13 Things Your Au Pair Wishes Host Families Knew, guest post by Janine Snyder

by Janine Snyder on August 5, 2015

Janine Snyder, aka GoAuPair’s ‘Au Pair Sis’, has some insight to share from an AuPair’s perspective. Au Pair Sis and AuPairMom aren’t related, but we have a shared mission: we’re both working to help Au Pairs and Host Families strengthen their relationships.

From AuPair Sis:au pair problems

When an Au Pair chooses to leave everything he or she knows behind to live with an American family, they have ideas about what their new family will be like. Maybe it is more like “hopes and wishes and dreams” because, after all, they know that, just like their own family, no family is perfect.

However, when Au Pairs find themselves sitting down for family dinner, swapping culture over traditional American food (sprinkled in with a dish or two that they proudly made from their home country) an image of a happy situation plays out in their mind.

How do we get to that happy situation?

Here are some things that an Au Pair hopes that his or her Host Family will know:

1. I Want to be a Part of Your Family

An Au Pair is leaving their family for an opportunity to be a part of yours. Even if you are only together for one year or two, an Au Pair wants to hold the memories of the time that you spent together in her heart forever and hopes that you will do the same. They want to stay in touch with you. They know that when they return to their home country, they will feel like a piece of them is always in their second home; in America with you. They will cry when they think about your children.

While they don’t want to be the only one who takes care of the family dog or cat, your pet will be their best friend and will most likely want to sleep in their room. Don’t get offended, they know who their people parents are! Your Au Pair wants to be your younger sibling, your oldest child or your closest confidant. They want you to trust them and be up front and honest with them.

2. I Love Your Kids

An Au Pair will know that it’s coming, but they will never realize how much they could possibly fall in love with your kids. They may not even want to fall in love so hard, but it just happens! They find that they want to spend some of their free time with them and hear from them when you are on vacation. They love that your kids will talk about the day that they will come for a visit in their home country.

“Hector? Oh my gosh, He’s my little boy. I never thought that you could love somebody else’s kid so much.” Au Pair Monica Hinestroza

3. It’s Okay With Me When You Want to Have Family Time

Au Pairs understand that sometimes you just want to be with your family and they want you to have that time. Really! They will not be insulted at all if you tell them that you are going to do something with the family or simply tell them that they have that time free. Also, they want you to understand that sometimes they will decline your offer to do something with the family during their free time and they want you to understand that too.

“I think we just know…when you are living with people, you can feel when they need space.” Au Pair Lucia Perez Palao 

4. I Like Privacy Too

No matter how much your Au Pair loves spending time with you and your family, they want to spend time with friends or alone sometimes. Just like with their own family, they need time apart. In most families, there seems to be a closed door policy. If the Au Pair has a closed door or the Host Family has a closed door, it usually means that they need some privacy. That doesn’t mean you can’t knock, but might be an indication that they need some time to themselves.

If as a Host Family, you want more private time, providing a TV in your Au Pairs room or a mode of transportation for them to leave the house during their free time will help to give you more time with just your family.

Anna-Lena’s Host Mom would say to her, “You are always welcome to come, but you don’t have to.”

5. My English Will Improve, Quickly

Now that your Au Pair is immersed in the English language, she will improve every day. Typically, in 1 month from the time she arrives, you will notice that you are able to communicate with her just fine without any translating devices. Au Pairs find it easier to communicate when they are comfortable. Let her know that it is okay to ask you to repeat a word or phrase or ask you to slow down when you speak.

“She helped me a lot, the teenager, because we liked to talk.” Au Pair Caroline Azevedo

6. Happy Wife Au Pair, Happy Life

Veteran families know that when the Au Pair is happy, the kids are happy. Keeping your Au Pair happy isn’t hard. An Au Pair will be happy if her basic needs are met and she knows that you care about her. When she feels like a part of your family and a team of mutual respect, she will be happy and will feel like a big brother or sister to your kids.

Au Pair Sarah Schmidt said that when one of her Host Kids is asked what an Au Pair is, her response is ‘She is like a big sister from another country’.

