If you’re thinking of a trip to Paris after retirement, or if your elderly parents or grandparents are hitting town for the first time, how best to plan this visit? Meet a woman who knows how to make sure seniors have a whopping good time in Paris. Genevieve Spicer is a Canadian-born, multi-talented woman who teamed up with her father in France to create Paris for Seniors, a brilliant idea to ensure that the city of light shines for all ages.
Genevieve, you’re far from retirement, but you’ve set up a service to help “seniors” get around and enjoy Paris. You have a soft spot for seniors don’t you?
You’re right, I do. But, I think we all eventually develop a soft-spot for seniors. After all, they are our parents, our favorite aunts and us, one day. In seeing the people we love graduate into their “vintage years” – with everything that entails – I think we all become a bit more sensitive and tuned into what it all means.
Seriously, how did the idea “Paris for Seniors” come about?
I decided five years ago to move my family to Paris to join my 78 year-old father for a “family sabbatical”. To live here, my husband and I would need working papers. I discovered the special “Competences and Talent card” visa which calls for the creation of a special work activity that is based on one’s field of expertise while, at the same time, promotes France. The visa was a 3-year renewable card and would give my spouse the right to work too. Only a couple of hundred proposals are selected a year. I began pondering ideas that could harness my professional skills and allow my family to get the most out of living in Paris and with Dad.
In Canada, I had been working for years as a communications consultant for a group of retirement residences in Canada. I learned a lot from the senior community and the health and wellness professionals in that “world”. I was also a broadcasting graduate with video and web production skills under my belt. Since we would be living in the same apartment building as my Dad in the Latin Quarter, I realized I would have access to a senior with a wealth of experience living and getting around Paris (he’d been residing here for 20 years).
Why not a multi-media website about Paris just for seniors? Pourquoi pas? After months of research, I submitted an Eiffel Tower-high pile of documents to the French embassy in Toronto in January 2011. Four months later, I got the great news: www.parisforseniors.com was now an official government of France special project and we were moving to Paris!
Is Paris a difficult city for the elderly to get around? What is more intimidating? The steep stairs, cobblestone sidewalks or the language barrier?
All of the above. It really depends on the individual. If you are an active, healthy senior and can do stairs, you will be just fine. But, if you have sight or mobility issues, you should not walk the streets alone, as there are just too many uneven surfaces and fast moving cars and bicycles. Stairs are often marble, slippery and uneven. One must be vigilant at all times and wear proper walking shoes. As for language, having just a few phrases in French really enhances one’s experience. Many Parisians speak English now but they really appreciate it when visitors at least try to communicate in the lingua franca. It’s also just plain practical to understand the world around you.
What should we take into consideration when planning visits for our parents or grandparents who want to see Paris?
“Know thyself.” That’s what we encourage our visitors to do before leaving the comforts of home. In this case — take an honest look at your parents’ or grandparents’ tastes, physical limitations and energy levels and plan accordingly. For many, Paris is the “trip of a lifetime”and the temptation is to pack everything one can in a week or less. Don’t do it! Pacing and feeling safe are paramount for seniors.
What services does Paris for Seniors offer to make sightseeing enjoyable? Take me on tour with one of your guides.
The “Mon Ami in Paris” is our signature itinerary planning service. We start off by getting to know our visitors with a detailed questionnaire and phone or email correspondence. Based on what we learn about our travel party – their “must-sees”, special interests and physical capabilities – we put together a custom itinerary just for them. Our guests find it a great comfort just having that structure, knowing also that we can always tweak things along the way.
No PFS tour is the same as we are all about creating customized travel experiences built around our PFS guests hopes for the trip. They will never have to “keep up” with the group. Our guests are the leaders and we take our cues from them. If he or she needs an urgent visit to the washroom, a rest on a bench while our guide stands in line for tickets, or wishes to stop in a boutique or café , that is what we will do!
Your business has also expanded to include services to help people who are mobility challenged. Tell us about the “Gentle guide to Paris” you offer?
Many of our PFS visitors opt to hire one of our bilingual guides who act as their local friend in Paris. The guides are Paris residents who will accompany our visitors, push them in wheelchairs (if required), and guide them around Paris acting as tour guide, translator and sherpa!
We also have local partners who provide wheelchairs, scooters and adapted vehicles.
We often suggest blocks of four hours of visiting per day, as this seems to be the magic number for many of our guests. We recently had a business man from Ohio hire us to accompany his 76-year-old mother and 78-year-old aunt around Paris while he was at meetings all day. The ladies, one of whom had mobility issues, had never left the States and spoke no French. We organized a well-balanced itinerary for the week of four hours a day of guided visits, with a car and a day trip to the Chantilly castle. They were just delighted; and the son/nephew greatly appreciated knowing his loved ones were safe and getting the most out of this very special trip.
Is it true that Paris is for any age and should be enjoyed at different ages in life?
Yes! Paris is a timeless beauty and nobody should miss out on all she has to offer. For many, coming here is a dream come true and expectations are high, as they should be! Yet, the reality is that this beautiful city can also be overwhelming and exhausting. That is why we focus so much on planning and liaising with our guests in advance so that we can take the bugs out of the trip before our visitors leave the comfort of home.
They are part of the planning process and know that they will be doing things that they want to do, at their own pace. They will not be stuck keeping up with a large group tour with 10 “points of interest” – half of which our visitor is not at all interested in seeing!
Our personal guides and drivers also give our guests a great sense of comfort and piece of mind. Some of our guests are not even seniors but just single women who feel more secure having a local support system in place.
Genevieve, you have traveled and lived in different countries. Will you share with us how you have reinvented yourself each time in your new surroundings?
Ah yes, the skill (fate?) of so many expats — the art of reinvention! I’ve been a voice over actress and on-air English teacher on national Japanese television, a DJ and travel writer in Indonesia, a communications and media professional in Canada and now, creator of a website that is helping make Paris a more welcoming place for seniors and those who need a little extra TLC! Variety is the spice of life and I would not have it any other way.
You are involved in so many activities between living in France and Canada: Co-Founder of Paris for Seniors, voice over actress and multimedia producer, mother of two children. What is your all-time favorite activity you do for yourself?
Oh, it is hard to choose. I find my work for PFS incredibly rewarding. I also absolutely love being in the recording studio doing character voices, narrations and singing. Sometimes my daughters and I work together on projects and that is the best feeling in the world. It is my happy place for sure 🙂