There are “cultural differences” and there are “philosophical differences”. With cultural differences, it’s less about “right” or “wrong” than about how folks prefer to do things.
With philosophical differences, it’s all about right and wrong.
So how do you manage when you discover that your au pair thinks something is perfectly fair to do, but you believe its absolutely wrong?
This Ethics911 HostMom wants our advice:
I like to know how other host parents respond when there are conflicting ethical perspectives and what different cultures consider as stealing.
My au pair is interested in getting a credit card. We explained to her about the pros and cons of using a credit card, debit card, or cash in day to day life in America. What is troubling is what she said towards the end of the conversation. She said that it would be possible to charge up a lot right before she returns to her home country at the end of her au pair year and then not pay the bill.
Her rationale is how will the credit card company come after her since she would have already left the country by the time the bill is due. We told her that she will have a credit record tied to her social security number and if she ever comes back to the US, she may have problems waiting for her. I cannot tell to what degree she said this as a joke but the mere act of saying means that she has at least thought about it.
Another example is when she was interested in a new smart phone. She asked if she can get a new smart phone through my phone plan and pay for the monthly installment charges. Cost would be cheaper than buying a phone without a 2-year plan commitment. (Note: In our situation, we pay for the au pair’s phone plan but she provides her own phone.)
She said at the end of her au pair year, she can just take the phone back to her home country and stop paying the monthly charges. Again, her rationale is how will they come after her. I told her that if I get her the phone using my plan, the phone company will be coming after me because I am the account owner. She would be leaving me with her debt. There was no way I would agree to this.
I believe if she had to pay for her own phone plan, she would consider getting a discounted or “free” phone and skip out on her obligations at the end of her year.
She also does not see anything wrong with copying copyrighted software, music, video, or books that she did not buy herself.
We told her this is a form of stealing – that people worked very work to make these things and deserve to be paid for their work.
(We’ve discussed this on AuPairMom at When Your Au Pair Streams Movies – Illegally)
Our Au Pair doesn’t see the harm in this form of stealing when she is able to save her money. She calls it “sharing” not “stealing”. I drew the parallel about whether it is right if she worked and I don’t pay her for it because it would save me money. She said she understood what I mean.
But then recently, I borrowed a video from the library and mentioned that I was only allowed 7 days before needing to return it. She suggested that I could save the video to my computer so I can have it for as long as I want. Clearly, copying is not considered stealing to her, even after we had lengthy talks when she first arrived.
I have to also mention that this au pair has never stolen any valuable items from my home. I believe that she considers taking something belonging in someone’s home or in a physical store is equal to stealing and she will not do that. She is also very good with the children. My issue is that she does not consider situations like skipping out on debt obligations and copying also as stealing.
I am disturbed and troubled by what she had said and done. This is a reflection of her morals and ethics that could apply more broadly to other things and affect my family directly.
This is eroding my trust in her as an individual and a role model for my children.
I understand the concept of what is considered stealing can be influence by the accepted norms and behaviors of the culture from the au pair’s home country but at what point is this beyond culture and about individual ethics?
(I am deliberately not calling out the country that this au pair is from because I do not want the discussion to be reduced to stereotyping any particular country or culture.)
Have other host families experienced this? How did you handle this?