7. I Pay Attention to Your Moods

Your Au Pair will constantly be looking for your approval and want know that you are happy with her. If she sees that you are feeling sad or stressed and that is not your normal behavior, she may think that she did something that you are not happy with. This doesn’t mean that you have to always smile, but if you think your Au Pair might be concerned, tell that you have had a long day or there is something on your mind so that she doesn’t worry. She might even provide a listening ear or offer to hang with the kids so you can decompress.

8. Thanks Go a Long Way

Saying things like “thank you”, “great job” and “I love what you did when ________” goes a long way! It shows your Au Pair that you appreciate them and the effort that they are putting into your family. Your Au Pair will want you to know that when you show that you notice the good things that they do, it will encourage them to continue to strive to be great. They will also know that you care about how they are feeling; which is so important to them.

Her Host Mom told Sarah that it was not about how many kids she has or if she handles stress well it is about ‘how you do with the family and how you’ve changed everything.’

9. I Take What You Say Seriously

Your Au Pair wants you to be happy with the way that they are caring for your children and what you say goes, but what works for you might be a little too rigid for their relationship with your kids. Just like a friend or a big brother or sister might be a little lenient with the rules, your kids are looking for that some camaraderie with your Au Pair. It puts your Au Pair in a weird spot because they want to make you happy and your kids happy.

Maybe one extra cookie every once in a while is okay. Maybe 5 extra minutes of screen time can be allowed from time to time. If there is a little wiggle room with your rules, tell the Au Pair privately so that she can use this at her discretion.

10. Tell Me About Your Ex

Yes, swapping stories with you about your life before kids while sipping tea after everyone is asleep is a secret Au Pair wish, what she will really find helpful is hearing about your former Au Pair. Just like with any new relationship, she will probably feel a little jealous, so try not to gush, but tell her what worked and what didn’t. Better yet, prior to your former Au Pair leaving, ask her to write down a few things that the new Au Pair should know. Don’t forget to prepare your kids for the transition as well.

“It’s really important that their routine still goes on, it’s just a different person who does it.” – Au Pair Nicole Absolom

11. I Know How Many Hours I Have Worked

It is so easy to lose track of time when you are rushing to get home from work or you just want to savor those last few moments of your date night, but your Au Pair knows exactly how many hours she works. Just like you know what time she started, she knows what time she ended. It’s okay if you run over the time that you told her that you would be back, but just like you would expect from her, apologize so that she knows that you respect her time.

Also, be mindful of the amount of hours that she is allowed to work and don’t go over that. If you aren’t sure how many hours she worked, use a log or just ask her.

12.  Please Don’t Make Me Ask for My Stipend

It can feel super awkward for your Au Pair to have to ask you for her stipend. If you have it ready to offer to her on the day that you agreed on it will show her that you appreciate her and she will appreciate you for not making her ask for it. Remember though, giving her a stipend is not the same as saying ‘thank you’.

13. I Want to Know About You Too

It may feel like you are asking a lot of questions about her life and her culture. The truth is, she wants to know a lot about you too, but isn’t sure if it is appropriate to ask. Talk about your past, your culture and points of view. She really wants to know!

“Long life best friends. That’s how it’s going to be.” Au Pair Chantelle Huyser

During your placement with your Au Pair, it is important to remember to set the expectations in the beginning prior to your match. Then, follow up with open-communication and a relationship of mutual respect. When these 3 things are in place, the little things that may cause tension between adults coexisting in the same home will remain just that, little things.


au pair sis pic

Janine Snyder has been working with Go Au Pair as the Au Pair Sis to support Au Pairs in the program and to share their recorded video interviews on her blog in order to improve the program for Au Pairs and Host Families.  (The quotations are from different videos that Janine has created, which are lovely to watch. ~ cvh )

Janine incorporates her insights from Au Pairs along with her experience as a mom, her 12 years of experience as a nanny, and her years of experience serving the Princeton, NJ area as a Go Au Pair Local Area Representative.

 A couple of these insights (okay, #10) surprised me — which ones are new to you?


