Au Pairing

Au Pair Lessons: What is an au pair?


I feel like I should have led off with this. It would have made sense, really, but what’s done is done and the only way to go is forward. So forward we go and I bring information! And links! And charts! YAY!

An au pair is NOT a nanny:

Might as well start off strong. An au pair is not, let me repeat this, is not a nanny. In order to help start you off with the differences, I made a chart:

Au Pair Similarities Nanny
Has a maximum amount of hours they can work per week They both look after children Works as much as they/the family needs
Fluctuating pay depending on which country they work in Help with things such as homework, getting children to/from activities, encouraging them to help with chores, assist with bedtime routines, etc. Pay is more in tune with hourly wage, generally makes more per hour/week than au pairs
Lives, eats and is part of the life with the family Is seen as another responsible adult in the household that the children are to listen to Can be a live in/out nanny, though a lot are live outs
Stays with the family for a contracted period of time, usually between 3 – 24 months Time spent with family is as both need/want
Does not need to have any background in childcare or education in that area Most nannies looking for work have CPR and First Aid training, as well as gone to university to study child development
Depending on which country they’re working in, they must be within a certain age group (normally between 18-30) Can be any age
Is there specifically to look after the children and can help with some minor chores but is NOT expected to carry the majority of the household cleaning While it can vary from family to family, nannies can be expected to help with household duties such as laundry, vacuuming, dishes, sweeping/washing floors, etc.

Obviously this chart is not perfect and some au pairs do do help out more around the house than others, etc., but, I tried to make this as basic and uncomplicated as possible.

While parents have to be able to trust nannies to look after their children, as to parents looking for an au pair, looking for a nanny is a bit more fail safe than looking for an au pair. For the most part, nannies come from or else live in and are registered to work in the country the family is from, if not from the same city.

Au pairs, are, however, without exception, from another country. The entire idea of au pairing is to invite someone into your home, allowing them to experience another culture in one of the best ways possible. Finding one is  generally done through the internet, with a few Skype conversations, some emails sent back and forth before an offer is made and accepted/rejected.

The consequences, with au pairing, are thus slightly greater than with nannying. If it doesn’t work out with a family, you either find a new one (as I did) or else you head back to your country and either try again and continue on. Whereas, with nannying, yes, you’re out of work, but you’re still in your country/town of residence.

How to look for a family/au pair/nanny:

The great thing about the 21st century is that we have the internet. That’s how a lot of people find their au pairs/nannies/families. There are sites dedicated to this, some obviously better/easier to use than others.

The one I used to find all three of my families is Au Pair World, which is  easy to use, has tons of information for both au pairs and families, has most of the paperwork you’ll need within a few links and has a checklist for you to go through to figure out if a country is a good match for you. (There are a few restrictions that might not make it possible for you to be an au pair in some countries, or else for a reduced amount of time in others.)  I can’t speak for any other websites, but there are a variety of others that you can use in order to find a family/au pair/nanny.

What most of these sites do have in common is that they outline, quite well, what it is that an au pair can be expected to do. Some families tend to get the idea that an au pair is there for cheap labour, which is not at all correct. No, au pairs don’t get paid very much, but there are also rules in place that allow only a maximum amount of hours and the responsibilities that an au pair should have within those hours. It should help the searching families keep in mind that, if they need more help, they should be looking somewhere else for that help, as well as for au pairs to know that there are some things they might be expected to do and whether or not it’s still a good idea for them to continue searching for a family.

From what I’ve understood through reading through AuPairMom*  a bit, going to be an au pair in the States can be done through an agency, something I haven’t seen for au pairing in Europe. This option does several things: it helps to ensure that the family finds an au pair that should suit their needs, that the au pair goes to a family that has a better chance of matching what they’re looking for and that both parties have someone to go to if things don’t go well. This could be my bias speaking, but that is the one thing that I do wish au pairs had more of, is someone there that they can talk to if things don’t go as planned. Yes, the families are bringing someone in that they don’t know, but, in my mind, an au pair is taking an even bigger risk by leaving their country and going to live/eat/work for/depend on people that they know through emails and Skype conversations. That’s a lot of fairly blind trust to have in someone.

The benefits:

So, just because an au pair doesn’t make a ton of money, that doesn’t mean that it’s not a viable option as something to do. If you happen to be like me (or any of my au pair friends), it’s a way to do something while you’re not really sure what grown up thing you’d like to do.  While you shouldn’t expect to do tons of travelling, it is possible to do quite a bit. Either by yourself or with the family. My friend Chynna has spent considerable time in the south of France with her family, I’ve gone to Toulouse with mine and an au pair I know in Spain has seen most of Spain through weekends away during her days off.  Through days/weekends away, I’ve gone to Paris Lyon, Saint-Etienne and Annecy. Through holidays, I spent a week in Prague and time in Nice. Through leaving my first family and not having a second one lined up, I spent two weeks on the west coast of France. Was it all planned like that? Not even close. Was it worth it? Yes, yes and (even with missed planes and trains) yes. It’s really just how you look at things, really, as well as take the opportunities that are presented to you.

Beyond the travelling, I’ve managed to meet some wonderful people. There was Jean-Michèl in Chartres, the family that took me in in Saint-Cado, Chynna, Katie and Raquel once I moved to the mountains, as well as the family that I’m working for now. I’ve had the chance of meeting both sets of grandparents, with all their quirks and uniqueness, as well as the various friends of the family that I see on a daily basis at the school and ask me how I am, whom I plan play dates with or arrange to go to the lake with.

Since I’ve arrived in France, my passable French has progressed leaps and bounds. While I still fumble in front of strangers out of lingering self doubt, with people I do know, my conversations flow with very few corrections. It’s something I’ve come to be very proud of, my ability to speak French, to have an accent that sounds like it could be French and to understand the conversations going on around me. Having the confidence to talk to Apple and the Spanish embassy in French on the phone has also been a great side effect.

While I’m not really furthering myself in what I’d really like to do, I’m still doing something that’s actually quite practical and a little different. I know I come from a small town, but from the group of people that I graduated with, I’m the one who has travelled the furthest from that starting point, and for the longest period of time. Everyone chooses different paths and one is not better or worse than the other, but this particular one has given and enhanced several skills that I know others don’t have. So while I might not have built up a portfolio like I wanted to,  my levels of patience are through the roof, I speak a second language quite well, I’m able to change plans at a moment’s notice, I now know how to drive both an automatic vehicle as well as a stick shift and my ability to ask for help is second to none**.

I have had so many ridiculous things happen to me in the last year that have not all been good, but that have resulted in great stories. And everyone likes a good story.

To sum up:

An au pair /=/ a nanny and being an au pair (as well as having an au pair) is a risk, but can be so, so worth it. It just requires some reading beforehand to know what things you can be asked to do and what things are crossing the line, and knowing how to stand up for those.

*TBH: this site makes me glad that I didn’t au pair in the States. As an au pair, some of the conversations just seem….cold? Maybe that’s just me though.
** To a certain extent. Sometimes I still hate the thought of asking for help because I will find my own way. (No. No I won’t.)
Things I’m Loving:

+ A-List Actors – (In a remake of Le Petit Prince. Yay or nay?)
+ PIE! – (As in charts. Because it’s Monday and you need a laugh.)
+ Kissing for coffee – (Who would you kiss for your cup?)
+ 10 Skills – (For travel writers. Or just writers in general, really.)


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