Au Pairing in Europe vs. in the USA

by cv harquail on January 28, 2013

A note from AuPairMom muse, ShouldBeWorking:

europe-according-to-the-united-states-of-america-716x477.jpg

Here is an insight I just had about USA vs. European au pair programs.
It’s a surprising paradox:

The US Au Pair Program is actually more “European” in the way it works:

  • It is highly regulated;
  • Insurance is included in the program (built into fees paid on both sides);
  • You can’t simply hire OR fire someone without going through due process, which is sometimes onerous;
  • Participants (on both sides) who are not really suited to the program are often given a second (or third) chance; the total number of work hours is limited (not to say rules aren’t broken);
  • The au pair is in principle not to be exploited and her/his duties are fairly narrowly prescribed by rules;
  • There is a lot of administration that to the participants might seem superfluous;
  • That does translate into rules and protections for both sides that are sometimes not transparent when a difficulty arises.

The European* Au Pair program is more ‘American’ in the liberal (not left-liberal, but classic free-market liberal) sense:

  • Matching is done on a more ad hoc, individual basis with lots of different agencies and individuals operating largely unregulated;
  • The arrangement is more ‘at will’, and often more short-term, on both sides;
  • Payments are more ‘pay-as-you-go’ and less up front costs (agency, insurance);
  • The basic wage is much lower; APs can earn much more if they are willing to work more;
  • Their duties are less narrowly prescribed and they can find themselves working as domestic workers despite the representation of the matching HF; there is far less institutional recourse for anyone to take in a bad situation;
  • ‘Member of the family’ inclusion on family benefits (e.g. vacations) is far less the norm.
(* editor’s note:  European countries have different au pair rules, but have the same overall feeling, as SBW describes)

Image: Europe according to the USA

 

{ 57 comments }

cv harquail January 28, 2013 at 9:25 pm

As for when things go wrong in Europe and the host families just kick the AP out of their home- I agree that is a huge downside. However (again, I think it’s because of my age), when I came to Europe, I had enough cash in my bank account and a limit on my credit card that would allow me to pay for a few weeks in a hostel and then buy a flight home. Many au pairs would not think about this and be left vulnerable.

AuPair123 January 28, 2013 at 10:00 pm

Its not only in Europe where host families kick au pairs out of their homes when things go wrong its not unheard of for it to happen in the USA either. Only here au pairs have their counsellors to help them out.

FormerEuropeanAu-Pair January 29, 2013 at 2:22 pm

When my very first hostfamily told me to leave within 30 mins, my agency in Europe kicked in and payed for the hostel!
(I had however long since decided to leave that particulary family and had sorted out a bed and breakfast in case something like that would happen..)

Long story short: A good agency in Europe will make sure the Au-Pair has somewhere to stay :)

Also: Au-Pairing in Europe is a lot easier for most Europeans as we do not need a Visa to live or work in any EU country. My health insurance covers other European countries (for something like an extra 10-15 Euro a year!) and flights are extremely cheap within the EU. :)
Thus I did not even bother to set up a contract the last couple of times, as it would have been cheaper to stay in a hostel and book a flight home, than to pay for an agency :)

FormerEuropeanAu-Pair January 29, 2013 at 2:28 pm

‘Member of the family’ inclusion on family benefits (e.g. vacations) is far less the norm.

–> Again, I would say this is due to the size of Europe. Most AP will actually fly home to see family and friends while the HF is on vacation. Also, there is “no need” for the HF and the AP to spend mayor holidays together if either one prefers not to.

PauliAP April 11, 2013 at 3:00 pm

WHAT AU PAIR AGENCY IN EUROPE DO YOU RECOMEND?

michelle April 22, 2013 at 12:36 am

I live in the U.S. and would like to be an au pair in Europe. Can you recommend any agencies?

Should be working January 28, 2013 at 9:35 pm

Wow, I love the idea of being your muse. Actually, of being ANYONE’s muse. And I especially love the rather raunchy graphic. Hilarious!

American AP in Europe January 28, 2013 at 10:02 pm

I already responded in the other thread, but I’ll make a few more points:

In the European country I am in, an “au pair” is treated as another job. I have all of my paperwork and residence permit and the right to live and work here for one year. If it did not work out with a host family, I would also have access to the social system as another resident without housing or a job, and the right to look for another au pair job. Again, this works for me because I’m 24. If I were 18 and something didn’t work out, I would likely be on the phone to my mother asking her to buy me a ticket home.

Sure, this is a downside to the au pair scheme in Europe, but I certainly prefer it over the system in the US.

And I actually think that although I live with the family I work for (a single mother and her son), that not being included in everything is healthier because we are not family, period. It just seems counter-intuitive to bring a complete stranger into your home and expect her to be a member of the family–for better or worse.

I think that welcoming someone into your home and treating them well as one thing, but that respecting each other’s boundaries as NON-family members is important and I see a TON of advocating for overstepping the au pair’s boundaries on this website whenever something goes wrong.