See also:  Things Your LCC Wish Host Families Knew (guest post)

(Note, if you’d like to Be Our Guest Poster email me with your idea!  These guest posts are contributions from Au Pair readers, not paid or sponsored by any particular company or agency.  As a way to help share the wisdom and connect the Au Pair Community, these posts do have links back to the site, company, or profile chosen by the writer.)



TexasHM August 5, 2015 at 11:57 am

It’s shocking to me that APs have to ask for their stipend ever. Ever. We set ours up on autopay but seriously, can you imagine have to hunt your HPs to get paid when you are already paid in arrears? Awful. We actually switched to autopay because once or twice my first AP had to remind me on Friday night and I felt so awful I knew I needed to automate it. She (AP) thought it was funny that I felt so bad and didn’t seem concerned but really, whether its writing out the check ahead of time post dated or autopay or whatever there is no reason to not be able to pay on time regularly.

WarmStateMomma August 6, 2015 at 11:23 am

Totally agree. We do autopay for this reason and it makes me crazy when we forget to stop by the ATM the first few weeks before she has a US bank account. We expect the AP to provide child care on the right days – we have a corresponding obligation to pay her on the right day!

spanishaupair August 5, 2015 at 1:29 pm

I more or less agree with them but with a couple of “but”

#2 yes we love your kids and they become as our own kids specially if they are babies/toddlers, and we would like sometimesto spend our free time with them but doesnt mean we want to spend 24 hours a day with them and they need daddy and mummy time so aupair being home doesnt mean she is available around the clock

#10 im not sure i agree about this one at all. We need to settle and grew our wn relationship with you and sometimes being told all time how great was previous aupair and how much you love/miss her is alward. I dont mean not talking at all but an i mean an intermediate point.

Janine-Au Pair Sis August 14, 2015 at 4:20 pm

I completely agree with you! For #2, you certainly need a break. Sometimes, you will be watching the clock, but let’s be serious, parents have those moments when they are watching the clock too. It doesn’t mean you love them less. You will also have those days when you wish the time with your Host Kids will never end…those are the memories that you take home with you.

For #10, I DEFINITELY don’t want to hear about how great your last Au Pair was, but some tips in the beginning would be good. I was a nanny for 12 years and I was with 1 family for 9 of those years. I was with them longer than any of their other nannies and the relationship and love we have for each other will never compare, but to this day, I still get jealous when their mom mentions their nannies before me.

Should be working August 6, 2015 at 12:38 pm

This is a nice list of qualities and thoughts that many au pairs have–but frankly it has the air of rosy PR rather than nitty-gritty. In particular I worry that newbie HPs reading this might not understand that all of these thoughts and qualities are not present in every au pair; and the reality of hosting an au pair might not look like this for some HFs; and it is the responsibility of the HF to set the tone of the relationship in a way that works out for everyone, while responding to the AP’s own style and needs.

Elsewhere on the blog HPs have written, in contrast to the spirit of this post, about how:

1. HPs need to suss out in matching just exactly what “member of the family” means to the candidate, how that fits with the HPs understanding of “member of the family”; and also need to know that the relationship can change a lot from the early-days-family-member to later-days-not-home-much-outside-work relationship. There are huge cultural differences that can play into the “member of the family” model, and also individual differences.

2. Not all APs “fall in love” with the HKs. It’s great when they do. Sometimes they like them very much but it’s not “falling in love”. Some APs are perfectly fine, helpful and “professional” with the kids but don’t love them. It depends on the HPs whether any of these counts as “loving enough”.

3. An AP might in some cases actually be offended if she wants to be part of a family event and is not invited. We talk on the blog about how to handle that with grace and tact.

4. “Keeping your AP happy” is not usually too hard when the AP is reasonable, shares expectations with the HF, and is not suffering from depression or homesickness. It can be quite hard if any of these criteria are not met. Many HPs on this blog report that “basic needs met” is not satisfactory to an AP who gets to comparing her/his situation with a friend’s in a more affluent family, for instance. Homesickness can ruin things even when the HPs do everything right. Managing expectations is an ongoing task for HPs.

