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Interview With Other Au Pairs








Other people, "What is an au pair?" 

Before Germany, I would answer, "Basically a nanny who doesn't get paid very much."

During Germany, I would sometimes say, "A servant." 

After Germany, I decided to actually look up what it was I had done. As an etymologist enthusiast, I'm surprised I didn't do this before I submitted my application. 

au pair = on par with, from the French and means literally, on an equal footing. 

Of course, that is merely the definition and origins of the phrase. What is an au pair actually? 

Face value: An au pair is a young person (male or female) between the ages of eighteen and twenty-six who, wishing to learn more of another culture, goes to live with a family. In exchange, they will help with the children and light chores and receive a small pocket allowance that is not to be considered wages. It is standard for them to work four to six hours a day, and they shall work not more than thirty hours a week. They are to have a weekend off every month, should not have their religious convictions infringed upon, and should be able to have ample opportunity to engage in social activities and language courses. Average, 260-350 euros are paid per month, with the addition of a means to travel locally (train pass, car, etc). They are also to have a proper, private space to sleep and meals, as well as to be treated as part of the family. In return, they will do their very best to give beyond themselves. Both the guest family and the au pair are to be on equal ground, serving the other where they are able, learning from each other, and "expanding horizons". 


And of course, once you get actual people involved, things get messy from there on out. 

Or wondrously blessed. 


I was an au pair in Germany for six months. The first two months were with a family I'd face-timed with once before. They were a lovely family but burdened by many stresses. It came to the point where I became another of the stresses. I believe they'd hoped I'd somehow take over the children and change them into angels. Not that the children were extremely awful. I really do love those three children. But as someone who'd never left American, had a raging headache from trying to learn a new language, had my own worries pulling at me back home, and inadequate with the ways of these three children, I couldn't be the au pair that was needed. I'm not sure if anyone could, though I imagine Nanny McPhee would have had a strong chance. Ah, but the entire family really needed so much love, and I'm so very sorry that I wasn't able to lay aside my own troubles and know just how to give them everything. I think I tried. I didn't even try to have an exuberant social life there, though my social life was pretty grand. But I also saw the end coming before it came, and was prepared and even glad when it arrived. I pray for that family and hope to someday see them all again on better terms. 

My second family was for four months. An au pair should stay no less than six months, so when changing my visa was difficult. They had six children, and a routine that I simply helped with. I rarely had more than a couple children at a time. My workload was much lighter, though sometimes lighter. I could clean and watch children at once because these children didn't need to be entertained the entire time. I also played with them, but it wasn't so forced. I read to them, took them to school. I rarely helped when the parents were home, for which I was glad. Even as a babysitter in the States, I feel most comfortable when the parents aren't around if I'm to be in charge, otherwise there seems to be a usurping of authority that I do not wish to entangle with. My social life was even grander here, and my language classes soared. I no longer had the headaches; German made a lot more sense. I made even more friends and had more time off for activities in general. 

With both families, I never felt taken advantage of or even like a servant, merely because I felt in control of what I agreed to do and not do. I do feel the first expected more out of me. I gave what I could to both families. For one that was enough, for the other not quite. This wasn't necessarily an issue with me nor them. More a conflict of expectations and ability. 


And for me, it wasn't really a huge deal. I could move on. As an American, I could go home and would have a good story to tell. My purpose as an au pair was to grow and to learn and to have an experience. I was getting all of that, no matter where any of it headed. 

But that wasn't the case for most of the other au pairs I met. I met hardly any Americans while in Germany, and most of those I did meet was on a military base. I knew a lot of au pairs though, and none of them were Americans, and few of them were here as I was, "Just for fun."

They weren't here for just six months. No, they'd come for a year or two years, or longer. They'd come to learn the language and culture in the most economical way they could. They'd come so that they could get a B2 certificate (we all started at A1) in the language and then be admitted into a university. They all had hopes and dreams, concreted on things working out with their au pair families. Attaining a visa had been near impossible for some of them; changing families was out of the question for most of them. If they were to have the job they desired, to be able to live that wasn't even close to plausible in their own countries, then their au pair experience could be nothing short of a success. 

