11 August 2014

Life as an Au Pair

At the beginning of 2014 I embarked on a five month stint as an au pair in France. Honestly, I wasn't sure what to expect, and I was kind of over it before I had already started, but trying to think of a quicker, cheaper and easier way to learn a language didn't quite crop up in my one lingual brain, so I hopped over to France to learn a certain je ne sais quoi. When I first told my family and friends I was planning to become an au pair I was met with stares, question marks and awkward silences. I'm not the biggest fan of children, especially rich children, so this seemed an interesting path for me to take. But I knew moving to France would be the best way to learn French quickly, and being an au pair seemed the easiest way to accomplish my goal.

So mid 2013 I signed myself up to www.aupairworld.com and I began my search. What seemed like a million and one searches later, I finally found my family. I didn't want to settle, but in the end I found it difficult to find a fully French speaking family, with my own car, near a big city, with independent children (not too picky...). But I got what I wanted, French parents, big house, a cleaner so no need for me to act like a maid around the house, a car, 40 minutes from Paris, two girls of 10 and and 11, expect I had to speak English to them as they were bilingual. 

My day to day roles were to drive the kids to school at 7:30am, pick them up at 5pm, and basically watch them until the parents got home from work, which ranged from 5pm-8pm. Sounds like an easy job for a few hours of work a day and a €100 cash in hand but oh no. The youngest girl was quite the nightmare, with screaming, crying and generally enough to make me want to throw her in the Seine. The parents were by no means pushovers, and they didn't let her get away with murder, but with the amount of au pairs these kids had had there was quite an uneven discipline system.

So my advice to future au pairs is to lay down the law on your first day! The parents will most likely back you up as they'll feel embarrassed that you're the one disciplining their kids rather than them. However, every family is different, and so are the roles of other au pairs that I came across:

  • One friend had to clean her house for at least three hours a day, and she was told it wasn't good enough, so she left after a month 
  • Another friend played the chef, the chauffeur, the tutor and the au pair. She would spend all weekend cooking for her family, as their house was also a type of B&B/adventure weekend retreat 
  • A girl I knew was tortured by her kids. They used to hide her toothbrush then bring it back to her after they had cleaned a drain with it 
  • Another friend looked after two young boys so had to spend all her time playing with Lego, much to her disappointment 

This does sound like a few mixed experiences where some families sound like hell and some may want you to sign up in a second, but overall after everything I have said I would still do it again and I know a lot of other au pairs that would as well! Even though my French didn't improve as much as I would have hoped, I did pick up a hell of a lot of the language from my French friends and the family. And overall, days spent sat by my friend's pool or strolling around Paris, aren't days you can complain too much about...

It's a strange but wonderful experience and it gives you the opportunity to live in a place for a few hours of work a day, whilst learning a language. But just do your research! If you have time then search for the perfect family and ask them a million questions until you realise exactly what you want! I wish I'd picked a fully French speaking family, but I don't regret the location or the bonuses that my family provided me (car, lessons etc.) Also, make sure you Skype them as that first impression can tell you everything!
But overall, enjoy it and if you're doing it to learn a language then get stuck in! And last but not least, don't take any shit from these kids, you're older, probably bigger and you don't have to live with them forever.

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