When I was a child, every August, on the way back from holidays, we would stop over in a (very) large supermarket and spend a few hours browsing through the many aisles armed with our list. My brother and I used to love it. My parents not so much. We would fill the trolley with HB pencils, compass, notebooks, etc. We would return home, ready to start school again with our brand new array of paper goods.
Back to school in France is an expensive tradition. School starts at the beginning of September and part of the yearly rituals for children between 6 and 18 years old and their parents are the 'fournitures scolaires' (aka the school supplies).
From the age when school is compulsory (6), most French schools send parents a list of supplies the children must have when starting school in September. The list is not a quick 10-item list. Oh no! It can be very detailed, very big and very expensive! And as you grow older and advance in the curriculum, so does the list. By collège or high school, each subject and class have their own list. It would go something a little like this:
For the pen case:
- blue ink cartridges (short ones)
- black pencil (HB)
- ball pens (red, blue, green, black)
- fountain pen
- highlighter (yellow)
- glue stick
- pencil sharpener
- propelling pencil
For the history & geography class
- an exercise book (with small large lines) 24x32 - 96 pages
For the French class
- a binder 21x29,7 (A4) with 4 rings
- dividers (6) - not plastic
- perforated pages
- transparent pockets
Etc. I will let you imagine what the arts class supply list looked like!!
Of course, you also need sports clothing and a bag to put it all in. Books are usually supplied by schools. Even the French Ministry for Education has recommendations as to what is necessary.
This year, it is estimated that parents will spend roughly €136 on a 12-year old's back to school supplies. Multiply this by the number of children you have and the number of years they spend at school and the sum is quite substantial. Supermarkets compete really hard for parents' custom during that time. Entire sections of supermarkets are turned into back to school supply heavens (or hells). And the choice of HB pencils and blue cartridges are dazzling! I have never seen anything like it outside of France. There are specialist art shops that stock large arrays of similar products. But we are talking here about mainstream every day shopping aisles and sections. Just have a look at the amount of different types of large line patterned sheets you can buy at this online store. It can be quite overwhelming.
As little kids, we used to treasure our first few items to go to school. For me, this was part of the tradition of going back to school. I still love looking at the shelves of the French supermarkets filled with exercise books and pens. I am not sure, I would enjoy filling the trolley with them as a mum though.
N.B. Writing this has been tricky. I had no idea about the names of a lot of these supplies in English! So I apologise if these sound odd to you.