I remember the first two au pairs I met. One was from Indonesia and the other from Madagascar. Both were driven to find happiness in Germany, whether through marriage (many au pair girls speak of this) or through some job. One of them knew what she wished to major in, the other girl was still deciding. In fact, she was just glad to be here, to be learning. Anything at this point was closer to something

These girls spent almost all of the allowances on extra classes. The other au pairs I would later meet would do much the same. Anything extra was spent on food. I would ask them, "Why don't you just save your money and eat at home?"

"If I'm home, they make me work. Even if I've done everything, they say, 'Since you're home, could you just do this, too?' And I can't say no, or they'll be mad."

"They say I eat too much."

Or maybe, "I just love food and want to try anything new!"

To be honest, I think most of them could have still saved more money with some frugality. Sometimes I liked being gone as much as possible, too. But both of my families encouraged me to bring food with me so I wouldn't have to spend money. Even when I went on weekend trips, both au pair mothers made sure I had things to eat while gone. I do think I was blessed with thoughtful women, though. Some of my friends truly didn't feel comfortable taking food from their families. 

And yet, every story really is different. Being an au pair is an experience. My own two were unique. The ones around me each had their own stories. Oh, it did seem some things were prevalent. 

"They don't discipline their children. Sometimes the children will shout at the mother and even when they call her names, she won't say anything—or she will yell. I'd just have whipped that child," said one friend. 

"Spanking is illegal in Germany," I said. 

"Really?" 

All of the others nodded. 

"Oh. Well. No wonder."

Few of the au pairs actually enjoyed being around the children for long periods of time. I was always thrilled when someone said. "Yeah, I really love my kids!" 

It was common to hear, "I really like my guest parents. But ..." 

I think we all felt a strong love for our families, but I saw some real devotion from some of the au pairs. Even when they ranted, they would end on a note of defense, "... the mother just has so much to do. I really do feel bad for her" or "The father has been playing chess with me every night. I think that's been distressing him". 

From the au pairs themselves: 

Serena is a lovely Italian girl who loved swimming and going out for a coffee. She, Briyit, and I went out shopping once and all convinced the other to buy a dress. A grand memory! Later that night we just walked and walked far into the darkness, stumbling quickly over German of all we dreamed of doing once we were no longer au pairs. We had high dreams that night. Serena, tall and clumsy yet somehow elegantly fashionably, always wore a smile. Though dark circles under her eyes showed that too often she had some stress that kept her up late. She had high dreams of getting her B2 in German, then returning to Italy to study elsewhere. On one of our last visits, she rolled a cigarette, then announced she needed to go out for a moment to smoke. "Everyone does it as soon as they are twelve, though our parents never know," she told Santiago, and I when we told her it wasn't good for her. "But I'll quit when I'm ready to have babies." Serena knew so many languages and had plans for using this skill career-wise. 


Why did you choose Germany? 

I chose Germany because I had already done a couple of years of German at school and I like the language in itself. 


What's one thing you like about being an Au Pair? 

I like being in contact with children, a different culture, different uses and customs, and having the opportunity to speak the language 


What's something you don't like? 

I don't think there is something I don't like. Obviously when the children are not listened to but this is normal. [She means when the children don't obey]


What has shocked you the most about Germany? 

The school system in that it is very different from mine. The general attitude of people is closed, but always friendly and kind.


What do you hope to get out of this experience/your goal for the future? 

I hope to be able to communicate with others through this language without problems, find a job where I can use it, and maybe start another language.


Would you recommend being an au pair to others?

Yes, I would recommend it to other people, but being a girl au pair is not for everyone. So you must be very convinced that you want to do it.

