It’s the end of another school year and I feel like it’s only just got going. I know I am not alone in thinking this and I know it’s not an original sentiment but really, these last ten months have sped by so fast it’s frightening. I thought I’d share with you some of the things that go on during the month of June to mark the end of the year in our neck of the woods, in the south of France.
The end of year Spectacle/Gala
If your child has been involved in a dance or gym club the chances are they’ve been preparing for the spectacle/gala for several months and their hard work is about to be rewarded with the big show. But from a parent’s point of view, this show is usually anticipated with pleasure and horror in equal measures. The thing is, it goes on for hours and hours. And it takes up a whole day. (So maybe just tipping in favour of horror…but shhh, I didn’t really say that, did I?)
This is how it works. On a Saturday in the middle of June a large public theatre, such as the Palais Stéphanie in Cannes (sometimes even the Palais des Festivals in Cannes, where the Film Festival takes place), is booked and taken over by dance/gym clubs from different towns. Rehearsals start in the morning and continue throughout the day until around 6pm when there’s a two hour break to eat and get dressed. Then the fun begins as each class puts on its show. If you’re lucky and your child goes first and isn’t in the grand finale you might get away by 9pm – ish. But, more likely, you have to sit through 3-4 hours of other people’s children performing until around midnight. Now bear in mind that this can involve kids as young as 4 and you start to get the picture of just how L.O.N.G the day is! Visions of Eastern Bloc mass displays of gymnastics, the Spartakiad, which my parents witnessed in Prague in 1980, spring to mind…I don’t know why! Add to this the financial implications; you have to pay to see your own kid, with tickets around 30€ a head this can also be an expensive outing for a family. The balance is tipping more and more towards horror…
So moving swiftly on to the other big event in the calendar…
The end of year Kermesse
The Kermesse, or the school fete, also takes place in June, during one long Friday evening. It starts shortly after school ends at 4.30pm and is billed as lasting until midnight! This is the school fete for infant and primary levels, 3 to 10 year olds we’re talking about, not high school kids.
First up are the traditional games such as Pin the Tail on the Donkey, Coconut Shy (made with tin cans), duck fishing, etc, all spread out under the shade of green oaks and pine trees. There’s face painting and a busy snack bar and barbeque which luckily for thirsty adults serves beer and rosé as well as crêpes, paninis, pan bagnat and sausages.
The children get tokens for completing each game which they then swap for prizes. The bigger prizes require more tokens so there’s a manic rush to do as many games as possible before the best prizes go. Somehow the evening always turns into a mass water fight as the water pistols are definitely the most sought after prize.
Around 8pm the raffle is drawn and the music starts. A local band or two play chart hits and popular cheesy music through to midnight and everyone from tiny 2 year olds to grandparents gets up to dance. One of the best moments ever for me, and one that I don’t think I’ll forget in a long time, was the singing teacher belting out Lily Allen’s hit Fuck You with perfect enunciation and everyone singing along, totally oblivious to the meaning of the words. It’s got to be one of my best “French” anecdotes. There is no censorship of pop music here unlike in UK where the F word gets beeped out (or even replaced with a radio “clean” version, in this case “Thank you”) and this song was a massive hit. You’d hear it everywhere in its entirety in supermarkets, shopping malls and evidently at school fetes! [You can read more about the French attitude to swear words in English here.]
Well, this year’s kermesse is on this Friday, and for the first time ever I’m not on snack bar duty having served paninis for 6 years running. This time I’m free to do the rounds with my little one and then I hope to win an iPad, dance to Lily Allen, dodge the water pistols and drink a little too much rosé under a warm southern night, twinkling with fireflies. It’s not so bad after all.
**UPDATE 2015** So, that night off didn’t happen, I got roped into serving paninis in 2013 and again in 2014. I guess I’ll be doing it next week for the 9th year, so I might as well make it a round 10 next year for my kid’s last year of primary!
What happens at the end of the school year where you live? Expats, are there any cultural differences from what you’re used to “back home”? What do you like and what don’t you like about the end of the school year?