There is the thread about having a boyfriend back home? I was surprised that people would even ask. I am definitely not a good match for the US scheme. I prefer to keep my private life private. After reading that thread I told my own boss about my boyfriend (after being here 3 months) and asked her why she didn’t ask. She said because it was my business and not in any way a condition of employment. Again, I do understand the concerns that an au pair might miss her boyfriend and go home after only a few months, but I couldn’t help but thinking, my god, some people think it’s acceptable to try and control every single aspect of these au pair’s lives before and during the time they come to their home.

I prefer not having the “member of the family” benefits. My boss is my employer and a [much older] friend. I have grown to really love her son, but I, in no way, think of him as my brother or anything close to that.

In my biological family, if I think something, I will say it. With my boss in Europe, I find myself disagreeing with her parenting style and having lots of opinions on her relationships with her own family members, but it is not my place to say anything, so I don’t. It’s not a system I want to be a part of, so I set boundaries for myself. Every family is a little dysfunctional, and it just seems unappealing to want another adult to be a part of it for a year. On this blog, I see a lot of the posters using the “member of the family” thing to their advantage, for example (and it’s always the example) when it comes to “pitching in” and “helping out” but can anyone honestly say they value their AP as another one of their children or a niece/nephew or adult member of the family? I’m betting not.

JJ Host Mom January 28, 2013 at 10:31 pm

Unequivocally yes, I do consider our two great au pairs as members of the family. I suppose nieces would be the closest comparison. One is in France and, since my husband’s family is there, we go every other year and do see her when we go, along with the rest of our family. The other is in the Ukraine and realistically because of her location we will probably never see her again, but we do stay in touch and sent her Christmas gifts and baby gifts when her baby was born.

Regardless of location (Europe or the US) or relation to the person living with me (au pair, nanny, or even roommate) I’ve found it always works better to be at least good friends, if not pseudo family. If I’m living with someone, especially if I have kids, I’d like to have a close enough relationship with that person to feel like I really know them, as opposed to them being some random boarder I know nothing about.

As to the original topic of this post, I think ShouldBeWorking is onto something. The dichotomy is really interesting. It does seem that a lot of the enquiries we get from au pairs in really tough situations tend to be in Europe where things are less regulated.

JJ Host Mom January 28, 2013 at 10:57 pm

One other thing occurred to me. Americans and French people are very different, socially. Americans warm up to anyone and everyone right away. They smile at strangers on the street, and often talk intimate details with people they’ve barely met. By contrast the French are very private people. It can take years to form a close friendship with a French person. But once you’re friends, you’re friends for life.

So that may account for the difference in boundaries with a French family vs with American families, more so than the difference in how the au pair programs are set up.

AuPair123 January 29, 2013 at 12:47 am

As mentioned different European countries have different au pair rules so you cannot really compare the USA to the entire European continent. JJ Host Mom points out the difference between the French and Americans well there are also huge differences between the Brits and French, the Germans and Italians, the Greeks and Spanish. Its an extremely diverse continent and therefore being an au pair in Europe will vary massively from one country to the next. Whereas in the USA the rules are the same no matter where you are working.

Should be working January 29, 2013 at 2:24 pm

Like JJHostMom, YES we consider our APs as family members. No, they are not our kids. But we love them and support them. I don’t want anyone living in my house for whom I do not feel love or do not want to develop a feeling of love.

I would not take an employee to Planned Parenthood for her very first gyn exam when she was worried she was pregnant (and said she wouldn’t have an abortion).

I would not stay up late with a crying employee who was upset about bad news from home.

I would not rack my brains for gifts that an employee would like.

I would not hug an employee upon coming home.

I would not make sure an employee had enough money to go off with friends for the weekend and offer her extra just in case she needed it.

I would not welcome an employee’s friends and family as houseguests and show them around.

I would not send Xmas and birthday gifts to former employees.

I would not be sure to visit former employees when in their country.

I would not use as a major criterion in selecting employees whether this person has a sense of humor and would be someone I think I could love.

Aupair again January 29, 2013 at 4:13 pm

You sound like an awesome host mom!

CA Host Mom January 30, 2013 at 3:26 pm

I know I am late chiming in on this one, but Should be working stated it beautifully in her comment above – we absolutely think of our 2 (to date) amazing Au Pairs as members of our family! Without a doubt! AP#1 just informed me that she booked tickets and will be visiting us for 2 weeks this summer. When she left our home last year and was about to board her flight home to Denmark, her Facebook status was, “If home is where the people you love are, then I must be going from one home to another.” We love these girls – and will forever cherish the very special relationship that we have with them.

