My previous post on school supply madness in France brought in a number of comments, but I'm not finished with this issue yet. Yes, I did survive the six trips to buy notebooks and pens, although I'm not so sure about our pocketbook. I read that the average cost of going back to school for a middle school student, including PE clothes but not books, is around 200 euros, or a little over 250 dollars. And what is this money spent on?
A lot of it goes to notebooks and binders -- cahiers et classeurs. Angela told me of a new system in her son's high school in Southern France which sounds wonderful:
"...last year the school encouraged the students to buy a bloc notes pad. The lessons were done on the pad and the sheets then transferred into the relevant classeurs at home. It really works and no excruciatingly heavy bags."
Unfortunately, that system hasn't been adopted here yet. Every class -- and the students have up to 12 -- requires its own notebook or binder. That may sound simple enough, but the choice of model is overwhelming. Don't forget, you can't just go pick up ten notebooks. Each teacher gives his or her own requirements, so you have to make sure to:
- choose the correct size -- 24 x 32 cm, 21 x 29.7 cm, 17 X 22cm...
-choose the right type of lines, the cahier à petits carreaux apparently being there just to fool people like my daughter's friend as teachers usually don't ask for them...
-select the appropriate number of pages -- 96, 140, 198. This has been a sticking point a few times as stores do run out of certain models.
-sometimes, choose the type of binding, but this is fortunately rare
So you can see that the margin for error is large, as is the budget. You also have to buy protège-cahiers, or notebook covers, which are notoriously out of stock in our area. One year my older daughter started talking about driving to Albi (over an hour away) where she had "heard they had transparent 24 X 32 notebook covers." I did not entertain the idea.
Finally, this post wouldn't be complete without a description of the epitome of the French school supply system: le cahier de brouillon, or the scratch paper notebook. I know this sounds like an oxymoron, but it really does exist. It guarantees there will be no sloppy work on feuilles volantes -- literally "flying sheets of paper." We couldn't have that, could we? So all "scratch paper" work is done in a little notebook, that can thankfully be used for all classes.
I must admit I have a soft spot in my heart for the scratch paper notebook. And it's one of the cheapest things on the list.