The French Boomerang: When Adult Kids Move Back Home (With Lover In Tow)

The twin problems of the economic crisis and university studies taking longer than expected have conspired to force many young adults to return home to their parents. Problem is, sometimes they bring their partners too.

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Pascale Krémer

PARIS â€" Why do young people always meet at cafés? That's the question frequently posed after the Nov. 13 terror attacks in Paris. "Either we live in a 10-meter studio apartment, or we're still with our parents," 22-year-old Jules Boissard answers.

A university student in his third year, Boissard lives with his girlfriend at the home of her parents. He's grateful for their hospitality, but he dreams of one day being able to invite his friends over to share dinner without having a couple of fifty-somethings joining in. "It was fun ... at first,"he says.

This intergenerational co-habitation is definitely a thing. In France, 4.5 million young adults live with their parents or friends, according to a recent study by the Abbé Pierre Foundation. The average age for young people to leave the nest is 23.5, six months older than in 2008. But the national average tends to hide the records being set in the biggest cities, starting with Paris.

In Paris and its surrounding region, fully half of young adults under 25 still live with their parents. But often these arrangements come with not just one, but two, young people.

"My mother found it weird at first that my boyfriend slept with me in the same bed under her roof," says 21-year-old Mathilde Régnier, a university student and Jules Boissard's sweetheart. "Things were pretty tense around the breakfast table. But when she saw that our relationship was stable, it didn't bother her anymore."

The suburban house of Régnier's architect parents then "naturally" became the young couple's first home. "Since we can only ever see each other after classes, Jules started to come every evening," she says. Solutions are scarce when you have no scholarship, no space in a university dorm, and too many classes to have enough time for a job that would pay a rent.

If they're always either at his or her parents' â€" they spend the weeks at hers, the weekends and holidays at his â€" it's because they can't yet stand on their own two feet. Since Tanguy â€" a very famous 2001 French comedy about a 28-year-old named Tanguy, who's still living with his parents (and badly getting on their nerves) â€" the parallel trends of longer studies and the economic crisis have conspired to bring generations together.

"Generational relationships have changed," says sociologist Anne Dujin. "We talk, we exchange, and today's greater emotional closeness makes it possible for young couples to live happily together with parents."

Pascale Brette, a teacher close to her sixties, occasionally accommodates her daughter and her partner, and her 25-year-old son still lives at home. "That was unthinkable for us, with parents of the De Gaulle generation," she says. "There's no cultural gap between us. We listen to the same music, we dress almost the same." Her husband was unemployed for a long time. So she understands why her son, whose job is unstable and pays very little, returned to the family home after a long year in London.

This is the boomerang effect, or the "accordion family," as Americans put it. The process of young adults moving away from their parents happens later than it used to, and it's also reversible. Families have become the fallback solution "whatever the social background," explains Sandra Gaviria, a professor at the University of Le Havre. Any number of situations can lead young people back to their parents' home, often with a partner: a hard blow professionally, a wrong turn in studies, even apartment renovations.

Of course, it's delicate a move for a young couple to move in with one of the families. Space and layout are obviously very important to limit the impact of household habits and to keep the shock of intimacy to a minimum. Laurie Pinaud, who is 24 and about to become a teacher, lives with her boyfriend at his mother's home. "I stay in the room most of the time," she says. "Thank God for TV and computer. I tell myself that even though his mother is very welcoming, she probably wants to be alone."

Pinaud never procrastinates when it comes to doing the dishes, and she refrains from hanging around in her pajamas. She's also been taking very quick showers "since that day when she knocked on the door asking me to hurry up. She thought she was talking to her son."

Jules Boissard never enters his girlfriend's parents' house if she's not with him. "I try to take as little space as possible," he says. "I help her younger brother with his homework, and I address her parents formally so as not to become the fourth child of the house."

Meanwhile, his girlfriend is looking for the right strategy to convince her parents to subsidize their moving out. She's tired of being questioned about her comings and goings, of the infantile remarks in front of her boyfriend, of the absence of a lock on her bedroom door. "We're being careful all the time," Mathilde says. "Thankfully, my younger brother listens to music quite loudly with headphones, and my sister is a serious student who goes to bed early."

