The fifth season

© Paris Tourist Office David Lefranc

Forget Easter, Christmas or New Year. It’s a very different date that defines the rhythm of Paris: “La Rentrée”, when children return to school after the summer holidays. Mademoiselle Lili talks about the before and after. 

When I moved to Paris at the end of July, six years ago, I didn’t know that shortly afterwards I would experience the most unusual and loneliest month of the year: August. A whole city performs an exodus – to the coast, the mountains, the countryside, wherever you or some relative or friend has a refuge. Many retailers shut up shop, your favourite local cafés are closed for the vacation and you have to walk 10 instead of 3 minutes to grab a fresh croissant in the morning. My friends, to whom I joyously announced my arrival, told me that until the “Rentrée” they wouldn’t be in Paris. So what should I do? Work instead? Even if you wanted to, it would be impossible because there’s nobody there. Mostly a mailbox or a student assistant will tell you to wait until the “Rentrée”. Paris is so quiet and empty in August that sensitive souls can feel totally isolated. Meanwhile, I love this time when the city is running in slow motion, you can always find a seat in the Métro or a Vélib bike and there are no long lines outside the museums. You can also meet your friends who have stayed behind three times a week instead of the usual twice a month. 

At the end of August Paris comes back to life: First, the Métro fills up along with the Rentrée placards, letter boxes are overflowing with promotions offering discounts for gyms, nail salons or hairdressers, cut-price washing machines, televisions or furniture. It is not the New Year, but rather the Rentrée that seems to mark a ritual new beginning in Paris.

If you don’t sign up for a gym membership now, you’re not going to. If you don’t change your hair colour or get a new look now, you’ve missed the boat. If you don’t move into a new apartment now, you won’t find one. The nervous hectic and the shopaholics who invade the city on 1 September, a city that was abandoned for August, are for me two of the most significant cultural differences: In Germany, the shopaholics come out at Christmas, New Year’s Eve is the date to make New Year’s resolutions and new beginnings. In France, this is what the Rentrée is for. 

After that time flies – so many reunion parties, events, job meetings, openings and invitations flood your calendar. A French friend who is a businessman meanwhile living in Germany explained the concept to me. He says that in France it feels like you only work eight months of the year: From the Rentrée to the beginning of December and then again from February to June. With a long break in May, which has so many bank holidays and long weekends where the offices are pretty much closed. And from June already, you are preoccupied with going on holiday and no longer make any important decisions. After all, that’s what the Rentrée is for. I also took advantage of an incredibly cheap special offer and signed up for a new gym.