Lifestyle & Belief

Pairing up the young and old in Paris

By Genevieve Oger

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Mauricette Borloo is an elegant woman of 83. She's been walking with a cane since a fall in February, but that doesn't stop her from putting on her pearls to welcome visitors.

Borloo has been mostly living alone in her three-bedroom Paris apartment since her husband died 28 years ago. Last fall, 21-year-old Lorene Borey moved in.

It's part of an experiment promoted by the Paris city government. The idea is to pair cash-strapped students who can't afford Paris's high rents with elderly apartment dwellers who need some help staying in their own homes.

So far, things are working out with her young roommate, according to Borloo.

"We are very comfortable with one another," Borloo said. "She's well brought up. She keeps her room tidy. We often chat when she comes home in the evening. It's pleasant."

Borloo has three grown children, grandchildren and even a few great grandchildren, as evidenced by the array of family photos on her coffee table. Borloo said her youngest son told her about the intergenerational roommates program and encouraged her to participate. He was concerned about her being on her own during the night.

Borloo's roommate in this large apartment is Lorene Borey, a college senior. Borey said the experiment has been good for her too. She lives here for free, in a city where the smallest studio apartment goes for about $1,100 dollars a month.

"She's really an easy going person so I was ready to go for it," Borey said. "But I knew that maybe it could go wrong, because after high school when I left my parent's home, I didn't have to say where I was going or when I was going to come home. So I had to get used to it again."
Six nights a week

Officially, students commit to staying at home six evenings a week and every night. But there is some wiggle room. For instance, whenever Borloo hosts a dinner party, Lorene Borey gets the night off.

Guyonne Dartiguenave has the delicate task of pairing up the seniors with the students. She works for a Catholic organisation whose name roughly translates as Two-Generations Together.

The group matched about 200 roommate pairs for this academic year. Dartiguenave said that the pairings don't always work.

"The senior has to be psychologically ready to welcome a student into their home. Very often, grown children encourage their elderly parents to participate. But the senior does it to please their children, it falls apart," Dartiguenave said.
Not home aids

She added that her group sometimes has to intervene to resolve minor conflicts, but it's rare for a student to be removed or re-assigned. It happened in one case, she said, when an elderly woman's health deteriorated to the point where it became too much for the student to handle. Dartiguenave said students are there to help out, not to act as home help aides.

Lorene Borey said, for her, this opportunity came at a perfect time. Her parents couldn't help her out financially this year because her younger sister is starting college. Borey said that she would definitely recommend the experience.

"But I have to say, I've been lucky with this person, with this apartment, because she has got a lot of other people caring for her. For one year, it's a really great experiment."

But next year, Lorene Borey hopes to try another living arrangement – with one or two carefully-chosen roommates of her own age.