Melissa January 29, 2013 at 9:40 am

I disagree with your point about posters on this site advocating for overstepping an au pair’s boundaries whenever something goes wrong. Because an au pair is living with her host family, it is a very unique employee/employer relationship and in many ways it is VERY different than simply being an employee in a typical workplace. You refer to the situation of asking a potential AP about a boyfriend as inappropriate. In a typical workplace, no, that is something that would not be asked. Neither would questions about religion, food preferences, health habits, or personal beliefs be asked. But in the case where someone is living in your home (which is a vulnerable situation on both sides) and caring for your children, it can be very relevant. It sounds as if you are very mature, independent and private about your personal life. However, not all APs are, and in some cases HFs have to deal with the sometimes negative impacts of an AP’s personal life. Just like APs have to sometimes deal with those of their HFs. That is why I certainly wouldn’t mind or think it odd if a potential AP asked me how old I am, how long I’ve been married, etc. It is just part of the unique setup of living where you work.

HRHM January 29, 2013 at 9:58 am

And this attitude is why many of us will welcome an overseas AP into our homes, rather than hiring an American caregiver for our kids, even if the monetary costs are the same. We don’t want an “employee”.
As for “using” member of family status to our “advantage”, its a 2 way street. I wouldn’t be giving an employee a cell phone, even if she was a live-in. I wouldn’t be picking up lunch for an employee when I was stopping at Panera for myself, I wouldn’t fold her laundry if it was in the dryer when I needed it. I wouldn’t ask her if she wanted to get in the pictures with Santa. And while you may not be interested in these things, my APs (with one exception) were.

kat January 29, 2013 at 2:40 pm

i think lots of british nanny employers would do these things for their nannies, who are an employee.

Should be working January 29, 2013 at 2:41 pm

HRHM, I love the ‘get in the pictures with Santa’ example!

HRHM January 30, 2013 at 9:06 am

Yes, we have three years of beautiful portaits with our girls and the AP sitting on Santa’s knees. We always send one to the APs parents for Christmas! :)

Georgiapeach January 29, 2013 at 11:25 pm

I’m a bit confused and maybe the AP’s here can clarify. The program expects HP’s to treat AP’s as part of the family, “on par”. To do so, would it not be right to ride the good times and bad together without being so black and white?
I’m a first time AP and I absolutely believe in the equal, family treatment abroad. I know if it was my daughter who went as an AP, it would settle my heart to know her HP’s treat her as a member of the family, which would include living the same lifestyle and getting the same expectations. Ex: We have a 16 year old. Our AP is 21. Because they are closer in age, my expectations for her is same as for him. Truth be told, we are tougher on him. At what point does everything get so black and white and technical. I would never dream to “abuse” my AP, because she is part of our family. However, it does not mean she can behave anyway she wants. Kind of contradicts the whole “on par” mentality. HP’s please sound off on this. Thanks

Posie January 28, 2013 at 11:54 pm

So I’m curious why you call yourself an “au pair” vs a nanny, AAPIE? Just because its your job title?

Posie January 29, 2013 at 1:08 am

Oh you are so clever.

I just think an online live in international nanny site might be more up your alley since this site is primarily US AP moms and APs and you seem horrified by the regulations as well as our conversations on how to deal with AP issues…

Host Mom in the City January 29, 2013 at 10:03 am

Here again, I think I must have missed something. It’s language differences and semantics. It’s likely that the way you define “au pair” is different from the way others define it. Shouldn’t matter, unless I’m missing something about why we’re discussing the issue?

It’s funny, we have an au pair (in that we are in the state-department recognized au pair program as opposed to anyone else not in the program fulfilling similar duties which I personally would therefore call a nanny or sitter depending). And yet, friends and family who aren’t familiar with the program refer to her as our nanny.

Posie January 29, 2013 at 11:28 am

I don’t care if you call yourself the Easter Bunny. I have a dear family friend who is a live in nanny and she calls herself an AuPair….but she would never come on this site and deride other posters for not treating their Au Pairs the way that she (a 45 year old professional live in nanny) wants to be treated. I just think at least half of your advice is irrelevant to the population who frequent this site.

I come to this site for advice from people in a similar situation (both APs and moms) with the hope that I’ll be a great HM and will have great AP experiences. I would think that you could find a lot of forums where you’d find people in similar situations to yours where you could share and receive feedback on your specific situation with less of an axe to grind against American Host Moms (unless that’s your purpose of coming here).

I don’t mind alternate perspectives because it does cause one to think about things from these perspectives but you’re a prolific poster on every thread…and we get it…you’re not like OUR APs and you’d never work for any of us!!!

kat January 29, 2013 at 2:43 pm

i dont understand , posie, why you are comparing your friend, who for some reason calls herself aupair, to american aupair in europe? i cant see from this thread why do you think she is not an aupair?

Anonomomma January 31, 2013 at 1:28 pm

Hey Posie well done – I completely get where you’re coming from.

@American AP in Europe – seriously!!! come on – I suppose your perspective is relevant (somewhat) but… this is a site for HPs who love their APs (or want to) and want to have a relationship with them so is so far removed from what you want that realistically I wonder if your posts are relevant at all – I think that is was Posie is trying to get at and I agree.

Like I ask every single perspective AP if they have a boyfriend because I believe it is my right to know this – and yes I had an AP refuse to match because she thought the question too personal – how lucky I am I dodged that bullet if her perspective on being an AP is anything like yours.