5. Definitely many APs are not constantly looking for HP approval. Most APs have an early-days concern for approval. Sometimes this wears off as they gain confidence and learn routines–which can be a relief for HPs because it signals that the AP is taking over responsibility. Some APs do not respect or do not conform to their HPs’ ways of doing things and their child-rearing strategies. HPs need to think about how different the AP’s way of managing the kids can be while still being ok with the HPs. Also we have talked here a lot about moods. APs are often still teenagers and like everyone APs have moods of their own. They might not be so worried about HPs’ moods. They may come from moody households and see moodiness as normal. This is all stuff to suss out in matching and work on in training/early days, and on an ongoing basis.

6. It is definitely not ok for HPs to come home later than stated, unless it is truly ok for the AP. APs have social plans, appointments, and so on. It might happen that an HP is late, but this should be rare. Apologies aren’t enough if an AP can’t count on her end time of work.

7. Not all APs are so terribly curious about HPs. Many or most are. It’s nice to have those conversations, but it’s not a given and APs might feel they have to show interest when they are in fact less interested than this post suggests.

Please note that I like hearing from LCCs/LARs on here. I do not mean to criticize or offend Janine, who is–like many LCCs/LARs–a positive, helpful person who loves the AP program. I do, however, feel that this post simplifies and paints with a rosy brush some aspects of the AP/HP relationship that are instead complex, highly variable, and prone to occasional mismatches of expectations.

BearCo Momma August 6, 2015 at 1:58 pm

Agree 100% — especially with your final statement about the AP/HP relationship being complex and highly variable.

None of my APs would agree with everything on this list – or didn’t seem to anyway. Just 1 example – my current AP, unless she’s lying to me, has no idea how many hours she worked. We jump through hoops to keep under the 45 hours and she always looked upset whenever we talked about the schedule for the upcoming week. For awhile, I thought she was angry that we were adjusting the times or adding hours (still within 45) but finally she told me that it actually offended her to talk about hours at all , because it made her feel like an “employee” instead of a family member. We explained to her why it was important to us to keep inside the rules and have a set schedule, and I think she understood, but I still think she doesn’t think much about it and thinks its a “silly” thing we stress over unnecessarily.

On the flip side we had an AP who was seemingly never happy – about anything – no matter how much we bent over backwards to accommodate her. So I definitely wouldn’t say all APs are easy to please. Having an “easy to please” personality, i.e. a positive outlook on life, is now something I specifically look for in matching.

Janine-Au Pair Sis August 14, 2015 at 5:04 pm

Did it really come off as PRie?? I guess you’re right :) It did paint a rosy picture of the Au Pair experience. I was a nanny for 12 years and I loved it. All of the things that I mentioned were my experience that I found Au Pairs were experiencing as well. I guess because I had such a great experience and the Au Pairs that I have spent the past couple years interviewing also had great experiences, this shared a more singular view. I really appreciate you emphasis on certain points and the counter part on certain points. Thanks for rounding out this article!

Vanilla Ex Au Pair August 6, 2015 at 4:43 pm

Number 9 100% true!

German Au-Pair August 6, 2015 at 7:32 pm

The thing is that this is not a blog written by an AP just like this blog [post] is written by a HM. It’s a blog [post] that is directly linked to one of the agencies [cv notes: this guest post itself if from a person employed by an agency. This blog itself is not connected to any agency.] ... so I also think they’re trying to paint a certain picture here.

I do like the general sentiment though. Every person with a brain knows that no one can make statements about a certain group of people that are true for every single person within this group -prejudices…- but the general sentiment is, that HP should also consider the AP’s POV. It’s natural for the HP writing on this blog but certainly not for everyone. AP’s get a fair amount of coaching when it comes to the needs of the HF, so it’s nice to consider the AP’s needs, too.