Briyit was twenty-six, and so nearly too old to be an au pair. But then later I met a young woman that was thirty-four and an au pair. This other woman's case was special though, as she had come for a man she loved and was staying to help with some of his friends' children. Briyit was from Columbia and looking to study and get a job that she wouldn't have been able to acquire in Columbia. She loved her homeland but wished for the opportunities that Europe offered. She went to work out at the gym nearly every day and acted as mother for the rest of us au pairs. She couldn't understand much English, so we had many fun trials in German.  


Auf Deutsch/ German (my translations are done to the best of my ability) 

Schreibe uns, wer du bist, und woher kommst du! Tell us who you are and where you came from!

Ich bin Briyit Vargas, bin 26 Jahre alt, und komme aus Kolumbien genauso Yopal Casanare. 

I am Briyit Varagas, am 26 years old, and come from Columbia, also Yopal Casanare. 


Warum bist du nach Deutschland gekommen, und nicht ein anderes Land? Why did you come to Germany, and not to another country? 

Ich bin nach Deutschland angekommen weil ich andere Sprache als Englisch lernen wollte und die Sprache Deutsch ist interessant für mich. Ich denke auch, dass Deutschland gute möglichkeiten zu arbeiten und studieren oder etwas lernen hat und ein geordnetes Land ist. 

I came to Germany because I wanted to speak another language besides English, and I found German to be interesting. I think also that Germany has many good options for working and studying, much to learn, and is an orderly country. 


Warst du gerne eine au pair Madchen? Do you like being an au pair?

Ja, zurzeit bin ich au pair Mädchen. Ich bin au pair seit nine Monaten und werde bis Ende August sein.

Yes, for now, I am an au pair. I have been an au pair for six months and will continue until the end of August (2020). 


Was war gut? What has been good? 

Es war gut, die Kultur, das Essen und die Funktionsweise des Landes zu kennen. Es ist eine schöne Erfahrung.

It has been good, the culture, the food, and the functionality that you can have in this country. It has been a beautiful experience. 


Und was war schlecht und schwerig? And what has been hard and difficult? 

Am Anfang war es schwierig, sich an die Familie anzupassen. Die Kultur ist natürlich anders, man vermisst Familie, Essen und Freunde sehr. Aber viele andere Dinge hier zu wissen, ist eine schöne Erfahrung.

In the beginning, it was difficult to fit into the family. The culture is naturally different, one misses family, food, and friends very much. But there are many other things there to know, it is a beautiful experience. 


Was dich über deutschland überrascht hat? What has surprised you in Germany? 

 Ich war überrascht von der Organisation und der Bürgerkultur der Menschen.

I was surprised by the organization and the civic culture of the people. 


Was sind deine Hoffnung und deine Träume? What are you hopes and your dreams? 

Ich würde gerne die Sprache sehr gut lernen und einen neuen Job suchen. Ich würde gerne etwas über meinen Beruf studieren (ich bin umweltiningenier) und in einer großer firma arbeiten.

I would love to learn the language well and find a new job. I would like to study more in my profession (I am an environmental engineer) and work in a larger firm. 


Denkst du, anderen sollten auch ein au pair in Deutschland sein? Warum? Do you think that others should be an au pair in Germany? Why? 

Ja, warum nicht. Deutschland ist ein interessante Land mit vielen Sachen zu entdecken.

Yes, why not. Germany is an interesting country with many things to discover. 

Joanne is the first au pair I met. She invited me to her birthday party over text, all in German! I had only been in Germany for two weeks and had the hardest time understanding her and Ariana. We actually didn't hang out all that much because we were so busy. But I still think she was so kind as to invite me to her birthday celebration never having met me ... though it was really only I and Ariana. We went for burgers and she'd brought a piece of cake and candle, then let it and we sang happy birthday to her. She is pursuing modeling, I think, as she dresses and poses as such, though I'm not really sure as neither of us knew that work in German. She was with a family that fired their au pairs left and right. She didn't have very many good things to say about her family when she did speak about them, but for the most part, we rarely spoke about our families but rather comforted Ariana as she cried over her many heartaches. 