As for parents, these arrangements mean no more TV dinners in pajamas. It's not easy for them either to be such close witnesses to their offspring's love lives, during good times or bad. When this debate first emerged in the 1970s, many psychologists subscribed to the principle that "no more than one sexually active couple shall live under the same roof."

But youth sociologist Cécile Van de Velde says the financial crisis has forced families together. "At 25, if the young couple has shown signs of stability, it's difficult for parents to say no," she says, adding that France has always had a moderate position within Europe, between the all-accepting protestants in the north and the prudish Catholics in the south. "But today, faced with the reality of the crisis, things have changed even in Spain!"

People no longer mock these young adults trying to find their way. Everybody knows times are hard for young people. Now, it seems, it's the adults who must justify themselves when they choose not to open their door to young lovers.

"I know I sound outdated," admits Anne Thomas, a practicing Catholic from northern France who told her son he can't bring his girlfriend to live there with them. "But that's how it is under my roof. I don't want to get up and run into a girlfriend in a bathrobe."

Marie Brard, who owns a guesthouse in Normandy, has taken the same position with her own son. "I'm not old-fashioned," she says. "I do think that the era of "nothing before the wedding" is over. If they want to live as a couple, that's fine, but then they accept that responsibility."

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The Food Truck, A Sign That The White And Wealthy Are Moving In

In San Diego, California, a researcher tracked how in the city's low-income neighborhoods that have traditionally lacked dining options, when interesting eateries arrive the gentrification of white, affluent and college-educated people has begun.

Balboa Park Spring Fling Food Truck festival

San Diego Food Trucks via Facebook
Pascale Joassart-Marcelli

SAN DIEGO — Everybody, it seems, welcomes the arrival of new restaurants, cafés, food trucks and farmers markets.

What could be the downside of fresh veggies, homemade empanadas and a pop-up restaurant specializing in banh mis?

But when they appear in unexpected places – think inner-city areas populated by immigrants – they're often the first salvo in a broader effort to rebrand and remake the community. As a result, these neighborhoods can quickly become unaffordable and unrecognizable to longtime residents.

An appetite for gentrification

I live in San Diego, where I teach courses on urban and food geographies and conduct research on the relationship between food and ethnicity in urban contexts.

In recent years, I started to notice a pattern playing out in the city's low-income neighborhoods that have traditionally lacked food options. More ethnic restaurants, street vendors, community gardens and farmers markets were cropping up. These, in turn, spurred growing numbers of white, affluent and college-educated people to venture into areas they had long avoided.

This observation inspired me to write a book, titled The $16 Taco, about how food – including what's seen as "ethnic," "authentic" or "alternative" – often serves as a spearhead for gentrification.

Take City Heights, a large multi-ethnic San Diego neighborhood where successive waves of refugees from places as far away as Vietnam and Somalia have resettled. In 2016, a dusty vacant lot on the busiest boulevard was converted into an outdoor international marketplace called Fair@44. There, food vendors gather in semi-permanent stalls to sell pupusas, lechon (roasted pig), single-sourced cold-brewed coffee, cupcakes and tamarind raspado (crushed ice) to neighborhood residents, along with tourists and visitors from other parts of the city.

Informal street vendors are casualties.

A public-private partnership called the City Heights Community Development Corporation, together with several nonprofits, launched the initiative to increase "access to healthy and culturally appropriate food" and serve as "a business incubator for local micro-entrepreneurs," including immigrants and refugees who live in the neighborhood.

On paper, this all sounds great.

But just a few blocks outside the gates, informal street vendors – who have long sold goods such as fruit, tamales and ice cream to residents who can't easily access supermarkets – now face heightened harassment. They've become causalities in a citywide crackdown on sidewalk vending spurred by complaints from business owners and residents in more affluent areas.

This isn't just happening in San Diego. The same tensions have been playing out in rapidly gentrifying areas like Los Angeles' Boyle Heights neighborhood, Chicago's Pilsen neighborhood, New York's Queens borough and East Austin, Texas.

In all of these places, because "ethnic," "authentic" and "exotic" foods are seen as cultural assets, they've become magnets for development.

Food vendor at outdoor international marketplace called Fair@44.