While I love that there are so many HMs here who are trying to improve their relationship with their APs, sometimes I do feel like this aspect is missing. Some APs are more emotionally independent than others but essentially we’re all in the same boat: we leave our lives behind to come live with your family. For some it’s easier, but many come at a very young age, just after they’ve finished school. It’s a transitioning period anyways -you go from being able to see your friends every day to living seperate lives. That’s hard as it is but when we go to another country, we willingly risk losing those friendships completely. I was very aware of that before I left but that’s one of the biggest fears -how will your friendships survive being apart from such a long time and one person undergoing significantly more change than others? For those who come straight from school their whole routine changes. In school you get babied, have pretty much no responsibilities and then suddenly you essentially are a parent for the bigger part of the day.

Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s part of being an adult to be able to assess this situation beforehand and then you have to deal with the consequences (which is why I have zero patience for homesickness). I just want to point out that it’s hard to imagine what an AP does to get where she is.

I missed this aspect a bit in the discussion about letting the AP stay after her travel month. I understand that the HP need to prepare for the next one, have to deal with the incoveniences that come with the transition and want to make it as smooth as possible. But for a HP, essentially their lives are moving on. For an AP -provided that she has bonded with the family and kids- she is giving up a whole life that she has built over 1 or 2 years. You literally build a new life out of nothing and then you leave it behind for good.

Again, it comes with the territory. But I still carry pictures of my children in my wallet and I still call them “my children”.

I was done being an AP when I left and I was ready to start something that actually builds up to my own future and career. That doesn’t mean that I don’t miss my life there, with all its perks and incoveniences. I never had any homesickness while I was in the US, but I have experienced it when I came back home.

Most APs I know feel like part of them stayed in that life and never truly feel at home again. It’s not just a temporary fun gig or a smart career choice for many of us, it’s building a new life and putting a time stamp on it. And while APs are there to make the HFs life easier -and while every AP is different- to me, the point that’s missing on this list is: we wish the HF acknowledged the sacrifices we happily make when becoming an AP.

WarmStateMomma August 6, 2015 at 8:23 pm

What would be on your list “Things I wish my HP knew”?

German Au-Pair August 7, 2015 at 9:57 am

My main point absolutely would be the bottom line of my last comment. We give up everything -twice!- to come live with you. While we know we’re there to make your life easier -and are willing to commit to that- please remember that while we are just a temporary part of yours, you are the focus of a whole second life we build. Again, some APs are more indepdendent than others (I would place myself in the middle) but it’s still true for everyone that we build something entirely new and it revolves around your family and children.

We need guidance with our children.
I had worked with children for a while and taken over responsibilities for my younger sibling as well but I still sometimes felt like I didn’t get enough guidance. I was always reluctant to fully take the lead on issues that I was afraid could be something my HP would want to handle themselves and I know it lead to them being a little dissatisfied about my independence. I would have loved some very clear ground rules about what is okay for me to decide on my own and what is not. And then, as follow up, I think it is important to respect the APs decisions on things you gave her the freedom to decide. I understand that you come home from long work days and don’t want to get involved into the battles your AP was fighting. You want to enjoy your time with your children. But sometimes we go through hell with your children during the day (because let’s face it, even the biggest angel has a little devil inside) and we barely manage and when we impose a consequence and see you doing the exact opposite, it not only is the cherry on top of a terrible day, it also makes next time so much harder. If you give us room for decisions, please respect them. If you disagree, please still follow through with this one and later tell us what we could make better.

Please be consistent with what you ask of us and with what you do yourself. Now I know it’s not always possible and I luckily had no problem with that but I know some HP will tell their APs she cannot let the kids watch TV longer than x and then don’t follow through with that when they are in charge. Or similar things.
The AP sometimes already has the difficult taks of dealing with kids who’d rather be with mommy or daddy and having less authority than the parents. If she has to stick to rules that you are much more lenient with, she’ll also come off as rigid and mean. Again, I understand the parents’ situation. They are your children and you have a better understanding of when it is okay to bend the rules a bit. You also have every right to expect your caregiver to follow your rules and do whatever the hell you want with your children. But maybe a compromise would be to talk to your AP and TELL her in which situations it’s okay to bend the rules a bit. And how much they can be bent. That will make your AP happy and improve her relationship with the kids. It will also make her feel like you understand her situation and are interested in making life easier for everyone.