American HM in Europe January 29, 2013 at 7:11 am

I’m finding this thread interesting. I’m American, but have lived in Europe almost 15 years, and have had both American and European au pairs over the past four years. (and hopefully will remember to keep using the same “Name” when I comment!).

While I sense a slight bias in SBW’s initial insight, I think it is fundamentally accurate. For example, I find it extremely disappointing that there is absolutely no viable option for health insurance for my au pairs – my country (Sweden) doesn’t allow them the social benefits that AAPIE describes, and unless they are an EU citizen, they’d have to have insurance from their home country — which at least for Americans is prohibitively expensive (I’ve looked into it).

I think a lot of the rest comes down to individual practices and “honour”, if I can use that word. I’ve had one AP situation that wasn’t really working out; of course I legally could have asked her to leave the next day — as there aren’t any rules — but of course I couldn’t do something like that and live with myself (and it wasn’t that bad) – she stayed almost a month while we both worked through next steps. To be fair, one of my APs went to another family after her year with us, and that more or less did happen — the host family changed their plans, told her she was out at the end of the month, then when something happened that they didn’t like, told her she was out the next day. And the host mother in that case was actually also an American expat! So these things do happen…but less frequently than might be implied by the opening paragraphs.

And I try to treat my au pairs as I would a family member; more often, I find they prefer to treat this more as a job, and disappear the second they aren’t working, not to reappear until the next morning. But we take our au pairs on trips with us, to restaurants, to the circus, etc. It has recently actually raised an interesting question for me: au pairs often sell themselves as a “big sister to your children,” but then I think, if they really were a big sister, I might ask them to do more! (I’d love my au pair to help with putting away all the Christmas decorations, which my children will certainly do once they are old enough)…but as it isn’t directly related to child care or written job responsibilities (and I have a handbook, based on what I’ve learned from this community!), I don’t ask. In the US, where SBW implies APs are MORE members of the family, would you ask your au pair to help wrap up and put away all the Christmas decorations?

I’d have to say, having read the above about AAPIE, I’d agree she’s an au pair. In Europe, the difference b/w au pair and nanny is about formal education and career model — a nanny has formal “nanny” education (child safety, child development, etc.) and is doing that job as a career, so often is older — vs an au pair is a younger person on a shorter term cultural exchange program, exchanging child-care services for room & board. I realise the term Nanny is used differently in the US (to me, most 19-23 year olds who say that they have been a “Nanny” during university really mean they’ve been a live-out au pair).

American AP in Europe January 29, 2013 at 7:28 am

“And I try to treat my au pairs as I would a family member; more often, I find they prefer to treat this more as a job, and disappear the second they aren’t working, not to reappear until the next morning.”

I do this, but it’s not a bad thing. It’s overwhelming to be surrounded by a family and children that are not your own all of the time. I do it to regroup and recollect myself so that when I come back, I can focus and give 100%.

Often I leave the house because of this scenario: HM is on the phone chatting away with her friend. Her son is screaming because he isn’t getting attention and she is consciously ignoring him, gesturing for him to go away. I am not working, so I’m not going to go play with her son simply because she doesn’t want to pay attention to him. This is a regular occurrence and even when I am in my room I can hear it all going on in the house. However, because I am not a member of this family, I can’t go out and tell her, “HM- will you pay attention to your own kid so he’ll shut up? Son, will you STOP screaming? Thank you!” If they WERE my family, I would likely say something exactly like that! Do you see the dilemma from the AP’s perspective? It is very hard to live in someone else’s house.

Of course, I love them both to pieces, but I have the right to take care of myself however I see fit, even if a host parent doesn’t understand my reasoning. I was not as confident in my decisions like these, or okay with other people being upset with me for things like this when I was, say, 18. That is why I am concerned for young au pairs. But maybe this also has to do with my age and lack of emotional maturity as well–maybe if I were a 35-year-old au pair (I know, but stay with me) I would choose to spend much more time with my host family and host parents than I do now. Just a thought. Either way, my free time is my free time, and working as much as I do, I will guiltlessly spend it however I like.

And also- what you’ve described is a “career nanny”. I was not a career nanny. I was a live-out, part-time nanny. No “career nanny” would be working the 15-20 hours per week I was with no benefits other than an hourly wage. That is why they hired a college student. Now I am an au pair.

American AP in Europe January 29, 2013 at 8:29 am

But also- I never “sold myself” as a “big sister”. I was put in contact with my current boss through a friend, so I never went through any sort of matching process. My message to her was–I’m a competent young adult that can fulfill the duties you’re requiring. I have 4 years childcare experience (avg 20 hours per week while in school) with kids your son’s age. I did tell her that in my free time, I would like to travel, go out with friends, sleep (yes), run and read. I told her I thought it might be an adjustment for me to have lived on my own or with roommates for 5 years, and then to go back to living with a family. I tried to be as upfront as possible and didn’t promise to be a “big sister” working 24/7 on call for free because I definitely would not want to do that.