Auf Deutsch/ German

Schreibe uns, wer du bist, und woher kommst du! Tell us who you are and where you came from! 

Ich bin die Joanne ich bin 21 Jahr Alt und ich komme aus Madagaskar. Ich war In 1 Jahr Au-pair-Mädchen in Deutschland Stuttgart. 

I am Joanne, I am twenty-one years old, and I come from Madagascar. I was an au pair girl for one year in Stuttgart, Germany. 


Warum bist du nach Deutschland gekommen, und nicht ein anderes Land? Why did you come to Germany, and not to another country? 

Ja ich wollte doch gekommen weil mir die Deutsche Kultur gefällt und Seit in meine Heimat habe ich schon Deutsche Sprache als Fremdsprache gelernt und ich finde auch die Deutsche Staaten ist auch sehr Attraktiv mit Schönen Historischen und viel Augenblick  und die Deutsche Leute auch sehr Nett und sympathisch.

Yes, I wanted to come to Germany because the German culture fascinated me, and in my homeland, I had already learned German as a foreign language. And also, I find the German states are very attractive with beautiful history and many sights, and the German people are also very nice and sympathetic. 


Warst du gerne ein au pair Madchen? Did you enjoy being an au pair? 

Das war ein guter Erfahrungen mit die Familie weil Sie Sympathische und die Kinder auch Nett und Freundliche waren 

It was a good experience with the family because they were sympathetic and the children also were nice and friendly. 


Und was war schlecht und schwerig? And was was hard and difficult? 

Ich finde Schlecht ob ich  muss flexibel für die Zeitpläne manchmal gibt etwas Spontan egal ob ich schon etwas geplant. 

I found it bad when I had to be flexible for the schedule to sometimes change spontaneously regardless if I had already made plans. 


Was dich über deutschland überrascht hat? What surprised you? 

Ich war überrascht über ihr Essen und Getränke mit diese Sprudel Wasser. 

I was surprised by their food, and drinks with the sparkling water. 

 

Was sind deine Hoffnung und deine Träume? What are your hopes and dreams? 

Ich hoffe ob die Gastfamilie muss auch die au pair mehr helfen für integrieren und Respekt für die Arbeit Zeit.. Meine Träume ist ein Kinderpflege werden

I hope that when the guest-family must have more help from the au pair, they will have respect for her working time. My dream is to work in child care. 


Denkst du, anderen sollten auch ein au pair in Deutschland sein? Warum? Do you think others should be an au pair in Germany? Why? 

Ja denke ich schon weil Mann kann schon viel gut Erfahrungen machen und viel neues Kultur Tauchen. Ich bin sehr dankbar für meine Gastfamilie

Yes, I think so, because one can make many good experiences and do much culture diving. I am very thankful for my guest-family. 

Santiago was probably one of my best friends in Germany. He had such great questions, some of which I'm still thinking on today. He displayed such a love for humanity and knowledge I've seen in few others. He loves books and literature and language. Being in Germany has been hard on him, because the man he looks up to the most, his grandfather, is frail and close to death, and Santiago doesn't know if he can ever see him again. He facetimes his family often. He talks of translating stories in all the languages he will someday know. He already knows many. He began work on one of my short stories awhile back. He said that back home his friends would laugh at him because he would rather read a book than drink a beer. "Not that I don't like beer. I just think getting drunk is stupid. Because then you can't think." Once he asked me, "Keturah, I don't think I've ever met anyone that actually seems to love God like you do. But how can you love Him, really?" He asked more, and we stayed up late talking about God in a light I'd never done before, and he said he was almost tempted to think good of God, too. We had late-night food runs with other friends (Santiago always ate so healthy, choosing soups or such over cake and pretzels), a spontaneous road trip to Vienne as all of our guest families told us we were foolish and laughed about everything serious and not serious. We had long conversations about Trump and the wall, just to see what the other thought (and didn't think). Santiago is a friend I'll always remember. I really do hope he is able to see his grandfather again and have all his questions answered and all his dreams satisfied. Because of him, I cringe whenever I say I'm from America, rather than the States. Because, as he said, "We're both from America." And here we arrogant, ignorant Americans want to build barriers between ourselves and them. Instead, Germany is blessed to have Santiago's presence. 


