I used to carry back in grade school.  Something about the sight of them, pristine, freshly sharpened, and lined up neatly in a row like an obedient regiment of soldiers, has become inexplicably linked in my mind with the idea of fresh starts and possibility…  a perfect metaphor for my feelings about September.

I know I’m not the only one. A friend of mine once told me that every September, she has the urge to go out and buy herself a new back-to-school wardrobe, despite the fact that she hasn’t been enrolled in a school of any kind for over a decade, and no longer regularly outgrows her clothes on a yearly basis.

If there is one thing that September seems to represent for many of us, school-age or not, it’s a new beginning. The languid, lazy days of summer are over, you can just smell the faintest first crisp of winter as it creeps gradually into the cool autumn air, and all around you there’s an invigorating rush of renewed energy. In Canada, this period is heralded with signs in store windows everywhere announcing that it’s time for “Back to School.” In Paris, the concept is more all-encompassing and not limited to just students.  Here, they call it la rentrée – “the re-entry/return” – and it applies to everybody, especially those returning home from les vacances.

While it’s true that in Canada the back-to-school period is also a time for starting fresh, I have never experienced the phenomenon of vibrant September energie so intensely as I have in Paris over this past month. Everywhere you look, it seems as if the city’s entire population is spilling back onto the streets all at once, refreshed from a month-long holiday spent perfecting the art of farniente and ready to tackle new projets and défis. There’s a lively hustle and bustle in the air as local shops and boulangeries reopen for business, overhauling their window displays to entice the hurried returning populace into their stores. Les boîtes start to rouler normally once again, fully re-staffed with employees back from vacation. Right along with the arrival of cooler weather comes a renewed sense of purpose and an almost tangible sense of excitement and possibility.

For someone looking for work like me, la rentrée was especially welcome this year, finally bringing progress to what had become a relatively futile exercise over the summer, as managers and HR folk slowly trickled back into their bureaux. I got a job! I’ll be working at the Canadian Embassy’s Cultural Centre in Paris, along the Esplanade des Invalides. It’s only one day a week for now, but it’s a great start and a fantastic work environment, plus I’ll have lots of opportunities to practice my French while I’m there. The lovely folks at the embassy have also promised me they’re keeping me in mind for future full-time work that may become available, and I have a couple of promising leads on part-time work elsewhere to fill in the gaps in the meantime. No more leisurely travelling and living off my (alarmingly-dwindling) savings – I’ll finally be earning a paycheck in euros! My first day at work is October 1st – tomorrow. Allez, c’est parti !

I’m also moving! I’ll be leaving the tiny but cosy little chambre de bonne along the Champs-Elysées that has been my happy home for the last four months and moving to a much bigger apartment down by Place d’Italie in the 13th arrondissement. I’ll be living with a couple of French friends and instead of two small plaques and a sink, I’ll have a real kitchen with a working oven, a balcony with a gorgeous view of the city, a big living room and a dining room (with a piano!) for entertaining. I’ll also be walking distance from Rue Mouffetard, one of my favourite market streets in the city. I’m pretty excited!

It really is a month of new beginnings. But even better than that, I’ve discovered that la rentrée brings with it another great side perk – a license to shop. The other day while meandering through Montmartre, je faisais du lèche vitrine with no real intention of buying, the way I’ve been mostly doing since I got here, so as to go easy on my bank account. In a celebratory mood after getting my good job news, I decided to let myself try just a few things on… and as I stood in front of the mirror, sorely tempted at the prospect of channeling my inner chic Parisienne but hesitating over whether or not I really needed to buy a new outfit, the saleswoman came up behind me and tilted her head to one side, assessing the ensemble with a critical eye.

Ça vous donne du style (‘It gives you some style’),” she said finally, nodding in approval. “Vous devriez l’acheter (‘You should buy it’).” Then she added the decisive magic words: “Une nouvelle robe pour la rentrée.


4 Responses to “See you in September”

  1. Alia Says:

    What!? You don’t need her precious dress to give you style! You always have style! (Nice dress, though…)


  2. annawithlove Says:

    Cute story! I love it.


  3. laura Says:

    Love your posts :) Good luck on your first day tomorrow!


  4. joanne Says:

    Love reading of your exploits. Well written, Darlene!


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