Something that fits point #3: please let us know when you want privacy. That was always really hard for me as I’m communicative and wanted to have a good relationship with my HP. But I also like privacy so I absolutely understand that sometimes you just don’t want your AP (or anyone) around. This point depends on the character of both you and your AP, but overall I think it would be beneficial to establish a system (and to me the prefered one would be to actually say “I really hate the world today, would you mind giving me some privacy to wind down?”) that lets your AP know when you’re open for socializing and when you’re not. Might also help to establish this before matching so your personalities actually align.
Especially the intercultural aspect can make this really hard because it’s known by now that Americans are more subtle when it comes to things like that. I don’t want you to be polite to me when really you wish I’d left you alone. Because once I think you are, I’ll always wonder. That can become pretty stressful. (And I would actually say I’m pretty good at reading people. That’s not the point. When you live with someone, you don’t want to always have to try to read the others. )
We also understand being in a bad mood. When you unnecessarily snap at your AP because you are stressed, it’s not a sign of weakness to later admit that. We don’t need you to give us reasons if you don’t want to. But saying you blew things out of proportion because you were stressed will make us feel better. It will also help us to take you more seriously and respond better to actual criticism.

Sometimes we repeat things that we grew up with, say things we were taught are appropriate and relive our own family dynamics. I grew up with a lot of playful banter and sometimes snide comments and never thought anything of it until I came to my HF. If you notice something like that, don’t judge your AP, she may really not know better. What seems crystal clear for you, may have never crossed her mind. Whenever I’m forgetful and have to come back to do it, my parents will say “What you don’t have in your brain, you have in your legs” (makes more grammatical sense in German :D ) and to me that’s just a normal statement but has earned me a disapproving loooking from my HM. If you notice something like that, don’t judge, don’t keep it in but just ask your AP what she thought of that and explain to her why you don’t think it’s appropriate. That especially applies to the shaming strategy that has been discussed on this blog. I understand a zero tolerance policy but it’s only fair to givce your AP the benefit of the doubt and explain to her what happened. She may not see it as shaming at all because she is so used to it that it has never occured to her. When you grow up with certain ways that doesn’t mean you cannot change them -it just means you need to be made aware in order TO change them.

We cannot read minds. I understand being not confrontational, especially in your own house, but if something bothers you, please say so. And while we try to take the cultural aspect into considerdation, it wouldn’t hurt if your tried that to. Again, this makes for a great pre-matching question: “How do you handle conflict in your family?” I found that I was immune to subtle comments and therefore entirely missed something that really bothered my HP. They had made several comments about it but I took it as eye-rolling disapproval. Vice versa I made several comments about something that was MEANT as eye-rolling disapproval but came across as me wanting them to change it. If you THINK your AP means something a certain way, don’t wonder, just ask. Maybe it’s awkward at first, but it will keep you from resenting. If something really bothers you, sometimes you may need to be a little less American and a little more clear.
Example: in my family when someone asks you a favor it’s normal to say “Nope!” and do it anyway. There’s no reason, there’s no underlying statement. “Would you pass me the salt?” -“Nope” *passesanyway* I think this may be very offputting to some HP and certainly not a good example for your children. Having that awkward conversation early on will make you less stressed and give your AP the chance to change something she likely wasn’t aware she needs to change.

Basically: imagine it was your child who lived with another family. What would you wish would happen to her? That’s probably the most helpful question.

Should be working August 7, 2015 at 12:22 pm

German AP, these are really illuminating and helpful statements you have here. My impression is that a lot of what you say would be particularly helpful for families with German APs–all the stuff about being very direct, telling the AP when you hate the world, etc. With our German APs I learned to NOT worry so much about hurting feelings–which is counterintuitive–and just to say, “Please do this this way”; or “We are going to spend some alone-time now.” Which was really hard for me! It feels to me like slapping someone!

