Tuesday, 30 August 2016

We All Live In Glass Houses

We All Live In Glass Houses
The Diary of An AuPair

One thing that remains constant in the ever chaotic pile of crap that is my life is the fact that things NEVER go according to plan. Disappointment has become such a common element in my life that it forever lingers in the background just waiting until it can come out and sucker punch me in the stomach Jackie Chan style.

Two years ago I came across a similar situation where my plans were altered significantly and after this experience I had talked about how these changes aren't necessarily a bad thing...funny enough, I still stand true to this belief. No matter how shitty things may be, it has all been a learning experience and something to look back and reflect on.

We humans are fascinating creatures. We have the need and desire to put up walls around ourselves and don masks to the rest of the world which paint a drastic different picture of our true realities. To the outside everything appeared to be amazing and perfect; I was clearly living the dream! But the truth of the situation was vastly different: I write about what I want you to see; what I want to see, but sometimes things aren't all sunshine and roses. Sometimes things suck; it is an all too apparent truth in this great bleak world. So ladies and gentlemen, since I've had a bit of an unfortunate incident with my current AuPair hosts, let me take this opportunity to introduce you to the challenges you may face if you do indeed choose to follow a similar path that I did. 

Yes folks, I'm about to tell you all the things that SUCK about being an AuPair because while I've had some great experiences in this profession, I've also had some crappy ones...and like an angry Yelp review, I'm going to prepare you for the worst right about now. Hold on to your seat belts cause it's bound to be a bumpy ride!

The Dark Side Of AuPair Life
Some Things That Suck When You're An AuPair

1. The Language Barrier

This is bound to be one of the biggest issues you will come across if you ever find yourself in a foreign country, whether it's for work or just for leisure. Now for me, I knew going into my situation that there were going to be difficulties in regards to language. In fact - ironically enough - I welcomed it because I figured that this was an opportunity for me to improve my Italian...which let's just say is less than spectacular at the present moment. You know when you've been laughed out of a gelato shop TWICE for attempting to speak the language, you have a problem

So to get into this problem (since it's a big one) let me tell you a little about my current AuPair family:

When the agency matched me with my host family back in June, I thought it was a perfect fit. Why? Well all the children were ages that I felt comfortable working with (over 7 years of age), the family lived in the center of Rome and vacationed in Tuscany (two of the places I aimed to visit during my stay in Italy), the pay was pretty good for an AuPair gig (let's get serious, it's never a pay check that you can really live off of) and finally, the family had a flexible lifestyle (which I believed meant that they were open minded and easy going). Safe to say I thought that this family and I would get along great despite the fact that their English wasn't the greatest - then again my Italian is shit, so I'm not exactly one to talk. So yes, I knew that communication issues were bound to arise but I honestly felt that I was prepared and willing to take on this challenge since all that was really required of me for the job was being a companion for their 8 year old daughter Emma. This meant that I would play with her and help her with her English (essentially being a big sister figure or a glorified babysitter) and I wasn't even required to cook or clean for the family. Sounds easy enough right? Yeah, I thought so!

So when I first met the family and they were all so incredibly nice and friendly, my expectations for the summer immediately skyrocketed (should have been a huge warning sign for me since it was basically too good to be true). I honestly thought that this summer was going to be aces: I had a great family, who lived in a great location, made me feel at home immediately, and genuinely seemed to enjoy having me around. I will admit that the first few weeks of the summer were perfect but both you and I know that the longer you stay with a person (or people), the more you learn about them and the more you start to notice their annoying habits, the faster that mask starts to drop (Snap goes reality). So after those first few weeks of AuPair bliss, the "honeymoon phase" was LONG GONE, I began to noticed something plainly obvious: I had no idea WHAT I was doing there.

Let me explain what I meant by that: For one, the family seemed to have zero need for an AuPair - their older children were more than capable of looking after Emma and there were always family around to help. Secondly, I don't think they really understood the purpose of an AuPair. While it's great that the family is super flexible and their schedules change on the daily, it is important - no make that VITAL - for me to know what these changes are. Most of the time I had no idea what was going on or for how long I was needed, which made it super difficult for me to plan activities for Emma and I to do, and even more difficult to figure out when I had down time. Sure we were able to have a few English lessons, play games, watch movies, go to the park, etc... But anytime I tried to plan anything, all of a sudden the children informed me that they were going to visit an aunt or a cousin or another relative and these plans fell through. The fact that all the kids knew what was going on every day and I - the one that was supposed to have responsibility over them - knew nothing, was not only confusing but difficult to work around. And on top of all this we had the language barrier which made it almost impossible for me to really express my feelings and concerns in a way they would understand it.