Melissa January 29, 2013 at 9:57 am

American AP in Europe,
You make some valid points that are worth exploring. However, you come across as though you are bitter or have an axe to grind, or possibly pent-up issues regarding your current situation. When you end your comments saying things like ” [I] didn’t promise to be a ‘big sister’ working 24/7 on call for free”, or “I know what I’m saying is falling on deaf ears”, it seems as if you are obviously trying to ruffle some feathers rather than engage in a productive discussion. If you truly feel that a majority of posters on this site expect their APs to work 24/7 or are “deaf ears,” as you say, why are you spending time here?

Also, it would be beneficial to acknowledge that while your viewpoint is a valid one that may work well for you and your current host family, it is just that — a “viewpoint”; there is not one right or wrong answer for the type of relationship an AP should have with her/his HF. Sharing your comments in this spirit would likely give them more legitimacy.

CA Host Mom January 30, 2013 at 3:20 pm

Very well said, Melissa. I have thought this exact thing so many times myself when reading comments posted by American AP in Europe. You make an excellent suggestion for her in your comment above.

A Host Mom January 29, 2013 at 10:44 am

So, you’ve lived in Europe since you were 9 years old? That explains a lot and places context to your remarks.

A Host Mom January 29, 2013 at 2:17 pm

Sorry, my bad.

Host Mom in the City January 29, 2013 at 9:17 am

I think I must have missed something because I’m not getting why we’re “arguing” here. There are certainly more rules and process in the US, but that doesn’t mean that all host moms are in their au pair’s business (or care to be) and it doesn’t meant that all au pairs want to be “part of the family” and hang around their host parents all the time.

That’s why matching is so important – both sides need to explore what they want out of the arrangement and match appropriately.

American AP in Europe, I’m glad you find a situation that fits with you. I’m sure if you were a European AP coming to the US, you would be able to find a host family that treats you just like your European host family treats you in terms of placing no restrictions on your free time, requiring only childcare and not expecting a bunch of other family-related duties, and not requiring that you share personal details of your life. Actually, I think that describes our approach pretty well :)

I’m not getting what the issue is here?

NE mom January 29, 2013 at 9:49 am

HMitC – can I ask how you convey your family’s approach/attitude in the matching process? I sometimes feel guilty that we prefer something closer to the employer/employee end of the continuum than the “member of the family” side. Over our time hosting, we have done our best to give the AP what it seems she’s looking for (family member vs employee), but it is sometimes frankly exhausting.

Maybe this is a topic for a different post, but I do question whether the AP program is appropriate for us or if it is possible to find an AP whose desires match ours. (Before I get completely flamed, I will note that we *love* the cultural exchange aspect of the AP program and do welcome our AP to spend time with us, but that we also value time spent *solo* with our kids, even when we’re off to do “fun” activities.)

HRHM January 29, 2013 at 10:20 am

I don’t think that there is anything wrong with saying outright – “We are looking for someone who is more of an employee”. There is a lid for every pot and the key to success is being honest from the get go about what you are offering and what you are looking for.

Momma Gadget January 29, 2013 at 2:44 pm

Amen!-I think the key is being upfront and honest in the interview process.It only develops into an issue is when one party misrepresents their expectations.

Host Mom in the City January 29, 2013 at 10:43 am

To be clear, I don’t think we’d be a perfect fit for AP in Europe because we haven’t really looked for a traditional employer/employee relationship. Both of our Au pairs have ultimately functioned like dear nieces. They travel with us, have dinner with us almost every night, hang out in the living room with us, etc. I was saying though that not all host parents *require* a familial relationship or want to know about their Au pair’s personal life or place restrictions on where and when they can leave the house.

I was responding mostly to AP in Europe’s assertion that she leaves the house guilt-free, implying that in the US there would necessarily be a reason to feel guilty for leaving. Also to her disgust with American families wanting to know every detail of their Au pair’s personal life. Although both of ours have shared details freely, I sit ask and I don’t pass judgment in what they do with their time.

As to finding an au pair that is a good match for you, spin it that you are looking for a responsible adult to take care of your kids and in return want an independent adult behavior-wise. Don’t do curfews or other restrictions, emphasize that she will have her own private space that she can retreat to, look for an Au pair who has lived on her own for a few years, probably someone older. You should be able to find a good match as I’m sure there are some APs who want the independence.

3MomAtWork3 January 29, 2013 at 11:37 am

Let me try to contribute to this interesting discussion by providing some additional facts about au pair programs in Europe. I currently live in Europe (in the “dirty porn” area according to the map), but have been hosting au pairs both in Europe and in the US.

Au pair programs in Europe are governed by a Council of Europe agreement dating back to 1969 (http://conventions.coe.int/Treaty/EN/Treaties/Html/068.htm) which regulates working hours (no more than 5 hrs / day!), one day per week off, time to attend language classes, stipend, insurance, termination of contract (2 weeks notice), and it provides a model au pair contract.

