What’s most surprising thing for Au Pairs to learn about Memorial Day, July 4th and Labor Day?
A. They mark the beginning, middle and end of “summer”.
B. They are celebrated with barbecues and maybe some nice cold beer.
C. They are days when most Americans have “off” but most Au Pairs do not.
These three days are ‘bank holidays’, when many Americans get official ‘holidays’ off but when Au Pairs can be expected to work.
Along with Memorial Day, July 4th and Labor Day, the other 7 US Bank Holidays (listed below) are not automatic holidays for Au Pairs. Au Pairs can be scheduled to be on duty any of these days.
- January 1, New Year’s Day
- January 18, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day
- February 15, Presidents Day
- October 11, Columbus Day
- November 11, Veterans’ Day
- November 25, Thanksgiving Day
- December 25, Christmas Day
Au Pairs do not get US Bank Holidays as automatic vacation days.
It comes as a surprise to many Au Pairs that they don’t get US Bank Holidays as vacation days, along with their two weeks of vacation. After all, they are ’employees’, so why don’t they also get these holidays?
[I don’t have an official answer, but I suspect that this is when the legal status of au pairs as ‘students’ on a student visa comes into play here.]
Most au pairs who come to the US through an agency are told about US Bank Holidays at orientation, but it still often comes as a surprise to an au pair when s/he is scheduled to work on a holiday. It seems to me that this would be an easy point to miss, given all the other information (often in a second language) that au pairs are trying to absorb at orientation.
Cultural Differences re: Bank Holidays & Vacations
In addition, being expected to work on bank holidays goes against many deep seated assumption and expectations that non-Americans may have about holidays in general.
Most countries have more bank holidays than the US (for example, there are 11 in France, 8 in the UK, 13 in Sweden, 15 in Malaysia and 19 in Brazil ).
And, in most other countries employees get more than double the two weeks of vacation that are the norm for Americans. Put together the smaller amount of ‘vacation’ and the lack of bank holidays, and au pairs are available to work many more days in the USA than in similar jobs in their home countries.
If I were 19 and visiting the US for a year, discovering that I had to work on a bank holiday would feel like a bummer. I am too interested in barbecue and nice cold beer to want to have to work on Memorial Day.
Au Pairs and Bank Holidays, in Practice
One of the important advantages of au pair childcare is the flexibility to schedule our au pairs to work when we need childcare, whether that is a bank holiday or not, within the guidelines of the au pair program.
As a practical matter, many host families still need to have their au pairs be on duty. Not all of us who work get those days off. Even if we do have these days off ourselves, we still may need childcare, and so au pairs can often expect to be scheduled to work on these days.
However, many of us try to make exceptions when we can. We often want our au pairs celebrate the holidays with us or to celebrate holidays that are important personally to them.
For example, I really like our au pairs to be on duty on 4th of July, so that I can make them get up at 8 am can get them to come to the parade and the fireworks as part of the family. Plus, it helps to have another adult there to watch the girls on the playground while I wait in line for lukewarm Diet Cokes and soggy hot dogs at the after-parade festival.
We also will bend over backwards to make sure that our au pairs are off duty for whatever church services they want to attend around Christmas, Easter, and All Souls’ Day.
When possible, we’ll also schedule our au pairs to be off duty so that they can celebrate some holidays with other au pairs. If they really want to go to Times Square on New Years Eve, we won’t schedule them for New Years Day even if we have having neighbors over and could use the help.
As for ‘unofficial holidays’?
Don’t even get me started on St. Patrick’s Day…. You just can’t keep ’em out of NYC for St. Patrick’s Day. I have learned to anticipate a hung-over au pair on March 18th, and plan ahead to slog through that day on my own.