At other AuPair jobs that I've had, each family had made a constant effort to speak English at the dinner table or when I was around, since it helped not only improve their abilities with the language but made me feel more comfortable and at home. Instead I was only graced with English conversation when the parents wanted to inform me of something...which didn't happen as much as I would have liked. Indeed, I had in fact welcomed this barrier in the beginning thinking that it would help me understand the culture better but little did I know how much this would end up biting me in the ass. How am I supposed to perform a JOB when I don't know what's going on majority of the time? How am I supposed to plan activities or teach English to Emma or the kids when all of a sudden there is a change in schedule and now we only have less than an hour before we are supposed to be off to meet a family member. And of course when we are at this family member's house, no one speaks English and they are busy doing things with said relatives, which leaves me in a really uncomfortable position not knowing what I am supposed to be doing since I no longer have access to any resources to use at my disposal and so I am left feeling like I am taking advantage of the family for practically doing nothing. How Canadian of me: complaining about getting paid to do nothing. So yeah, language barriers are definitely a shitty thing that you may come across if you ever plan on becoming an AuPair but funny enough, it wasn't the worst.

2. Italians Are UBER Critical of Their Own Language

Alright alright, this may not be a huge issue for everyone and I'm pretty sure this might have seemed worse for me only because there were many other issues hiding beneath the surface. Either way, let's delve into this problem shall we?

Okay, so you're probably thinking: if they didn't attempt to speak English with you, why didn't you at least attempt to speak Italian with them? Isn't that what you wanted; to learn? Well good people of the Internet, I did try to speak Italian on many occasions. In fact, I have heard so much Italian whilst being here that I can now understand a fair amount, especially when people are talking shit about me - which I believe was one of the perks to this particular crappy situation. However, every time I tried to attempt the language - and showcase whatever it is that I remembered from that beginner Italian course I took back in University - everyone critiqued each and every word I said to the point that it became useless to keep trying. No matter how many times I tried to perfect the pronunciation, I was always wrong and I was always going to be wrong, do you know why? Because I HAVE AN ACCENT

Yes Italians, you heard that right. You know that funny way that I speak that is so different and unsuave from your eloquent speech? That something is an unavoidable fact that you can't simply ignore because no matter how hard I try I will never sound perfect to your ears. It's just like how you will never perfectly pronounce every single English word, since - sorry for bursting your bubble Italians but - YOU TOO HAVE AN ACCENT. But you know what the major difference that sets us apart is? It's the fact that I'm not over here laughing at you every time you try. No way! See, I actually appreciate that you are even trying in the first place and the way I see it, if I understood what you were getting across, why the tit does it really matter if it wasn't perfect? Yeah I may correct you if what you are saying is far off of the actual pronunciation just like I would hope that you would correct me as well but I would NEVER nitpick every word that you said because that's not going to encourage you to want to improve.

For example, I had to correct one of my Italian friends when he kept insisting that his job was walking around Rome and collecting people for Couchsurfing meetings. "I collect people on the street!" He would tell people. I NEEDED to tell him that people would get the absolute wrong idea if he kept saying that - and as my other Italian friend put it so eloquently, "people [were] going to think that you collect people on the street to chop up and display on a shelf". Yeah, so things like that need to be corrected but not necessarily mocked or ridiculed to make the person feel stupid. That never leads anywhere good.

So ladies and gentleman who ever dream of AuPairing in Italy and plan to learn a bit of the language - and I can only speak for Italy since most of my AuPair positions have been here - do note that many Italians are critical of non-Italian speakers speaking the language just like many are critical on other cultures attempting to recreate their famous dishes. It may seem personal but I think it's just a cultural thing that you're going to have to take with a grain of salt. Sure it'll suck but you don't have to let it get to you, I did and look where that got me: writing an angry rant like a mature toddler. Kids, don't be like me.

Oh and for all you Italians, you need to understand that learning ANY language isn't easy, so try to be a bit more accepting. And the same goes for English speakers: don't be a twat. I really don't think that is too much to ask for, is it?

3. The Many Awkward Situations You'll Find Yourself In

If you were born with the unfortunate habit of being in the wrong place at the wrong time and having to endure many awkward moments , then do note that this job is filled with such moments that are unfortunately, unavoidable.

Have you ever been over at a friend's house when a family argument blows way out of proportion and escalates into a full out scream fest? If you have, then you sure as hell can understand how awkward a situation that is to be in. Yeah okay, my family fights all the time and if a game of Monopoly is in progress, you just know that things are gonna turn sour eventually. It's normal for there to be disagreements, we are only human so it's bound to happen sometimes. But let's just think for a moment how it would feel to be living with a foreign family when all of a sudden every one starts screaming at each other, one of the kids ends up crying and you are stuck eating your dinner not knowing what the hell is going on. Should you get up and leave? Should you try to intervene? Should you just keep your head down and finish your meal? Yeah...a bit different than a typical family squabble in your household so be prepared for that complete and utter carnage.

