How to Tell La Rentrée is Here

Ripening walnut

Actually, I’m a bit behind the times. La rentrée (end of holidays, back to school, work etc) really started last week. However, you notice its continuing effects for a while afterwards. It’s more of an institution in France than in the UK.

I wrote a post a couple of months ago, about summer in SW France. In many ways la rentrée is just a reversal of that. Holidaymakers mysteriously disappear overnight; the number of stalls at the market halves between one week and the next; you can find a space to park in the village; the supermarket hasn’t sold out of milk or the boulangerie out of bread by 11 am; and the number of fêtes and other events has reduced drastically.

I won’t go into detail about all that. But every season has its rituals and symbols. La rentrée, the beginning of autumn, has some hallmarks without which we would be lost, even if we don’t like some of them.

TV Adverts and Magazines

The French advertising industry realises that there is no longer much call for ads selling sun cream. So what better way to while away those darkening evenings than to take up a new hobby? For example, for “€2.99 seulement” you can buy the first issue of a magazine that will take you through every step of building a model Spanish galleon, complete with essential parts and paint.

And Que Choisir (the French version of the UK consumer watchdog magazine, Which) resumes its assault on the SF. He receives at least one communication per week exhorting him to take out a subscription, always wrongly addressed but it gets here anyway.

Unsolicited Sales Calls

Have you got a problem with woodworm, draughts or hard water? Do you want to install double glazing or solar panels? Don’t worry, every day aux heures de repas (mealtimes) you will receive a call from a company that has the solution. You answer, thinking it was the call you were expecting, to be greeted by a stream of machine-gun fire French. It still takes me a while to penetrate this wall of sales-speak before I decline their kind offer.

Although EDF (Electricité de France) are good in a crisis, they are offensively persistent when it comes to trying to sell us solar panels. They are not interested if you are over 70, since the payback time is presumably so long that you won’t be around to benefit. I have resorted to telling them that I am a septuagenarian to get rid of them. Somehow the message doesn’t get passed on. They still call.

Supermarket merchandise changes overnight

Two weeks ago, barbecue equipment and swimming pool products were in your face. Now they have disappeared or are relegated to an obscure shelf that you scour the shop to find, even though the temperatures are still easily high enough for barbecuing and swimming. Instead, back-to-school equipment and winter clothes have replaced them. Want sandals, swimsuits or T-shirts? Too late. You’ll have to make do with boots and winter coats.

La chasse starts up again

Go into any sports shop or garden/agricultural equipment supplier and you will see weapons of mass destruction on display. Everything you need to wage war on the local wildlife, plus essential accessories. One weekend soon a salvo of shots will mark the start of the hunt. Around here has been a réserve for the past three years, i.e. no hunting is permitted to allow the game to regenerate. We don’t yet know if that designation will continue this year.

We’ve cut and stacked all our wood

And here it is during and after.

Wood cut…
…and stacked

We got through rather a lot during the cold spell in February. So we decided to order eight cubic metres, which we hope will tide us over. Our supplier delivers it in metre lengths and we cut it into 33 cm logs so it fits in our woodburner. Cutting and stacking is hard work and it took us five afternoon sessions this year. It’s very satisfying, though, seeing it all neatly piled up and ready for use.

Which reminds me, we must get the chimney swept. Our chimney sweep, M. Garcia, is a charming man who always replaces the flue of the woodburner the wrong way round. He got his first name, Erly, because he was a premature baby. His parents asked the doctor to choose the name, but his English was a little wayward (I know: why did he choose an English word?).

It might have its annoyances, but I love this time of year here. I like the freshness in the morning followed by still-hot days. I like seeing the fruits and nuts ripening on the trees, even if the nuthatches and woodpeckers get all our hazelnuts before we do. And even though summer has finished, autumn represents new beginnings and fresh pleasures to enjoy here in France.

Copyright © 2012 Life on La Lune, all rights reserved


  1. A lovely post Vanessa. Sums it all up so well. I hate to see the ads for La Rentrée – those who must have spent lots of their savings on having a good time, are now being exhorted to spend more on ‘stuff’ for school or the winter months. Buy, buy, buy. Yes, we must get ready but let’s enjoy these lovely months of Autumn without being told we have to go mad in the shops. Of course it is up to us, although it seems children have to have all sorts for school.
    Ironically, a tragedy has brought us good luck woodwise this year. A few weeks ago, one of our giant oaks tumbled to it’s demise – capricorn – so now we have masses of wood, some of which needs to season, some of which is dry enough to burn. You’re right, a pile of logs looks and feels very satisfactory even though it doesn’t last long.


    • Yes, we are constantly exhorted to spend. I feel for families with many children.
      In one sense I’m sorry to hear about the demise of your giant oak; in another sense it’s simply a new beginning as the tree lends itself to new uses.


  2. I started getting unsolicited calls on my mobile which really teed me off. When the man said I must have ticked a box saying I wanted the calls I said I certainly something hadn’t – which is true, and said next time I heard from him, or anyone else trying to sell me something I was porting a plainte. The calls stopped…


    • I haven’t had that on my mobile so far, thank goodness. It does seem that la rentrée brings them out of the woodwork, though.
      BTW, nice bit of franglais there – “porting a plainte”. This is the sort of thing my husband and I say to each other all the time. A new language in the making…


    • I’ve also used the locataire excuse, although it doesn’t always work. They come back within a week anyway. The message just doesn’t get passed on.


  3. Ah yes the joys of telemarketers. Now that I am home from Spain and I stay home while the rest of my family works, I get the pleasure of answering all these calls (they tend to call during the day and not so much at dinner time). Our electric company Con Edison keeps trying to get ahold of my parents.

    Awhile ago, the US instituted a “Do Not Call” list that people could pay to have their names added to. Telemarketer calls dropped drastically… but I think it’s something you have to renew every few years.


    • Dinner time is the classic unsolicited call time in France. Sometimes we just don’t pick up the phone at all, which usually does the trick. There are various websites that claim to help you deal with cold callers, but they don’t all work comprehensively. At this time of year, it’s particularly irritating and they never learn.


  4. Your picture of the ripening walnuts reminds me it was your post and recipe for vin de noix that first brought me to your fantastic blog – and you were my very first blog friend. Cheers!


    • I do remember, Deborah. That must be at least a couple of years ago, when you started your own lovely blog. Hopefully, we go from strength to strength.


  5. Those cold calls sound really annoying. When we stay at friends’ houses in the UK they’re a real annoyance too, but thankfully in NL the ‘don’t call me’ register seems to work.
    My husband gets cross because our local outdoor swimming pool closes promptly on 1st Sept as we often have our best weather after that.
    It must be very satisfying to have your wood all sorted for the coming seasons! It looks nice too.


    • They are desperately irritating but people everywhere suffer from them. September and early October often have the most settled weather here and, since it’s not too hot, you can do things outside that the summer heatwaves don’t permit. We are always glad to get our winter wood sorted. Now we can relax a bit.


  6. That is a truly impressive wood pile. We are well behind with ours. The plan was that our eldest son would tackle this for us over the holidays in return for endless tea and quatre quarts and otherwise generally eating us out of house and home. Sadly he had other ideas so Chris and I must get our sleeves rolled up and chopping …
    You have la rentrée summed up to a T. Que Choisir haven’t discovered us yet, thank goodness, and I’ll remember the advice about the solar panels when the time comes!


    • Every year we are afraid that we are too late and bust a gut to get it done. This year was no exception, especially as we had ordered rather more than usual. It’s a nice feeling when you finish it, though, and we now feel we can face the winter reasonably well prepared.


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