By Tanya Mwamuka
Many of you may have heard of the term Au Pair, and if you haven’t I’m sure you’ve at least worked it out from the name, it’s probably got some French origin. An Au pair is defined as a young foreign person, typically a woman, who helps with child care and maybe a little bit of housework.
In exchange, the Au Pair gets free accommodation, free food and some pocket money usually around 70-80 euros. Currently, I have been au pairing in Madrid since the beginning of July and will be leaving at the beginning of August. One thing I noticed when researching this, was the overwhelming information of all the positives of the experience. Very rarely did I see anything about the dark side of Au pairing. Personally, I’ve been experiencing nothing but a dream; with only the occasional homesickness or the rare disobedience from the children. I’ve definitely had my lows but nothing compares to the ridiculous situations some of the other au pairs have had. So in this article, I’ll let you really know how it really is; all the positives and all the negatives.
There’s Always a Positive
It would be impossible to outline the free food and accommodation as one of the biggest benefits of this experience. I guarantee a normal trip of this length would cost me way over £1000 and Au Pairing has cut this down by at least half. Not to mention the little bit of pocket money you get will help you fund all that restaurant hoping you feel obliged to do when on holiday. Outside the financial aid, you also get to live abroad rather than being a tourist since the minimum stay is usually one month. There’s something nice about being able to visit without the pressure of flying back home in the next four days. Visiting long term allows you to explore the nook and crannies of the area, and you really get to experience the place like a local rather than a naive tourist who falls under the traps of the non-authentic and overpriced.
It’s Not Your House and They Aren’t Your Family
This is something you’re always going to feel. Yes, your host family may do their absolute best to make you feel comfortable and at home, however, you really truly don’t have that sense of freedom you would normally have. Even with the overwhelming kindness that I receive from my family gives me, nothing is more freeing as having the house to myself when they go away. It’s the simple luxuries that really count; not having to be quiet when the kids go sleep; being able to eat like a pig without the fear of being judged for overeating. My host family had the right balance of care without smothering me. I’d be expected to let them know what time I’d be getting home to give them a piece of mind. But what time I get back and if I chose to tell them where I’m going was very much my decision. Unfortunately, this isn’t always the reality; many hosts have been known to impose ridiculous house rules like setting curfews (bare in mind this Au Pair is an adult of 23). The disregard of the Au Pair’s personal space within the house is something I’ve heard too many times; whether that’s executed by not knocking on their door before entering or asking them to do tasks outside of their pre-arranged “working hours”. Yes whilst the Au pair is part of the family during their stay, they also aren’t the host’s child and need their independence.
Also be prepared for late payments, and feeling awkward about reminding them that you 70 euros is four days late. If your fortunate enough to have chilled family then your luck might soon run out when it comes to food. Remember when I said the food was also provided, there’s nothing to say that the food actually has to taste nice. If your going to Au Pair you really can’t be a picky eater, but I’m sure nothing prepared one of my au pair friends when her host mum would consistently cook her a clear unseasoned chickpea soup every day for lunch.
Or the disrespect when she told them she doesn’t eat meat, but yet they consistently try sneaking it into her food. The funny thing is this is really only scratching the surface. I’ve even heard of host families ceasing their Au Pairs passports.
Kids From Hell
So this is something that every Au Pair will experience. I take care of two children a six-year-old and an eight-year-old, and the worst trouble I get is the kids not wanting to study English. When the six-year-old acts up her older brother usually backs me up and all is well. But like I said I’ve really been living a dream, generally, when I meet up with my friends there’s boasting about who has the worst kids out the bunch.
A Scottish Au Pair told me that her child is obsessed with private parts. Visit to the pool, usually consists of the four-year-old trying to pull off her bikini bottoms. To make it worse the siblings just love fighting with each other; when it comes to discipline they’re knowledge of English seems to mysteriously lapse despite being fluent two hrs prior. Once in the pool, they cease fire and come together as siblings for one purpose; the torment of the au pair. As she takes a relaxing swim across the length of the pool, out of nowhere the group of them pounce on her taking turns to drown her.
Your Going to Meet Some Absolute Weirdo’s
When it comes to personal life, frankly it’s quite easy to meet new people. The expat community, particularly in large cities like Madrid, are alive and thriving. You’ll find many facebook groups of foreigners with people posting, asking to hang out and the whatsapp group chats with activities, really easy to find. But that’s not the real issue. I forgot that back at home the people I’m around are generally people I like, and seemed to be naive in thinking that every meeting I go to I’m going find these cool like-minded people who I’m going to have all these laughs with.
Yes I did meet nice people and have been lucky enough to form a nice group of friends, but I’ve definitely met my handful of odd people. If they haven’t been odd they’ve definitely not met a black person because some of the questions I got set me back a little. Then again it’s all part of the experience. One thing I wanted to say these things shouldn’t put you off Au Pairing, for me, I’ve had nothing but positives really. But it’s important to know the other side to it. If you really want to make the most of the experience make sure you really do your research, also don’t be quick to say yes to the very first family that takes interest in you. Make sure you’re specific about what role you want to play as an Au Pair. For me, I wanted minimal hours and I wanted to be more there to help improve their English rather than a full time nanny. So with all this, you should be very much equipped and if any of this does happen to you then at least I can say I did warn you.
Tanya is currently studying Biomedical Sciences at the University of Manchester and hopes to pursue a career in science communication, media and African development. She is a lover of fashion, travelling and has a keen interest in racial- social issues. She enjoys learning languages, being fluent in two and is currently adding French to her resume.