4. Mary Poppins Syndrome

This commonly occurs when the AuPair hosts are new to the idea of an AuPair. They have this idea that AuPairs are superhuman and love to be around children 24/7. They sing songs on the daily, love to braid hair and read the children to bed at night. They cook, they clean, they teach your children to read and write and speak new languages, and basically do what you as parents should be doing. Yeah, I went there. Oh, in addition to these fine qualities these particular AuPairs are also required to be willingly available at the parent's beck and call (and are completely okay with this since they obviously don't have a life of their own), they don't get sick or upset or God Forbid homesick, and are basically modern day Mary Poppinses. I'm sure the parents are so loved up with this idea, they will even provide an umbrella for you if you asked. In any case, these are impossible standards to have for your AuPair and it's unfair to assume that each AuPair is going to work the same way. 

Families, your AuPairs are GOING to have bad days. And AuPairs, some days you will want to run away screaming "I am never going to have children". It's inevitable. And if you happen to be a woman, you are guaranteed to have at least one or two of these bad days PER month. Yeah, Mother Nature is a bitch and sometimes so are you, so you cannot be expected to be 100% happy 100% of the time. That being said, try not to let your personal affairs seep into your work environment and affect the work you do because even though AuPairing is unconventional in terms of career paths, it still is a job.  

Parents, you need to understand that this job is a collaboration between the AuPair AND the family. You shouldn't expect the AuPair to know what they are supposed to do when you give them nothing to work with and AuPairs, you shouldn't expect the parents to create you a detailed itinerary with your expected duties (although many host families do this, I have the charts and laminated papers to prove it). The most important thing you need for a successful relationship between the host family and the AuPair, is an open communication. If you cannot provide feedback or give suggestions to each other, then how are you going to know if things are working out and people are happy? Now AuPairs, this does not mean that you should tell the parents how to raise their children - that is NOT your job and frankly, none of your business. But if you are unsure what you are supposed to be doing, then talk to the parents - that's what I did...unfortunately, it didn't help in my case (I'll go into that a bit later) but that doesn't mean it won't work for you!

5. Culture Barriers

Sometimes miscommunication has more to do with a difference in culture and upbringing than it has to do with the actual language differences, so if you ever plan on being an AuPair, this is something you need to be prepared for as well. On top of this, each family is going to be different so you can't expect them to react to situations the same way or even treat the AuPair the same.

I think this was more likely the problem in my current situation. I tried to express my concerns with the parents when we felt that things weren't working out, but there always seems to be a giant gap in understanding. I don't want to generalize all Italians by thinking that they ALL have an issue with empathy, but this seemed to be the case with my host family. When I tried to explain my discomfort and how I NEEDED to know what was going on each day, the mother told me that her family is not a camp - they do not have a strict schedule of what they are doing each day and don't plan to have one. See, this is just the beginning of a long line of miscommunication. I never, in no way, insinuated that her family was a camp, I had only asked to be put in the know of what time each of the parents were working each day, any plans to visit family/friends and what my working hours were. I am NOT supposed to be available 24/7 and you should not expect me to be. If you need me to babysit, I am more than flexible and with gladly help you out. But if I don't know when you need me - and I am not given any schedule to work with - then it is terribly unfair to expect me to be "Mary freaking Poppins". I'm not asking for an itinerary, but I do need to have a basic understanding of my hours and I really don't think that this is too much to ask for. Again, this IS a job no matter how unconventional a job it is and I'm not a mind reader so parents please please PLEASE for the sake of your aupair's sanity, give them a rough schedule to work with. Believe me, it will not only benefit your AuPair but it will benefit you and more importantly, your children.


Okay it's fair to say that I've exhausted my ranting but it definitely is important to know these things going into the job. When I work service related jobs I like to tell the newer employees who I train that encountering a shitty situation is bound to happen but it's important to remember that "other people's problems are not your problem". I think this is something that extends far beyond the service industry and is definitely relevant for AuPairing. Things are going to suck sometimes and people will try to blame you for things that are out of your control, but you need to try not to take things personally. And if it does become personal, know that you are no way obligated to stay in a situation or job that has become uncomfortable. Screw 'em, you're over qualified for this job anyway.


That aside, now I think it's time for me to say some of the perks of being an AuPair because more often than not, the perks far outweigh the downfalls. So if after all those prospective shitty situations you still want to dabble in AuPair life, I will have you know that it's hardly a shabby job.

Livin' La Dolce Vita
The Perks of Being an AuPair

1. Getting Paid to Travel

Anytime you are invited to travel with the family, you are not only getting paid for your company BUT the family also covers all your expenses. Yeah, you basically get paid to vacation, which - if I'm not mistaken - is the dream. Also, your room and board is covered, you get a weekly/monthly stipend, bus/metro passes and phone plans are provided, and anytime you are invited out for dinner...yep, you're one of the family now. Not too shabby, let me tell you.

