Au Pairs and Your American Politics

by cv harquail on February 11, 2010

If you ever come to over to my house, our politics are pretty clear. Right there at the front door, you can wipe your feet on George Bush.

Our George Bush doormat is an endless source of amusement for canvassers from Greenpeace, The Sierra Club, Amnesty International, and others. It seems like the only person who dislikes our doormat is my dad. He thinks it’s disrespectful; I tell him that’s the point.

_doormat.jpgWe’re a liberal family, in a really liberal town, in a community that thrives on political talk. I’ve learned to clue our potential au pairs into this dynamic, to make sure that they are the kind of person who is not uncomfortable hearing political talk. Even more important is to make sure that we choose au pairs who are not going to contradict our views behind our backs to our kids, since we’d prefer that the kids grow up sharing our values.

Most of our au pairs have been rather apolitical young women. Aside from conversations about politics in their own countries, we haven’t had that many conversations about American politics. When we have had political conversations, I’ve usually simplified and summarized to adapt to their level of interest and knowledge (which, frankly, have both been low).

We have had more issues regarding the intersection of politics and religion, such as whether or not evolution should be taught in schools, or whether abortions should remain legal, or whether there should be marriage equality for gays and lesbians, than we’ve had about politics more generally.

We have also had many more conversations about racism and racial dynamics, and sexism and sexist dynamics, than about issues like tax policy, international affairs, or highway construction. With regard to issues like racial and gender equality, I admit I do get a bit preachy. I don’t really see much legitimate flexibility — people are equal. If you don’t believe that when you get to our house, I’ll probably work on you until you do.

However, with a vast majority of political or politicized issues (evolution included) I hold back a bit. When these issues to come up, I put on my professor hat and get prepared to explain details fairly. I see it as part of our au pair’s cultural education (and my kids’ as well) so I will talk about the differences between our health care system and Sweden’s, for example, in a way that is fact-based. Then, and clearly labeled as such, I throw in my opinion.

Truth be told, I suspect that au pairs (and others) don’t bother to tussle with me. I’m just not the person you want to get into a political debate with, because I will crush you with my reasoning and my rhetoric.

Just kidding. But I have made concessions… our au pair car has no political bumper stickers on it. Except during an election year.

We got a request from Host Mom MC to talk about politics, and then the issue came up in another comment stream just yesterday. So, let’s talk about politics— BUT — the point is not to persuade each other to our political point(s) of view, but to talk about

How to manage political issues and conversations as part of our ongoing host parent-au pair relationships

We’ve talked about some taboos so far (religion, race) but we haven’t talked about political views. Other than during the interview phase, I wonder how HF’s and AP’s talk about politics at home.

My husband and I are pretty opinionated on the topics of policy and politics. We try to moderate ourselves in front of our AP’s but I find myself in “teaching moments” with them about American history and politics. For example, before Obama’s State of the Union speech I explained to my AP what the speech is usually about, what it’s used for, and what is under debate right now.

I feel fortunate that I’ve had AP’s who lean in my political direction or are open minded at this phase of their life to consider all views, but I’ve also had to give my children some more context or redirection after AP’s. I want peace in my household so it’s nice to have like minded people around me, but I also know that HM’s could have significant influence on an AP’s way of thinking. I don’t want to indoctrinate them into my political view.

Are other host families talking about politics? How does that work for them? MC

Anybody tried to explain what a Tea Party is? That conversation was pretty funny in our house …. And so was the one about Palins’s comment “How’s that hopey-changey suff going for ya?”
As I said, don’t tussle with me.

{ 24 comments }

Au Pair in CO February 11, 2010 at 9:51 pm

I have had lots of great political discussions with my Republican host mom. In my home country, the Republicans are pretty much portrayed as the bad guys, so I think it’s great hearing two sides of the story. I’m here to learn about the country, so of course I’m interested in learning about politics as well:)

au pair February 11, 2010 at 11:13 pm

I definitely agree with you, the Republicans have been portrayed as the bad guys in pretty much every country I’ve been to – the only exception being a Georgian girl I met during the Russia/Georgia conflict last year, who thought the Republicans would do more to help Georgia than the Democrats.

I’m really interested in politics (I’m going to study politics at university later this year) however I didn’t get involved in any political discussions with my German host family. Our political beliefs were kind of polar opposites in all honesty, and I was worried about offending them with any of my views. However, I was only with them for three months and maybe I’d have felt more comfortable debating with them if I’d got to know them better. There was also the fact that I knew next to nothing about German politics (I prefer European Union-wide politics), and they weren’t particularly interested in European issues. If I’d au paired in America, it would probably have been different – my knowledge of American politics is pretty good, and I’ve ended up in debates with my American cousins before (who voted for Bush.) I know what you mean, it’s good to hear their arguments even if I totally disagree with them!

