Granted. Going back to school in the States is a big deal; everyone gets a new pair of shoes for the year (in my day, from Thom McCann), and a bunch of Mead notebooks. Still, it is no comparison to the veritable national holiday they have for it here. It's called, simply, la rentrée, or The Return. Camille made her "return" yesterday.
We learned in advance from la maitresse (who was, by the way, rather sexily clad in a light white cotton dress with some questionable decollete and high black heels) that the kids are allowed to bring one doudou: a doll or stuffed animal. Camille isn't particularly attached to any single one, but rather has a chorus of favorites that she swaps in and out depending on her fancy. When I invited her to pick one for school, it was also at the moment I was clearing out some rogue stuffed animals, and had in my hand a "new" pink rabbit that a friend of my fathers kindly sent to us (a woman whom I've never even met). The bunny is as soft and fluffy and cute as the next, but its distinguishing feature is the embroidered "Jesus Loves Me" emblazoned on its belly. Moreover, if you press its left paw, it will tune to the "Jesus Loves Me" song.
Oh the irony. We are not religious and she doesn't even know who Jesus is.
More significantly, however, is the major (I'm gonna say it) faux pax I risked by sending her to school with it. You see, stuff like this is interdit, prohibited thanks to something called laïcité. Its the French concept of a secular society, which can be roughly translated into a very serious separation of church and state. Ostensibly, we have this in the States, too, as outlined in our constitution, but we still have time-consuming and rigorous debates over school prayer and if we should display words like "In God We Trust" on public buildings and greenbacks. The French take this concept verrrrry seriously, and literally. On balance, I think its a good thing, but the very thing that is intended to promote tolerance can feel restrictive and discriminatory. The French government got a lot of heat for it back in 2004 when a muslim girl was prohibited from wearing a head scarf to school.
In sum, it means that things like necklaces with crosses or Stars of David are strictly verboten. And so, I'd imagine, is a pink fluffy rabbit with Jesus Loves Me burning a hole through its belly, even if its an unsuspecting and unschooled 3-year old who is carrying it.
photo courtesy of Laïcité of Seine Saint Denis