It’s that sinister time of year when the advertising industry concentrates its efforts on making French schoolchildren lust after all manner of scholastic paraphernalia in the name of la rentrée. This is, in my opinion, a rare example of France actually outdoing the UK on the rampant commercialism front.
In every supermarket and department store in the land you will find aisle upon aisle of exercise books, stationery supplies, pencil cases and rucksacks bearing the latest cool kiddy/teen brand logos. Clothes and sports shops are clearly in on the conspiracy too. The implication being that if your child does not start the new school year with a completely new (preferably designer) wardrobe, an Olympic standard sports kit and a shiny new bag containing the equivalent of half of the WH Smiths stationery department, you are a bad parent and your child will be a social outcast. It’s a very serious business: I have seen mothers nearly in tears because they have left their rentrée shopping too late and there are no more Spiderman ring binders to be had for love nor money.
I’m belatedly understanding why compulsory school uniforms are “a good thing”. French schoolchildren do have a self-imposed uniform of sorts: jeans and trainers. But as your child’s popularity level is directly proportional to the coolness of the brand name emblazoned on his/her jeans and trainers, imagine the guilt you have to live with if you can only afford something from C&A?
French schoolchildren buy all their own books, including exercise books, and then cart them around all day as lockers don’t appear to exist, with the result that every year we are treated to an item on the 8 o’clock news about the dangers of little people carrying rucksacks exceeding their own bodyweight. And they do – because homework starts at the age of six. I wish I was joking. Responsible parents are encouraged to invest in a bag on wheels not dissimilar to your average granny’s shopping trolley. Surely owning one of those is social suicide?
Right now I’m breathing a HUGE sigh of relief that my little tadpole won’t be starting school for another two years (at the ripe old age of three ???!!!?) I need some time to psychologically prepare myself for the soul-destroying experience of going against all my principles and buying her the fluorescent pink Barbie rucksack and matching accessories she is bound to want.