Au Pair Asks: How Should I Manage My Host Dads’ Friends’ Drunken Advances?

by cv harquail on December 13, 2012

This post was actually a bit hard to fit to a short headline– the situation is a bit more complicated.

As usual, culture dynamics, language issues, gender dyanmics, and more at work in this au pair’s uncomfortable situation with her host dad and his friends.

What advice do you have for APinChina?

  • Should she say something to her host mom, or to her host dad?
  • Or should she just hide in her room the next time her Host Dad has friends over?

201212131318.jpg Dear Au Pair Mom readers —

I’m an Au pair who really needs advice on a recent situation. I immediately thought of you on this site.

I am currently an AP in China, my first time, and have been with my family for two months. Everything is really wonderful and I love the family and feel very at home.

I have a great relationship with the mother (the only one who speaks English) and the aunt who also lives here. The father I rarely see as he comes home very late at night but the times I have talked to him he also is very nice, though I wouldn’t go so far as to say that I know him.

Now to what I need advice with is that yesterday (Saturday) the whole family was going out of town to attend a wedding, they were going to sleep over at their family members and come back today (Sunday) in the afternoon. As I had went the last time they went out of town for a trip and felt like I could use some time for myself I decided to stay at home. At around 10 – 11 pm at night I suddenly hear some people opening the door and start calling my name. In comes the host father and two of his friends (one of whom I have met once before earlier this week as we visited his home. His wife recently gave birth to twins so we went over to congratulate them), all have clearly been drinking.

I say hello to them as the host father starts saying my name. I then went to the kitchen to get some water when one of his friends (the one I’ve met before and the one who actually speaks English, as my host father speaks it very poorly) and he started rambling on about somethings.

My HF other friends come over and start saying things such as ‘beautiful girl..’ and so on to me and says hello. I say hello back and then try to excuse myself to my room. We live in a fairly small apartment and my room is in direct connection to the living room where they all sat down. I do however have a lock on the door so I lock it and then try to ignore them. The one friend who I have never met before starts calling my name and saying ‘Where are you?’, ‘I love you’ and so on, I continue to ignore them.

Eventually the friends leave and the HF comes to knock on my door. I open and he starts talking in a mix of English and Chinese, he can barely stand up straight. After about five minutes he says that he needs to rest and practically passes out on the couch.

All in all it was very uncomfortable for me because I have very little experience with drunk people as I do not drink myself. Also I felt extremely vulnerable and unsafe with three intoxicated 30 + men (two of which were around 180 cm and well built) who I do not know.

I realize that as it is his home my HF is allowed to bring people over as well as drink, and that’s not really the problem. The problem is that no one else was around at the time, if another family member such as the aunt or the mother had been home it hadn’t bothered me half as much.

Now I need to figure out if I should talk to my HM about this or not as I think she does not know what happened, or if I am simply overreacting and should forget about it.

Any advice on how to handle this is greatly appreciated. Thank you in advance! APinChina


HRHM December 14, 2012 at 10:21 am

If you were in the US and it was my husband acting like an ass, I’d want to hear about this. Drunk people (men and women, and APs for that matter) do stupid things all the time. Your HD stepped over the line with you because he and his friends were inebriated. You have a right to feel safe and secure in your home, and I too would have been freaking out if this had happened to me. He owes you an apology for being a jerk and for bringing his drunk friends over when he knew you were there alone. He owes you and HM a promise to never let anything like this happen again. And my feeling is that if he’s not appropriately contrite and sorry, it’s a sign that it may happen again. I have zero insight into chinese culture, but in many cultures, APs and other female “servants” are easy pickings for aggressive, entitled males. Be careful. If you were my daughter and I heard this story, you’d be on the next plane home.

APinChina December 16, 2012 at 4:51 am

There is generally a very different gender dynamic in China compared to most western countries. However I don’t know if this really applies to my family as from what I have seen the mother and father seems to be very equal. That of course doesn’t mean that that equality applies to all women in the father’s mind. He is not home very often so I cannot say that I know him nor see him enough to be able to see how he treats women in general.

To be honest I also think he went way too far. Only after talking with my parents did I start questioning whether or not I was just overreacting and the situation wasn’t really as bad as I had imagined it to be.
My mother specifically told me that she thought that I was just overreacting seeing as nothing actually happened. Meanwhile both my father and me are thinking more along the line ‘what if..’, what if something had happened, what would I have been able to do in such a situation seeing as no one else was around at the time?

It feels good however to know that I am not the only one who would freak out in a situation like that. :)

anonymous April 11, 2013 at 12:43 pm

I would’ve definitely freaked out!! I also lived with a HF who would drink everyday, everynight. Not only one beer ”while football’s on”, but whatever reason. If I would’ve known they drank so much before we matched, I wouldn’t have. I don’t need to feel in danger, specially if I am away from my beloved ones and no one’s around to help me. I totally get your feeling. You don’t know what drunk (or people who seem to be high in the sky) are willing to do, so yeah.

American AP in Europe December 14, 2012 at 10:48 am

Agreed with HRHM. Definitely let your host mom know. Also be aware that this could get you blamed, accused of lying and/or sent home. If that’s the case, it’s a blessing in disguise, you have the right to be treated with respect and to feel safe with the people you live with.

