After a long and exciting, eventful summer, September has arrived and with it, the start of school. When I was still living back in Greenville, my French teacher, Hortense had told me about the first day of school, also known as Rentreé and that it is a very big day here in France for kids and parents alike. Similar to the US, there are “Rentreé” sales and ads literally everywhere leading up to the big day for clothes, school supplies etc etc and there is literally school supplies EVERYWHERE, but it didn’t feel much different so I didn’t really expect much difference. That is, until we started to think about school supplies.

Many of the expats here had given different pieces of advice as far as how to purchase and gather supplies for the kids- order online, go to the grocery store, or, as most do, order through a woman here in Clermont who owns a candy store, Mistral Gagnant, very close to the school who has ventured into the school supply business as well. She has the lists for each grade at the school and for a slight upcharge, you are able to place an order through her for which she will supply most of what is needed.


Because of the timing of our travels and her store being closed for August holiday, we opted to order online which, though the entire site is in French, we felt confident that we were getting virtually everything that is needed for each of the boys, as the lists are curated by teachers at the school.

We placed our order and within a matter of 4 days, we had received 3 boxes from Scoleo and were so relieved! I opened up the box, but as the list was in French, I set them aside and trustingly told myself I would dig through it when we got back from our trip.

On a Sunday morning the week before school started, I suddenly remembered way back in my jumbled up brain that someone had mentioned that each child should have 2 lists and therefore 2 sets of school supplies-one for their French homeroom class and one set for their English classes. Panic-stricken, I feverishly began texting back and forth with Jennifer, one of the other ex-pat women here who has been here 2 yrs and to me, is an expert on all things having to do with children and life here in France. She had mentioned to me when I was still living in Greenville that she had ordered her supplies online for her 3 children, it was fairly easy, and she’d be available to help if I needed. She was so kind to spend 30 minutes of her morning helping me try and understand how to order and where to find the second lists on the school website (also all in French), which I had looked all over for and hadn’t been able to find. Apparently, the first list we were given was for their “Grade”, so Wells- Grade 1 and Owen- Grade 4. We had been given a list in English and in French for this specific set. So maybe, subconsciously, I had thought this was the 2 lists I’d heard about? It turns out, there was a second list for their French homeroom (CP for Wells and CM1 for Owen) and both were in complete French. So, again off we went to the Scoleo website and placed the order for their second set. Luckily, since Charlie’s school is an English school, there was just one list (although very long and close to $125 in cost), but still, just one list.

So again our next 2 boxes arrived and it now being several days before school, I decided to jump in and check off the contents in the box with what was on the sheet in the box and then against the school list. It literally took me close to 3 hours with the help of google translate to figure out what everything meant. What the heck was a chemise 3 rabat or feutres à dessin étui? What was the difference was between a Cahier 24×32 Grands Format, one for d’essais? and a petit format A4 cahier with 40 pages? I was completely lost.

And once I figured out what the words meant, I had to figure out which item in the box it was referring to, it was stressful! After 2 days of going thru the boxes, I had my list of the 20+ things we still needed (or so I thought we needed) and so off we went to the big, huge, giant box store out in Aubiere (similar to Woodruff Rd) about 15 minutes away. It was unreal. There was literally 10+ aisles/rows of school supplies, and though things were “organised” by French standards, when you are standing there pushing thru 100 other people, all with their children also,  with 6 sheets of paper in your hand and don’t know what you are looking for or at and you have 3 crazy boys who have been the house too long, things get ugly. And they did. Every so often, I still apologise to them for the countless threats I laid on them. And the worst part was when I told them that I couldn’t wait for them to go to school. I felt terrible later. But luckily, they are always somehow forgiving, thank the Lord.

Three days later and three more quick trips downstairs for more items that seemed to keep appearing on the list, we finally decided to get started on the labelling. At the boys school, they are strict about ensuring that every single pen, pencil, highlighter, glue stick, lunch box, sweatshirt, jacket, etc is labeled with the child’s name. This seemed like no big deal until I started in on it over the weekend and spent 3 hours on Saturday and Sunday and it literally took us the night before school to finish. At one point, I had the iron out ironing on all the “iron-on” labels that came along with the school supplies.

We had heard through the other ex-pats that because the children don’t go to English on the first day of school, not to bring their English supplies, but rather only their French list. There was no e-mail or request from any teacher, nor was there anything on the actual list about when to send what in, only to send things in in a plastic bag.

Just when I was feeling so proud of myself yesterday (the first day of school) for finally getting everything organized and then hauling the 20 lb bag of Owen’s (just French class!) supplies on the 15 minute walk to school in the plastic bag as so requested, the boys both came home at lunch and informed me that:

  • I sent the wrong size pink notebook and she wouldn’t let him use his big pink notebook
  • I sent too many of the supplies, why did I send this many on the first day?
  • Why did I send them in the plastic bag, what an inconvenience and the bag was stuffed into Wells’ backpack
  • I forgot a ruler
  • The pencil case I sent was the wrong size- too big.

I’m quickly realizing that there is no way to do things perfectly correct here in France because there are things you “just know” I guess. So until I figure that out, I’m thankful for:

1) how humbling this whole experience is

2) that that sweet non-English speaking candy store lady is open every day at 7am (very non-French by the way) so that I can continue to run in there for the next however many mornings until I’ve sent all the correct supplies 🙂

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