Visa and work permits for au pairs from outside the European Union are granted based on these provisions. That means for example, that a visa will only be granted if the host familiy has taken out insurance for the prospective au pair. Also, technically, an au pair is in breach of her visa / work permit if she works more than 30 hrs per week. For au pairs from an EU member state (who do not need a visa / work permit), there is more flexibility in this regard.

The underlying reason for the different rules seems to be the different aims of the program: In the US, the main idea seems to be to provide families with affordable child-care (more or less) covering the parents’ working hours. The European program is more educational in nature (hence the limit on the working hours in order to allow the au pair to explore the country, learn the language etc. – and in turn the lower stipend/wage).

As onerous (and expensive) the mandatory involvement of an agency certainly is, I agree that it provides both au pairs and host families with a “safety net” (indeed a very European concept) in case something goes wrong.

(Another one of its downsides is the fact that agencies only cater to U.S. citizens; as a “legal resident alien” I had to bring our au pair in on a different visa, and then contracted with her based on the au pair regulations.)

And I agree that both the U.S. and the European program allow for host families and au pairs to set up their relationship as it suits the expectations of both sides. Thus, despite their differences, in both environments (US and Europe) I’ve found this blog an extremely useful resource.

Host Mom in the City January 29, 2013 at 12:16 pm

Just a thought – perhaps American host families tend to want to know more about their au pairs and place more restrictions because of the regulations/timelines/costs involved in rematching. Something truly awful has to happen if you want to put your au pair out of your house immediately (e.g., endangering the children’s lives in some way).

If you have a personality conflict, an au pair who spends 100% of her time (even on duty) moping around or Skyping with her boyfriend back home, or even bad childcare but not rising to the level of endangerment, you have a long involved process to get into rematch. You likely have to present your case to the LCC, host the au pair for an additional two weeks at least after finally getting to the point of rematch, hopefully find a new au pair from the same agency within that two-week period, fight with the agency about refunds of thousands of dollars or additional costs/benefits for the new au pair.

With less regulation, you could simply have the au pair move out, stop paying her, and start over. You’re not stuck to one agency, out $7,000 in agency fees, or stuck for weeks with an au pair who knows you’re unhappy. It makes sense to me that American host families want to know a lot more about their potential au pairs (including personal details like family life and boyfriends back home that could affect how the au pair acts here and how committed she is as well as who might be visiting during the year).

Should be working January 29, 2013 at 2:29 pm

Great points. And while 3MomatWork3 pointed out that APs in Europe have many fewer working hours, a lot of the APs working in Europe that we have heard from on this site report LOTS of housework, including chores that would not be permitted in the US programs (e.g. doing laundry for whole household).

HRHM January 30, 2013 at 9:16 am

Our AP3 (who turned out to be a disaster) was a Czech who had AP’d for a year in London. In interview, she reported loving her experience and her former Brit HM had nothing but glowing reviews of her. Fast-forward a couple of months and the truth came to light. She was a house-cleaner for a fairly filthy and busy single Mum and chauffer for a over-scheduled 10 year old (soccer, Kumon, violin, swim). So while she was an adequate driver, she had no interest in getting on the floor and playing barbies, cuddling while reading a book or running laps around the playground. Not only that, but she was used to much lesser work hours and chafed at being asked to work the hours that were laid out to her long before matching. She turned out to be a horrible choice because her idea of APing was NOT at all in line with our job description. So much for maturity and experience.

Momma Gadget January 29, 2013 at 1:42 pm

First of all… let me apologize for the length- I am incapable of be succinct on a subject I feel passionate about…

We had legal live in nannies for the 1st 10 years of our childrens’ lives before joining the au pair program.
(Discounting the (amazing)6 years we had a family member as our nanny) Having a nanny, for us, was very different than having and a pair. We paid a significant amount more in salary, but come Friday night they collected their pay check and went home. Sunday night they came back and were up bright and early to take care of our kids. They had use of our car for driving the kids around or going to the store only, were not invited to holiday celebrations ( except the kids birthday parties), or family outings, or meals at restaurants. They paid for their own cell phones and transportation to/from our home. They were welcome to eat what ever food they were making for the kids or available in the cupboards, but if they wanted something “special” they bought it themselves. All our nannies (3 total) had already applied for and received their green cards or were citizens. They took their vacation when it was convenient for us-when we took vacation. We had no education stipend and we did not have to make allowances/arrangements for them to get to class or cluster meetings, or for visiting relatives. We gave them the same sick day allowance that we have at our jobs- any additional days off were unpaid. When the kids started school they did many more domestic chores than I would ever ask my au pair to do. We never once invested any effort, or the precious little free time we have, to take our nanny sight seeing, experience a broadway show, or invite them on vacation ( FYI adding a 5th person to a vacation is a huge expense). We had friendly but professional relationships with our nannies.

