“Forty is the old age of youth; 50 the youth of old age.” ~Victor Hugo
Or, as my 12-year-old daughter, Grace, likes to tell my 81-year-old father, “G-pa, it’s just a number. Get over it!”
They say Paris is a city for all ages. I’ve seen the power of its beauty and Hemingwayesque “Paris est une fête” vibe stir even the most blasé of iPhone-wielding, Snapchatting North American teens.
For the pre-school set there are marionette shows, antique merry-go-rounds and miniature sailboats to sail in the Luxembourg Gardens.
And, of course, for lovers, Aphrodite herself could not have imagined a more perfect setting to place her frolicking, romantic charges: a moonlit Bateau Mouche down the Seine, a champagne picnic in the Parc des Buttes de Chaumont, kissing allowed EVERYWHERE…
Mais bon, where does that leave seniors? What does Paris have in store just for them? And, to be clear, just what is a “senior” these days anyways?
These are some of the questions I struggled with when doing research for my website www.parisforseniors.com, a project I created with my senior adviser, a.k.a “dear old dad” four years ago so that we could move to Paris and spend time together on a “family sabbatical”.
Dad had been living in the Latin Quarter for 20 years and still considers himself “a young, free man in Paris.”
Back home in Canada, I had worked for years in communications, and had as a major client a highly respected group of retirement homes. I interacted daily with seniors, but they were all at least 75 years of age going into assisted living. I thought I knew the senior market pretty well and just assumed my market for Paris for Seniors would be at least 20 years older than I!
Hélas, I was wrong. I discovered in my research with the French Institut Français des Seniors that there are in fact three sets of seniors. For me the news was bad and Mr. Hugo was right — according to the Institut’s statistics, I am indeed, at 51, “in the youth of old age.”
Here is how the Institut groups seniors:
50+ represents an attractive demographic: the kids are gone (yeah, right), we have more time, and our spending patterns change as we have more disposable income and, apparently, time. (I guess they have not heard of the “sandwich generation” – where people in this age group are juggling work, grown kids and aging parents, ahem.)
60-65: is when the “system” recognizes that you have paid your dues and are entitled to old age pensions and perks, in addition to other “senior” benefits – like reduced train travel on SNCF trains and the RATP (metro system), reduced car rental rates (“Club Senior” at Avis), reduced fare air travel on Air France and reduced movie entrances at select theatres – with proper I.D. of course.
At 70+: you are officially recognized by the French healthcare system as a “senior patient”, with 73 being the average age that one experiences his or her first major health incident.
But the Institut also offers a more abstract view on age:
Your physical age (the year on your birth certificate); your social age, (how old or young you are perceived as being by others); and the age you feel: the age you feel in your heart and mind.
Enlightened by this information, and by the nature of the queries we were getting during our first year on-line, we decided that we would not attach a specific target age to our site but offer ourselves instead as “a gentle guide to Paris.”
By living in Paris with a senior, we were able to see first-hand how cobblestones, curved staircases, uneven surfaces and maniacal drivers are a very real threat to mobility or visually impaired people, let alone able-bodied visitors.
We wanted to make Paris an accessible travel option for seniors, yes; but also for those who just needed a little extra TLC. We would do this by offering custom, personalized travel plans, comfortable tours and help with mobility issues.
We have discovered so much joy in what we do — from assisting a 46 year-old woman with M.S., who brought her 18 year-old to Paris as a graduation gift, to guiding around a lovely 92-year-old couple who just wanted to visit the Musée d’Orsay in their wheel chairs and hold hands in front of their favorite Monet painting.
Our conclusion after four years on this wonderful journey? It really is the “Age You Feel” that matters most. In Paris, what moves people and makes their heart sing has nothing to do with age – sailing the boats in the Lux or stealing a kiss on the Pont des Arts can be just as thrilling for a “senior” as it is for a 20 year-old. Maybe even more, depending on the senior!