Fairat44 via Instagram

A call for food justice

Cities and neighborhoods have long sought to attract educated and affluent residents – people whom sociologist Richard Florida dubbed "the creative class." The thinking goes that these newcomers will spend their dollars and presumably contribute to economic growth and job creation.

Food, it seems, has become the perfect lure.

It's uncontroversial and has broad appeal. It taps into the American Dream and appeals to the multicultural values of many educated, wealthy foodies. Small food businesses, with their relatively low cost of entry, have been a cornerstone of ethnic entrepreneurship in American cities. And initiatives like farmers markets and street fairs don't require much in the way of public investment; instead, they rely on entrepreneurs and community-based organizations to do the heavy lifting.

In City Heights, the Community Development Corporation hosted its first annual City Heights Street Food Festival in 2019 to "get people together around table and food stalls to celebrate another year of community building." Other recent events have included African Restaurant Week, Dia de Los Muertos, New Year Lunar Festival, Soul Food Fest and Brazilian Carnival, all of which rely on food and drink to attract visitors and support local businesses.

Meanwhile, initiatives such as the New Roots Community Farm and the City Heights Farmers' Market have been launched by nonprofits with philanthropic support in the name of "food justice," with the goal of reducing racial disparities in access to healthy food and empowering residents – projects that are particularly appealing to highly educated people who value diversity and democracy.

Upending an existing foodscape

In media coverage of changing foodscapes in low-income neighborhoods like City Heights, you'll rarely find any complaints.

San Diego Magazine's neighborhood guide for City Heights, for example, emphasizes its "claim to authentic international eats, along with live music venues, craft beer, coffee, and outdoor fun." It recommends several ethnic restaurants and warns readers not to be fooled by appearances.

Longtime residents find themselves forced to compete against the "urban food machine"

But that doesn't mean objections don't exist.

Many longtime residents and small-business owners – mostly people of color and immigrants – have, for decades, lived, worked and struggled to feed their families in these neighborhoods. To do so, they've run convenience stores, opened ethnic restaurants, sold food in parks and alleys and created spaces to grow their own food.

All represent strategies to meet community needs in a place mostly ignored by mainstream retailers.

So what happens when new competitors come to town?

Food vendor at outdoor international marketplace called Fair@44.

Fairat44 via Instagram

Starting at a disadvantage

As I document in my book, these ethnic food businesses, because of a lack of financial and technical support, often struggle to compete with new enterprises that feature fresh façades, celebrity chefs, flashy marketing, bogus claims of authenticity and disproportionate media attention. Furthermore, following the arrival of more-affluent residents, existing ones find it increasingly difficult to stay.

My analysis of real estate ads for properties listed in City Heights and other gentrifying San Diego neighborhoods found that access to restaurants, cafés, farmers markets and outdoor dining is a common selling point. The listings I studied from 2019 often enticed potential buyers with lines like "shop at the local farmers' market," "join food truck festivals" and "participate in community food drives!"

San Diego Magazine's home buyer guide for the same year identified City Heights as an "up-and-coming neighborhood," attributing its appeal to its diverse population and eclectic "culinary landscape," including several restaurants and Fair@44.

When I see that City Heights' home prices rose 58% over the past three years, I'm not surprised.

Going up against the urban food machine

Longtime residents find themselves forced to compete against what I call the "urban food machine," a play on sociologist Harvey Molotch's "urban growth machine" – a term he coined more than 50 years ago to explain how cities were being shaped by a loose coalition of powerful elites who sought to profit off urban growth.

I argue that investors and developers use food as a tool for achieving the same ends.

When their work is done, what's left is a rather insipid and tasteless neighborhood, where foodscapes become more of a marketable mishmash of cultures than an ethnic enclave that's evolved organically to meet the needs of residents. The distinctions of time and place start to blur: An "ethnic food district" in San Diego looks no different than one in Chicago or Austin.

Meanwhile, the routines and rhythms of everyday life have changed so much that longtime residents no longer feel like they belong. Their stories and culture reduced to a selling point, they're forced to either recede to the shadows or leave altogether.

It's hard to see how that's a form of inclusion or empowerment.The Conversation


Pascale Joassart-Marcelli is a Professor of Geography and Director, Urban Studies and Food Studies Programs at San Diego State University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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