In the US there is a definite distinction and legal significance between the titles “Nanny” and “Au Pair”. It does not seem to be the same in Europe. I think the rules and regulations of the US au pair system,though sometimes a pain in the neck, in the end offer protection and protocol for both sides. Honestly I do feel they favor the HF, but at least if it goes horribly wrong and AP is not on the street, and has the LC / Agency to turn to.

Before we joined the AP program we had a relative take over the nanny position for 6 AWESOME years! But she needed to get on with her career. With the Boys being older and needing less care, we gave the au pair program a shot. Our first au pair match was a disaster. Mainly because I really thought that I would look forward to having some distance from our childcare provider again. I learned quickly that we really missed that feeling of “family” and resented being treated as a youth hostel. The feelings of my kids were often hurt, and our stress level went through the roof because of the priority put on the AP’s social life over the responsibilities to, needs & feelings of our family. After 3 months, and we both successfully rematched and both ended up having great HF/AP experiences.

This leads me to believe that it is Imperative for Host families and Au pairs alike to be clear in their minds/ hearts what they really expect to get out of this program. If an au pair or Host family wants a strictly employee/employer relationship, that is all well and good as long as it is understood and agreed on in the interview process. For our family the challenges of balancing a blurred family/employee relationship is well worth the effort, and I am quite confident our au pairs feel the same way.
We absolutely love the au pairs, who clicked with our family, as one of our own. Our second au pair, knocked on my door at 3 AM and needed to be rushed to the hospital. My husband and extended family tag teamed between work, childcare , taking our poor AP to various specialists, holding her hand during uncomfortable, scary tests and sitting in the hospital recovery room with her after major surgery. Mind you- none of her “friends” even came to visit her in the hospital. We have kept in touch with our previous au pairs, via social media and Skype. We enjoy hearing about their new adventures and successes, and share their disappointment in the challenges they have to face. We are always routing for them! They know they always have an american home here, since it is unlikely we will be able to visit them in their hemisphere. We are now trying to prepare the whole family for the departure of our beloved bro-pair. My boys absolutely love him , probably more than a brother (LOL). We will be forever connected and hope to visit him and his lovely family in his homeland.

I have traveled all over the world in my Industry. We Americans in general can be very bold and intrusive with our curiosity /interest , asking personal questions and offering up intimate details of our lives, compared with people of other cultures.… but we can also be open, warm, expressive, welcoming and genuine.

Au pair with two awesome kids January 29, 2013 at 5:00 pm

I ready pretty much all of the comments, and I would like to share my opinion: aupair in Europa: the reason people asked you here why you consider yourself as an au pair and not a nanny, is because you don’t act like an au pair. Au pair is French and means on par with the family. As you described it, was that you don’t want to be part of this family etc. that’s totally fine, if both parties are ok with that. I am from Europa, I know how it works. We always had au pairs, who were all a part of our family. We included them in everything and they were welcome to join if they wanted. Now I am an au pair myself, and I’ve never thought I could love an other family next to my own. I also “sold” myself as the bigger sister, but you know what, I feel like one. “My” two kids are so precious. I love them! They are 3 and 6. When I have to diseplin them, and they get mad at me, I talk to them and tell them, that they are like my little siblings, and that my job ist to look out for them. I tell them that I want to make sure they are safe, have good manners, treat people with respect etc. I tell them that I love them so much, that I would do everything for them in order to make sure they are ok. I tell them that whenever they are in trouble. They are welcome in my room if I have time, and I cuddle them before I leave. The relationship I have with those kids is the same I have with my siblings back home. Being the bigger sister just means to LOVE them even in times when the make you angry;) we have sleepovers in my room and I tell them stories until they fall asleep. All those things make my job so awesome that I don’t want to trade with anyone. Being an au pair is a job, but there is a lot more to it that I never knew. The skill of loving children who once where strangers to us.

Au pair with two awesome kids January 29, 2013 at 5:03 pm

Sorry about all the grammar errors. My phone does not always what I want it to do;)

Georgiapeach January 30, 2013 at 2:56 am

Dear Au Pair with two awesome kids, you are so wonderful! You are everything HP’s (especially me) look for in an AP. When we matched with our AP, we wanted someone to feel at home. Our AP is wonderful with our twins, I could not have asked for more. Right now, I am trying to get her out of her shell to join us more for family gatherings and activities (where she does NOT have to work) I wish so she feels good about being here. So far, no avail. She had a pretty bad experience with her previous HP’s and is still trying to recoup from that. I adore her and I hope she feels the same for our girls. :)

American AP in Europe January 30, 2013 at 4:36 am

I understand your point. Just because I haven’t said anything like that doesn’t mean that isn’t my perspective as well. I love the boy I take care of very much. Just the other day, I hit my 1/2 point mark and I started tearing up at the thought of leaving him and not seeing him again for YEARS. He has special needs and it’s amazing how much he’s progressed (with his therapists) in the short time I’ve known him. His mom goes away on business trips and very often it’s just me and him. Every night I tuck him in and tell him everything I was proud of him for that day. We’re reading Harry Potter and are on the 3rd book, something I started with him, so we do that as he falls asleep. I am actually very concerned about how I will adjust emotionally when I leave them. It is a strange feeling to love a child so much that isn’t mine, and then leave them.