2. An Introduction Into A Different Culture

While there may be a few cultural differences, you also get the amazing opportunity to fully immerse yourself into a different culture. Through AuPair jobs I have tasted many delicious foreign cuisines while also learning to cook said dishes, I've learnt how to play local games, been accepted into many different family traditions, broadened my musical taste and of course, admired the local talent while enjoying a nice cool glass of Prosecco ;). 

Just like Couchsurfing is a cultural exchange, AuPairing is right along the same track...except you are getting paid for it which is pretty sweet.

3. You Will Appreciate Days Off More Than You Would In Any Other Job

I've been a waitress, bartender, camp counselor, retail associate, fast food employee, theatre specialist and certified badass in the art of odd jobs, but while days off are coveted in any job, taking a break from the children and family you see 24/7 makes you appreciate free time more than ever. You will more than likely become a local in a pub where they know your drink order as soon as you walk in and you may even dabble in the art of spending your hard earned cash on cheeky day trips around Europe. You will also appreciate that iced cold pint at the end of a hard night SO MUCH MORE

4. You'll Learn Of Your New Found Exotic Status

Yeah, being foreign has it's perks because you are now the person with the cool accent...unless you are from Minnesota and unfortunately were graced with a slightly less than pleasant accent. You will also stand out like a sore thumb especially if you are as white as I am. Unfortunately that also means that you will also buy up all of Italy's supply of sun cream and still manage to be made well done with a hint of melanoma on the side. Knock on wood... 

You will also remember that it doesn't matter how exotic you seem or how you manage to overexpose in every photo, you are still you and are incredibly awkward and prone to public humiliation. Thus, you will still manage to be forever alone...but at least the local talent will be a refreshing site to endure. Damn those Italians and their model bodies...

5. Family Life

Okay, I've already talked about the difficulties about being in another family but the truth is, it isn't all bad. In most cases, I've loved all the families and children alike...except the three fuckers I had to look after while I was in Novara, Italy...yeah, getting plastic animal toys thrown at you day in and day out with only three hours off between 7am and 11pm is NOT my idea of a good time. Have you ever had a plastic T-Rex thrown at your head? And I'm not talking about the cheap plastic toys, I mean the heavy, thick plastic that is in no way hollow and will cause a gaping hole in the wall if you throw it hard enough. No? Well it fucking hurts let me tell you that. 

But this aside, most of the families have been great! I've learnt so much from working with children that it's actually pretty hilarious to think of how the thought of such a thing used to give me hives three years ago. 

When you are an AuPair you become part of the family and even the extended family welcomes you in with open arms. And if you are lucky enough to have access to an Italian Nonna well say goodbye to your dreams of ever being a size 2 because you are guaranteed to get some junk in that trunk after one of her meals. So while being away from your family may prove to be difficult if you are a homebody, just think of how great it is to be welcomed into a whole new family. Yeah, it's not the same but sometimes it's even better!

The best part of it all though, would definitely be the children you meet. Kids are fascinating creatures let me tell you this! They will teach you patience just as much as they will teach you impatience. They will teach you tolerance; they will challenge your imagination; they will teach you to find joy in the small things in life. They will make you long for your childhood and wonder if you just as crazy when you were their age. Spoiler Alert: you were worse. 

You will teach them not to cry over spilled milk...or Fanta...or the food that you slaved all day making...or that really expensive glass vase that was passed on through their family for generations...okay you will be the one crying for that. You will teach them patience...you will also fail at teaching them patience. You will teach them that being nice is the best way to get on people's good side and they will throw a shoe or a T-Rex at your head in response. You will teach them that you hate hugs and they will make it their job in life to convince you otherwise.

So yeah, sometimes things might suck even when it all appears to be perfect on the outside: We all live in glass houses and what you see isn't always what you get. But sometimes it's more...I guess it's all a matter of perspective.

You need to accept the good with the bad, and take each and every moment as a learning experience. And even though I've had some unfortunate experiences, I don't regret any of them because if it wasn't for them, I wouldn't have learnt to appreciate the better ones. Maybe being an AuPair isn't my dream job but it's still a job that could end up leading to my dream job. Who knows? Either way I've seen some pretty amazing places, ate some positively delicious cuisines, met some absolutely incredible people and done some downright awesome things that I won't soon forget. Hardly a waste of time let me assure you :)

So if you think that you have what it takes to AuPair for your life, then I encourage you to go for it! It's hard work, long hours and stressful conditions (at times) but it is a experience you won't soon forget! 

1 comment:

  1. Great Post! Yes, control your excitement...It's just me...your loving sister ;)


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