I can also imagine that APs from other countries/cultures might be on the other side of the spectrum with indirectness/directness. WSM and Old China Hand seem to indicate that Chinese au pairs, for instance, can’t say “no” directly and also maybe don’t hear “no” as easily.

WarmStateMomma August 7, 2015 at 6:18 pm

Thanks! Like SBW said, some of these are items that a German AP might relate to more than a Chinese AP. But I still find it useful to hear what different people are thinking. It puts me in the frame of mind to consider what my AP might be thinking.

Our current AP received an invite to attend a special event with another AP and her HF. She asked me if it would be ok to accept and eventually told me she was worried that they only invited her to be polite. They CALLED her just to invite her and they know we live 45 minutes away. I explained that we (speaking on behalf of all Americans) only invite people to be nice if it’s a group being invited, and that this invite was extended because they were hoping she would say yes.

The poor AP is probably losing a lot of sleep over what we “really” meant without us ever realizing it. Reading your list reminded me to pay attention to that a bit more.

German Au-Pair August 7, 2015 at 6:37 pm

Yes, every culture is different (and every individual from that culture is different also) but that makes it especially important to ask about things are handled and not jump to conclusions if something strikes you as wrong or weird.

It was actually on this blog when the discussion about persuading people to do something came up. I’m not sure I can speak for my entire culture but it’s like this with everyone I know. When you say “nah, i’m feeling lazy today and rather stay home” it’s not rude at all for your friends to try to persuade you to come anyway. That’s perfectly acceptable with friends but not with acquaintances, which makes it super hard for the Germans I know to assess their relationships with Americans.

We also usually give our opinions without sugarcoating. If a friend asks me if she looks fat in that skirt, I will absolutely say “Yes, don’t buy it” if that’s what I think. Some are more direct than others, especially to strangers but once you feel like a friendship is established, everything is fair game.

Something that also came up on this blog: saying “Wow, you look terrible today” is NOT an insult in a closer relationship, it’s actually a way of acknowledging the other person may not feel good and having empathy. If your AP says that to you, she’s most likely not judging you but A thinks you have a close enough relationship and B wants to tell you “I feel for you”. This would be a situation in which I would love if a HM later said “I know you probably didn’t mean in that way, but in our culture…”

So when I speak about the cultural challenges that I, as a Western European have faced, those are examples for issues that could arise. What I mentioned above is probably not going to happen with a Chinese AP but I’m sure there are other cultural differences.

My point on this list should actually say: please don’t feel offended or weirded out and then say nothing! ASK if you are confused about something. Maybe also point out in the beginning that things like that could happen on both sides and that it’s okay for BOTH sides to ask.

WarmStateMomma August 7, 2015 at 7:00 pm


I try to stress before and after matching the need to just communicate this stuff directly and everyone agrees. But putting it into practice is much harder for them. They feel awkward because they are out of their element, younger than us, etc. It’s just harder for them to know what’s ok no matter how many times we say so.

We are still close to AP#2, who is relatively confident/outspoken AND found her successor for us. We tasked her with getting the message across that we truly need direct communication, are not mind-readers and welcome the AP’s thoughts/feedback/etc. She vowed to remind AP#3 of that if and when AP#3 reports any concerns (they communicate regularly). Hopefully nothing too major will go unsaid….

German Au-Pair August 7, 2015 at 7:26 pm

I think it would help if you demonstrated this kind of behavior and maybe even explicitly said that you are being direct now or something like that (if you don’t already)?

While *I* speak my minbd probably more often than I should, I tried to hold back a lot because my HP were not as confrontational. But I cannot begin to imagine being from a culture that doesn’t do that and then being asked to do that. When you grow up with certain customs it’s so hard to shake them off. So while, for example, I now understand the American POV about shaming and don’t do it with strangers’ children, to me it’s still absolutely okay and I do it with my sibling.

Sometimes my parents will say something and I think “I SHOULD be offended now” but I’m just not. So even when you have reached the point when consciously you are aware of what is okay and not okay in another culture, it may still be hard to actual put it into action.

