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 found my family. I was quite particular in what I wanted, as I didn't want to settle for any old crap. I knew I didn't want young babies or toddlers, I didn't want a family who spoke English in the house, I didn't want to be out of pocket and I wanted a place to meet plenty of Frenchies my age. After many messages and Skype calls I realised it would be difficult to find a fully French speaking family, as so many families want their au pair to speak English to their children, or even everyone in the household. In the end I kind of settled. I got a French family, but with bilingual kids whom I had to speak English to. The family lived near Paris, no cleaning was involved, I had my own car, I would get paid €100 a week plus my French lessons and petrol and the two girls were 10 and 11 years old, therefore not needing my aid to feed and bathe them.
I thought speaking French to the parents would be enough and that having to speak English to the kids wouldn't be a big deal in my mission to learn French, however it wasn't as successful as I'd hoped. I don't want to go into too much detail about the whole five months and what I did day to day but basically my role was 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, which meant this girl thought she could run riot around anyone that wasn't her parent.
The main reason I'm writing how bad this kid was is a hope that other future au pairs can read this and know that they have to lay the law down on their first day! This is really tough as you don't know how much authority you have, and even if the parents want you to discipline their kids. Obvious rules of no hitting, no swearing etc go without saying but are you allowed to ban the kids from the TV if they act like little shits? My advice here is to go all out! It's better to lay your laws down and have the parents say, "take it down a notch" than for your kids to play hell. If anything, the parents will feel embarrassed that you're the one disciplining their brats, and not them, so they'll probably back you up.
However, every family is different. I'm not just talking about how to deal with the kids, but your general role and how you play a part in their day to day lives. During my time in France I of course met other au pairs and all of their roles ranged massively:
- 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 chauffer, 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 hid her toothbrush then bring it back to her after they 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, mainly because the parents of my family kept speaking English to me... but I did pick up a hell of a lot and most of my time was spent in Paris with my friends, technically getting paid for it. 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! Also, make sure you have a contract in case they try and make you work all day every day!
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.