Why did you choose Germany?

I choose Germany because I've always felt attracted to its culture and language, also the school and universities are waaaay cheaper than in Mexico.


What's one thing you like about being an Au Pair? 

What I really like about being an au pair is that you really get to know a bit more about the culture and of the country, or at least you see through their eyes.


What's something you don't like? 

What I really don't like about being an au pair is that sometimes you don't get to have the time for yourself and, there are occasions in which one needs to be alone.


What has shocked you the most about Germany? 

I guess I'm what shocked me is the amount of taxes, rules, and regulations that exist. Also, people aren't really free here. 


What do you hope to get out of this experience/your goal for the future? 

I hope to achieve a B1 German Level and more important, to gain a family and make long-lasting friendships. 


Would you recommend being an au pair to others? 

I would recommend being an au pair to someone else only if he is really keen on children and has no problem living far away from home.


I met many, many other au pairs than the four here. You'll see some of them throughout the photos, but there were also those who never managed to make it into the pictures. One girl, though, that seems to be in many of the photos, deserves a few words. She was one of my favorite people while I was in Stuttgart, with my first family. She wasn't able to do an interview with me . . . she did seem to be always working or studying. And when we hung out, the poor girl always had so many worries and concerns. But ... when she wasn't crying, she had the brightest, most cheerful smile and laugh and was always ready for a good bit of fun. 

It's rare to find someone who actually likes my ideas. She did. 

We had all sorts of non-touristy adventures together in Stuttgart, full of miscommunications because of the language barriers. But all the same, what a blast we had! Right before I left I'd started to teach her to knit and she had such a joyous delight in the yarn, that my own love for knitting was increased. Once I decided I wanted to buy some German silver coins for my dad, because he'd hinted at, "Those are neat!" So I got her to go all over Stuttgart with me until we finally found a place that sold what I was looking for ... meanwhile we had visited some sketchy places. She gave me a deep appreciation for Muslims; and since we both ate mostly Kosher, we had such a fun time deciphering menus together. She was trying hard to learn English and German at once, and planned to use that skill as a career ... she wouldn't be able to go home until she'd found a good job. I tried to get her to come to the States and stay with our family, but because she was from Indonesia it would have been a painful process for her, and she was just starting to feel at home in Germany. But someday, she will visit, I hope! 


As you can see, being an au pair definitely was an experience. I knew people that were fired, sent home early, etc. Sometimes, last minute, we'd have to cancel plans and push them up because the parents would decide that the au pair must watch their kid. I never had this: both families treated me with much more respect than the others seemed to garner. There was one girl that raved about her family and kids; even I stared at her as if she were insane. 

We mostly ate, to be honest, when we went out. Sometimes indoors, sometimes at a park or on the steps near some historical building. We ice skated and shopped and toured and philosophized and made fun of families for taking their children to the hospital when an onion would have done. We did everything that only wise, driven youth ought to do, especially when their imaginations were on fire. 

I would recommend this experience for anyone who wants to truly get out there and travel and grow, skipping the party phase. Oh, there'll be ample room to party . . . but also more diversity so that you get to define parties according to your tastes!   

Comments

  1. Such a neat post! Loved hearing about this!

    ReplyDelete
  2. Being an au pair sounds super interesting! I enjoyed reading this!

    ReplyDelete
  3. Aw, I loved reading this! It was a great glimpse into what life as an au pair looks like!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Twas one of the hardest things ever show only a glimpse of!

      Delete

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