Back to school

Written by Simon Renfrew

After a long hot Summer, it’s time to reinvest in oversize packs of felt tipped pens, Harry Potter ring binders, wonderfully non smelly trainers and whatever else you need to deck out your little darlings for the new school year. So far, so pretty similar to the UK.

But once you arrive at the gates, some of the differences hit you – not least that it’s still reliably warm and sunny and will stay that way ‘till early November.

No uniforms either, so there’s a kaleidoscope of colors, happily clashing with all the new Transformer and Spiderman backpacks. Later in the autumn, there’ll be a hint of smoke from the villages’ chimneys – almost everyone has an open fire or wood stove – but for now it’s still shorts and T shirts and football and red faces.

There’s not the same broad sweep of topics covered at primary level here as in the UK, but French grammar is a keystone and very thorough – which is handy, as you can use your 7 year old to correct your spelling and tenses. They do have some great days out though – everything from the caves in Lascaux to the ballet in Bordeaux. And everyone seems to have a good time and get very well fed – 3 course lunches, freshly cooked on site are the norm. Along with the local French, there’s a mix of other nationalities – English and Dutch in the main – and this helps give a more cosmopolitan feel to the playground. It also means that some of the kids swiftly become tri lingual – which for their parents is fantastic and bloody irritating in equal measure.

It’s important to enjoy all this, not just because it’s so much more relaxed than the British experience, but because it goes past so fast. Before you know it, the next holiday and the one after  will have come and gone and they’ll have become ridiculously confident, immaculately coiffured teenagers, posing astride their mopeds outside the Lycée gates. And they’ll make you feel very, very old.

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