Julie December 14, 2012 at 10:59 am

I had a friend who taught English for a year over in China. One night she went out with a friend, her friend’s husband and people from his work. The boss decided that he liked my friend, so the others actually left my friend alone with the boss–her friend just took off and even locked the room with the boss and my friend in it. Can you imagine? In some ways, there is a caste system that is alive and well and China.

She should inform her host mother first. If that goes no where, she should contact her local agency–in writing. Document! The only reason au pairs are permitted is good faith on the part of the different State Departments. If she feels uncomfortable or unsafe, she needs to do something about it. Don’t wait until next time and don’t make it too big of a deal–just start by mentioning it to the host mom when the children are not around. See what happens. Good luck!

HRHM December 14, 2012 at 11:48 am

She is IN China, or at least that’s what I got from the email. I don’t think they have any sort of rigorous program to protect APs there.

AboutToBeHD December 14, 2012 at 2:47 pm

While this is a genuinely uncomfortable and unsettling experience, I don’t quite get the “advances” part in the title. Drunken, yes, and some harassment, probably (it’s unclear if the au pair understands Chinese, and if so, how much of what was said.) None of what the au pair wrote suggests she was actively propositioned, so this is really about drunken behavior around the au pair and the unsafe nature of the experience.

I like the suggestion of bringing it up informally, but it needs to be done in a timely manner, and it needs to be clear that the situation was unacceptable and needs to be apologized for. This should be unacceptable in either culture.

One Thing at a Time December 14, 2012 at 7:00 pm

As a young woman in a situation like that, I would find that behavior threatening. I would feel objectified by a group of drunk guys I don’t know calling my name while I was in the house alone with them.

HRHM December 15, 2012 at 9:05 am

The definition of “harrassment” is “unwanted advances” – hence the title.

Taking a Computer Lunch December 14, 2012 at 10:01 pm

I’d like to add that Chinese culture is completely unlike American culture. Do you have an program adviser with whom you can talk about this? Before you tell the HM or confront the HD you need to find a means to do it in a way that’s socially acceptable. You have the right to make it clear that you do not want to feel threatened by either the HD or his friends, nor do you want to fear being alone in the house with them.

APinChina December 16, 2012 at 5:02 am

I’m currently signed with a very small agency but do however have a person who has helped me the entire way from Sweden to here and who checks up on me from time to time. I’ve also been thinking of asking her what the best way to bring something like this up since I imagine that it is a rather sensitive subject and that it can easily lead to misunderstandings and conflicts if I handle it incorrectly (the mother, though the best English speaker in the family, is not what one would call fluent so sometimes it can be hard for her to understand what I mean). My contact person has however not been online (we communicate via Skype) for the entire week so I haven’t been able to contact her.
Now I’m starting to question whether it’s too late to bring it up with the HM now seeing as it was a week ago and if I should simply tell my contact person at the agency so that she is aware of what happened and will have my back if it happens again (in which case I will have no choice but to bring it up, as I honestly think that one time was one to many for something like this to happen)

American AP in Europe December 16, 2012 at 5:05 pm

Definitely do not just let it slide. Can you email your contact just to let her know? If your HM’s reading comprehension is better than spoken English, hand her a letter telling her what happened. Make sure it is a transparent issue. I think this is important to do because if on the chance HD thinks you’ll be keeping his actions a secret, it COULD give him incentive to try it again.

Anna December 15, 2012 at 7:20 pm

If you are an au pair for a family in China, they are likely to be on the very top of social ladder. In China, wealthy people can get away with a lot and can feel above the law. Justice doesn’t work in China the way it works here. Remember recent story about a corrupted communist party official who fell from grace and his wife was sentenced to death for poisoning a Western businessman?

If I were you, I would never be alone in the house without a hostmom. If the hostmom travels, go with her.

German Au-Pair December 15, 2012 at 8:58 pm

If THAT’S how you need to act to feel safe in the place you live, I would change the place I live in.
Either I can feel safe in my home or I can’t. There would be no “only if”s for me.

Anna December 15, 2012 at 10:19 pm

I am a host mom, not an au pair.

German Au-Pair December 16, 2012 at 1:04 am

“You” not as in second singular but as in “one” ;)

Old China Hand January 3, 2013 at 4:59 pm

I am getting an au pair from China in a week and have a lot of experience with China (lived there for 3 of the last 10 years and grew up in Hong Kong). There are some really strange dynamics going on that extend beyond host family/au pair normal relationships. The whole concept of an au pair is brand new in China (I applaud you for doing this – I have never been brave enough to have a host family to live with in China). There are different situations with how people view alcohol and how men and women are treated in families, even if things seem to be quite equal. You should definitely tell your host mom and your contact with the local agency but you also should probably figure out some way that you can talk with your host dad and put your foot down. I had some big issues with alcohol on work trips (I also don’t drink) and eventually had to throw a fit so that there was no more forced drinking at dinners. The power dynamics in China are very hierarchical and if you don’t get yourself respected at the level that you need and deserve, you will create a whole world of problems for yourself (speaking from personal experience). So get some local advice and figure out how you can have some ground rules so that you get the respect and safety you need. Letting things slide won’t make them better.

Comments on this entry are closed.