It’s officially the week of La Rentrée (first day of school) in France! I don’t even have kids yet and the stench of La Rentrée seems to follow me to work anyways. All the kids in France have their first day of school on the exact same day and it’s a BIG F’in deal. After a two month summer break, it’s safe to say that the returning kids aren’t hyped to go back, even if it means time with friends and the parents are so pumped to hand back their little munsters that they are practically skipping down the sidewalks. The only difference being those first timers in kindergarten, or CP, as they are called in France. The first day of school in your entire life seems to be an anxiety ridden experience for both parents and kids alike. Safe to say, I’m not upset that I have at least 5 more years until I need to control those water works.
So to kick off La Rentree, I shot a video with one of the coolest Frenchies I know, Apolline, about all the differences between the school system in France and the US. She’s currently a student, so she really knows her stuff, and in the first video we talked all things middle school and high school. You can check out all the fun here! It’s my first video in French, but I added English subtitles for all you non Frenchies out there who want to check out the action.
Now, if you prefer my humour by writing, you can just keep on reading. It’s hard to touch on all the differences between school life in France and the US because there’s honestly a bajillion. But, I’ve got my 5 favorite differences below, and if you want another 2, you gotta check out the vid!
Well if you know anything about latin cultures, you know that adults reallllyyyy enjoy a good break for meals. Stuffing your face is no laughing matter people. Well, in order to get adults that prioritize meal team, you’ve gotta start with the kiddos. So lunch breaks for French babes are at least 1.5 hours long if not 2 hours. Like the US, the break consists of both eating and socializing. Unlike my US experience though, where lunch and recess were only 40 minutes combined, which barely gave me enough time to wolf down my PB&J while telling the class that Jillian accidentally walked into the boys bathroom that morning, the French have triple that time to eat and hang out. It’s even really common to go home and have lunch with your parents, grandparents, or even friends at noon. But beware, that if your French mom “just don’t have time” to see you during the day, she won’t be making you a cold lunch to take with you because that is INTERDIT (not allowed) in France. If you eat at school, you eat the same healthy, balanced, three course meal, that the rest of your classmates are digging into. C’est la France, c’est comme ca.
Growing up the only possible school during my weekends was Sunday School and since we got to sing a lot and there wasn’t ever homework, it didn’t really count. In France, you can actually have school on Saturday mornings! Let your mouth drop in shock because this can happen from elementary school all through high school. While Saturday morning means you have Wednesday afternoon or another day in the week off, it still sounds kind of harsh. You’ve got to say goodbye to Saturday morning cartoons if you’re 10 or Friday nights out late with your friends if you’re 16. I used to think that the French must just be used to the torture and not really care if they have class on Saturdays. Apolline shed some light in the video on that subject, and apparently “ain’t nobody got time” for Saturday morning classes. All the kids (and their parents) pray their schedule is Monday through Friday at the beginning of every year.
Already the system for grades or “notes” is numbered in France rather than lettered like the US. 1-20 is the standard grading system with a 1 being the worst and a 20 being the best. Anything 10 or above (50%) is considered a pass in France, which should already tell you how much harder they grade than Americans. We consider anything above a 60% a pass and even that’s a little shaky. In France anything 16 or above is considered VERY good and my ridiculously intelligent husband (I might be exaggerating a bit, but still) could count the number of 20 out of 20 he had in his entire life on two hands. I couldn’t even try to count the number of A+, perfect papers, I had and I wouldn’t go so far as to even jokingly call myself ridiculously intelligent. Needless to say, in the US we tend to pump up our students to give them the confidence they need to strive to go farther and in France, they tend to tear them apart so that the next time they strive to go father. Each one has its positive and negative aspects, but when you grow up in one system, you tend to think the other one is weird as F.
Oh the high of going to your first high school football game as a Freshman. The crowd, the parents, the mascot, the cheerleaders, the Abercrombie shirt you spent two hours picking out. #memories. While many Americans have their school memories intertwined with participating in school related sports or at least going and watching the games, the French have opted out. Of course, they play sports. Maybe not football, but soccer fever is at an all time high in this country. However, sports clubs aren’t affiliated with schools. They are private or public run clubs that you attend outside of school, without your school friends. There’s no rooting for your school’s mascot, doing the wave with your classmates all decked out in school colors, or even crushing on your new main squeeze while he smashes a volleyball in the rival school’s face. School is mostly academic related and from most French student’s point of view, its kinda lame with a capital L.
DUN DUN DUN. Every 17 year old student in their last year of high school in France cringes when they hear the word Le Bac. It’s short for Le Baccalauret and it’s THE big exam of a French student’s entire educational career. I’ve heard multiple French adults say that no other exam in their entire life was as stressful as le BAC. It literally decides whether you pass all three years of high school (high school is 3 years in France) or have to redo your senior year again. The stress is probably similar to that of an ACT/SAT for Americans, but the stakes are SO much higher in France. Screw up your ACT and you can just go take it again and replace the score. Screw up your BAC and unless you were ubbbbbber close to passing and you just missed it (in this case they left you retake a part of the exam to try and boost your score) say goodbye to the freedom of freshman year of college and say hello to another senior year at high school in your home town. #brutal
So, I’ve just touched the iceberg of differences between France and the US schools here, but next week we’ve got a second edition with a focus on college and we’re going to be answering the question, which country does education best?
If anything surprised you more than others or any Franco-Americans/ expats that want to add a major one I forgot, don’t hesitate to leave your thoughts in the comments below. I love hearing all your opinions!