French school supplies have just taken me on a trip back in time!

This week, Junior and his friends returned to school. C’est la rentrée, as the French say.

The other night, I watched an interesting TV segment on la Rentrée, or going back to school season, (one of many similar segments last week.) This one was about French school supplies, and la pointe Bic, the famous BIC ballpoint pen introduced in 1945. A pop culture icon. An international success.

“Elle court, elle court, la pointe Bic.”
“It runs, it runs, the Bic ball point pen”

Then nostalgia hit, and I remembered the mixture of dread and excitement I used to feel as a young child on the first day of school, my cartable (French school bag,) filled with new school supplies, carefully selected at the local store with my mother a few days earlier.
French school supplies school bag
When purchasing French school supplies, parents look for deals like any other parents around the world. But my countrymen still love visiting specialty stores. They may cost more, but they offer better quality. I wonder how many little Parisian school children bought their supplies at neighborhood stores this month.

French school supplies bookstore
“The Narrow Door” bookstore, somewhere in Paris
French school supplies papèterie
Gaubert stationery store

I am certain the ubiquitous Monoprix chain got a lot of business. It is not quite as affordable as the gigantic hypermarkets found in the suburbs, but it is convenient. It so happens I spent some time taking a few discreet snapshots at a Monoprix this summer, as I was looking for shelter during a rain storm. It was early July, but school supplies were already lined up nicely in a corner of the store. I was the only one there, or so it seemed.

If you have one of these in your ‘hood while staying in Paris,
you are in luck! 

I have always loved the smell and feel of paper, so I headed to my favorite section, les Cahiers (notebooks.)

French school supplies notebooks

I was happy to see that my favorite brand, Clairefontaine, still rules the coop. While American students use lined paper, French school children learn to write on paper adorned with the traditional carreau Séyès, named after the Parisian bookstore/stationery store owner who invented it during la Belle Epoque.

French school supplies Rayures Sèyès
The red margin is reserved for “le Maître” or “la Maîtresse” (the school teacher) 

Kindergartners get to use a simplified version, but they still learn the importance of penmanship and write in beautiful cursive.

French school supplies music notebook
As I made my way along the Monoprix aisle, I bumped into some old friends. First, le cahier de Solfège, used in music class.

Le papier Canson: How many art assignments and special projects did I complete with this strong, quality paper? The folder has not changed one bit. My poor profs de dessin! (art teachers.) May they be thanked for their patience. I did not have a single artistic bone in my body and never really graduated past stick figures.

French school supplies Papier Canson
Pens. Ah, pens! I was so happy to see French school children still write with fountain pens. And what would we all have done without these wonderful effaceur d’encre (ink erasers?)

French school supplies pens
Stylos et stylos à plume (pens and fountain pens,)
by BIC

French school supplies ink erasers
Like their American counterparts, French students love to show signs of individuality, or pay tribute to their heroes. As always, I saw many messages and logos written in (poor) English, and photos of international pop stars. I breathed a sigh of relief when I found the following:

French school supplies Asterix cartable
I can’t imagine a better school buddy than Idefix, Obelix’s little dog!
French school supplies Elle notebook
“My little black dress…” for the budding fashionista
French school supplies notebook
A notebook quoting Simone de Beauvoir is certain to make an impression…

Yes, school is still a big deal in France, and that is a good thing. Children learn early on the importance of reading and learning. During my Monoprix adventure, I spotted a few young customers, and most of them had congregated by the book section of the store.

French school supplies children's book on Ecole Maternelle
“Nursery School…” 
French school supplies Children's book on école maternelle
“Nursery school: What is it for?”
Young child reading
Jeune lecteur… Young reader…

I was so proud of these two: They walked right past summer toys (well, it was raining that day, remember?) and headed straight for the book section.

Young boys at Monoprix
If I had just woken up in the store, I would have guessed immediately I was in Paris,
or at least somewhere in France, just by looking at their clothes…

Like I said, it was only early July, and there would be more time later to open those summer workbooks, purchase school supplies and new clothes, and eventually show up in front of the big gates of “la Communale” (public school) with their parents, on the first day of school. For now, most Parisian children, like other children around the world, were busy having fun, and enjoying their summer break. As they should.

Summer camp Versailles palace gardens
Colonie de vacances (summer camp)
Versailles gardens
Young kids on scooters in Paris streets
Trottinette (scooter) escapade on the Left Bank…

A bientôt.


To learn more about the French school system, and its founding principles, read Il était une fois, l’école, (once upon a time, school,) a story I wrote some time ago.

To experience la rentrée (the first day of school,) through the eyes of an American expat parent, visit this excellent post by my friend an American Mom in Bordeaux, C’est la rentrée. I’d say it complements this story quite nicely, wouldn’t you?

A bientôt

Véronique - France with Véro
Véronique of France with Véro

Véronique of France with Véro

Vero shares her homeland weekly on social media with virtual tours, photo essays, live events and other publications at France with Vero. Learn more.

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