However, the comments I was responding to didn’t really open up the door to talk about those things. I am very satisfied with my host family and experience here. So when I read the way parents talk about their au pairs it really upsets me. Sometimes there is room to give constructive criticism. Others, I just feel like saying, wow, you’re ridiculous. For example, a few posts back, a mother was upset her au pair of INFANT TWINS wasn’t “pitching in” when she was off duty, meanwhile her husband wasn’t helping at all and she didn’t see a problem with that. I also feel like people on this blog need to develop thicker skin and calm down just because something isn’t worded in the kindest way possible. It’s the internet…

Momma Gadget January 30, 2013 at 12:49 pm

American AP in Europe :FTR- I like the clear, frank and un-sugar- coated way you express your opinions,even if I do not agree with them. Given the time and thought you put into your responses, I never questioned your dedication to being a good au pair.
Who hasn’t typed a strong or testy response and stirred up a little drama from time to time? Though it is nice to see the softer side, too :)

Little M. January 30, 2013 at 3:54 am

Momma Gadget, I just wanted to say that I love how you write about things. You have that passion, that thing. I ADORE it!

just FYI.

Momma Gadget January 30, 2013 at 12:51 pm

:D Thanks!

AP in Germany January 31, 2013 at 5:31 pm

I was an AP in Germany in 2011/12 and during that time I really experienced both the pros and cons of the differences from the American system.

I got here without knowing a word of German and started work pretty much straight away – without the support and comfort of knowing anyone in the area – no cell group and my HF didn’t know any families with APs. I worked about half the regulated hours in the winter months, still for standard pay, but in spring and summer I worked WELL over double, some weeks even triple the hours (naturally for more pay), this owing to the fact that we were on a farm and those are of course the busy seasons.

My family really treated me like a member of the family, and that’s how I felt. When my family came from Aus to visit they hosted them (4 extra adults is a lot to feed, too!) and they gave me extra time off to travel a bit with them. They took me on holidays with them and to all sorts of family events. Because of EU membership I stayed there 6 months longer than is officially allowed (probably helped that I didn’t match using an agency either) and I can’t honestly say I ever had a problem as an AP, except for knowing that I would one day have to leave this family.

I stayed in Europe and still visit them every couple of months or so and still feel like family there.

However a friend of mine got landed with quite a strange family last year, whom she ended up leaving and had a real struggle trying to find a new family, and a place to stay in the meantime.

Another friend of mine had a VERY dramatic exit after her HF demanded money (a LOT of money) for her leaving early due to 2 serious illnesses in the family back home so I can definitely see the negatives of the system, too.

Toni(SoonToBeanAmercianAuPairinEurope) February 11, 2013 at 3:35 pm

Wow, this provides a lot of insight, but I have too agree with few points on both sides. I’m going to the Netherlands this summer to spend a year as an Au Pair, and I’m from the USA. I’m going through an agency because my mother is freaked out, never mind that I just turned 24 lol. Any who this raised valid points, still very concerned though. I’m so overwhelmed at the moment, because I don’t wish to think that all European host families are like American Au pair described. I don’t want to feel like a stranger in a home, I want to feel as if I’m part of the family, since I’ll be spending a year away from mine. Great, I’m going to “research” some more. If you guys know of any American inAu Pair Europe blogs let me know, it would help. :)

Willian March 17, 2013 at 5:28 pm

I’m not American but I’m also working as an Au Pair in the Netherlands. Where are you going to live?

Au Pair February 18, 2013 at 6:27 am

As an au pair, it’s a good idea to find a comfortable routine when living with your host family. Doing so will streamline your daily activities and make it easier for you to handle your responsibilities.

Garcon Aupair February 19, 2013 at 8:17 am

The differences between the two systems are huge, particularly when you consider that many “au-pairs” in Europe are undeclared.

(ie pay no Social Security etc – which for aupairs from the EU is no problem)

The system is a lot more flexible and relaxed, which means it is also more open to abuse, by both parties. Au-pairs do actually have a fair amount of power in the HF – AP relationship. An aupair could leave with no notice, and the HF would not really have any come-back – the aupair is not reliant on the family for a “Green Card” or anything.

Regarding flexibility, it means there is a lot more variety in the types of aupair jobs. I have friends in Paris who have their own studios, seperate from the family. I was offered a job which was a free studio in exchange for 10h per week. – no salary or Social security, but a studio in central Paris is worth a lot!

Jamaal April 21, 2013 at 8:25 pm

That is a great tip particularly to those fresh to the blogosphere.

Short but very precise info… Appreciate your sharing this
one. A must read article!

Roxanne April 26, 2013 at 4:46 pm

This article is truly a fastidious one it helps new internet people, who are wishing in favor of
blogging.

Comments on this entry are closed.