THAT part however, is not your problem anymore. The very fact that you are aware and try to do your best to support it makes you a great HM. Feeling like your cultural background is valued and your cultural challenges are acknowledged goes a long way. The rest really is up to the other person. If she cannot bring herself to voice her opinion even though the Hp have done their best to encourage her to, she’ll be the one dealing with the consequences and may be unhappy with sth that could easily have been addressed.

Those kind of lessons can go a long way and are one of the best things about the entire experience. I certainly know that I have taken a lot of American culture and perspective on my own back home with me.

German Au-Pair August 7, 2015 at 6:38 pm

Sorry CV, that’s what I meant. I clicked on that link and saw that the Au Pair Sis” blog mentioned is incoporated to the agency’s website.

AuPair Paris August 8, 2015 at 3:57 pm

See, I’m reading German Au-Pair’s replies and it’s all very, very different for me. But all the same, I agree with her advice. I’d much rather that someone said to me “I know you didn’t mean it this but, but…” than stew in silent resentment. For me it’s the other way around. A lot of the time I’ll say something in a certain tone and *any* English person would know it was a joke/sarcasm/mild rebuke… But in France it just means exactly what it says. I find that very difficult. I also apologise an awful lot, when really I don’t think I’m at fault (again it’s cultural – this is one of our indicators of “I’m being polite”) and find that sometimes here, people really take it as an apology. For example if my host parents are very late home without telling me, the English way is to say “I’m so sorry, I didn’t realise I would be on duty this evening…”. Which in plain language is “oh… You were late? I wish you would have warned me!”. Only we don’t say that.

So yes. What I wish host parents would know is to ask or explain if they sense a cultural difference. I’m learning to adapt, but it’s so much easily if the HF meets me half way!

WarmStateMomma August 9, 2015 at 8:45 am

We really had no idea the cultural differences ran this deep with our first AP and I wonder how much better the year could have been if we’d been aware (and if we had a lot of the other advice found on this blog). We hosted exchange students for 10 months without a hitch and thought this would be just as easy, but it wasn’t (although the employment aspect undoubtedly makes it more complicated).

AP#2 turned things around for us and showed us that the program can work well in our family. AP#3 hasn’t quite made the connection with us parents that we had with AP#2, but she is fantastic with the kids and a thoughtful housemate. We’d be lucky if she wanted to extend.

Janine-Au Pair Sis August 14, 2015 at 5:27 pm

Hey German Au-Pair! First of all, I love all of your additions! They were definitely missing. I just wanted you to know that the link to the blog is filled with videos and the experience of the Au Pairs that I interviewed. Most of the blogs themselves are simply a short summary for the video in each post that was recorded during my Skype with an Au Pair. They are not my own thoughts.

I also wanted to say that while I am associated with an agency, I became the Au Pair Sis because of my experience as a nanny and a LAR and my true enjoyment in supporting Au Pairs. I didn’t write what the agency told me to. It was all genuine. Again, there were points that I missed that I am so glad that you mentioned, as an Au Pair, but I just wanted you to know that I am real :)

Au Pair in NZ August 19, 2015 at 9:14 pm

My HM and I do #10 almost every night (about her ex-husband, life, etc.)… but with wine instead of tea hehe

Boy Au Pair Europe August 25, 2015 at 12:52 pm

I have been an au pair / nanny for 5 years and am now looking for my 4th family. I generally agree with most of your wrote.. However maybe I disagree with your sentiments in the initial points..

1) I think to be treated like their child or sibling is not realistic and, in my opinion, if an au pair enters into it looking for that, it may end in disappointment. I am friends with the families I have worked for and I always enjoy the occasional visit with them. I was very fortunate and always felt that the family treated me as a good friend that really contributed something to their family. However, I am not a member of their family and could never have hoped to be.

2) I consider myself a good au pair but I have never ‘fallen in love’ with the kids. I really enjoy seeing the kids I have looked after grow up and often love spending time with them, but again, they are not mine.

3) It is okay when the family want time alone. Right. This is one of the reasons why it would be hurtful for an au pair to go into being an au pair feeling they want to be treated as a child or sibling.

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