HM in WI February 11, 2010 at 10:54 pm

None of our APs have been particularly interested in politics, but they hear political discussions all of the time since I am quite passionate about my views. They all tend to tune out when our Friday night conversations with friends turn to politics, but I think there have been times where they have listened and learned. 2008 was probably the most politically interesting since my conservative views clashed with the European idea of what Americans should want in a president. We don’t go out of our way to discuss politics with our APs, but they certainly hear plenty of it when they’re here.

NC AP February 12, 2010 at 8:03 am

I’m interested in learning about politics, but unfortunately I didn’t really know a lot about politics when I started my year, so sometimes when my host dad asked me about certain things in my country (e.g. our healthcare/ social security system) I didn’t really know what to tell him. I regret that because I am sure these could have been interesting conversations if only I had had known more about it.
Nevertheless, I loved watching the news and the elections (2008) with my host parents and learned a lot about American politics this way (and I also noticed how little most American news programs talk about what is going on in other countries, which I think is a shame! In my country’s news programs, we definitely learn much more about what happens in other countries).

Luckily, my host parents and I have very similar political views. When I arrived at their house, some of the first things I noticed were an Obama sign in their front yard and an Obama bumper sticker on their car, which I loved :) I think that was one reason why we enjoyed watching the elections together because we were all hoping for the same result.

Jeana February 12, 2010 at 8:34 am

I’ve totally enjoyed our political conversations. I’ve been very open about my political beliefs. I’ve tried to explain the differences between the Democratic and Republican parties. I’ve asked a lot of questions, to learn how people feel about our current president, etc.

StephinBoston February 12, 2010 at 10:27 am

None of our au pairs have been interested in discussing it, although we did chat about the election last year with our new au pair, it never got into much detail, if an au pair was interested, I’d be happy to share my views.

A Host Mom February 12, 2010 at 1:25 pm

I have a different situation in my house. First, our au pair considered everything in the U.S. inferior to things from her country. Also, she seems to be developing a somewhat “Anti-American” attitude. For instance, she made a comment to my DH that the U.S. sticks its nose into everyone’s business and then countries, like mine, have to deal with these refugees who don’t pay for medical, etc.” It really irks my husband, but I honestly view it as the point of view of this young entitlement generation. She is overall a nice person and takes good of my kids. She is only with us for a few more months, so I don’t want to start a confrontation over something like this but this new attitude is getting a little tiring.

Calif Mom February 12, 2010 at 3:59 pm

When I was in high school my family hosted a German exchange student who was a complete and utter boor along these lines. Everything he said started with, “Well, in MY country, we…..” I just left the room.

What’s the point of joining an exchange program if you just want to judge? Wouldn’t be able to tolerate that in my own home.

HM in WI February 13, 2010 at 3:22 pm

We had an AP like this. It IS tiring.

franzi February 12, 2010 at 3:01 pm

i’ve always been interested in politics and after my AP year i actually took up political science as major. however, i do consider myself to be somewhat of a minority. i ended up “teaching” quite a few APs in my cluster about what the congress is, how it’s elected, what in the world the bill of rights are, and how these amendments came all about. pork barrels, gerrymandering, grass roots activism, civil rights etc.

fact is, if you have an AP who is not interested in these things you can talk as much as you want, it will always feel like a teacher-student moment.
on the other hand, if you have someone who is willing to learn you are in for many interesting conversations.

i know quite a few APs who have declined matches due to the political view of the host parents.

Anonymous February 12, 2010 at 3:16 pm

Politics is one thing – racism is something else. My children were absolutely appalled by the racism of one South African aupair who lived with us. I think she was truly shocked that we did not agree with her. We didn’t have to say anything – my kids just stared at her with their mouths wide open when she made such comments and looked at me. The aupair was pretty shrewd – she guessed that we disagreed with her. She called her mother at home who called the corporate office and asked for another placement. It was an excellent education for my children who had never before heard such explicit racism. Then, we had German aupairs whose friends were shocked by the racism of American families. One of these friends had a host family who forbid her to date a young man she had met in school classes. He had just gotten out of the Navy.Nice, huh ?

Calif Mom February 12, 2010 at 4:05 pm

I make it clear that we support gay marriage.

I would not be able to tolerate someone undermining our values, and I think this may have been the case with one of our short-termers who was extremely religious in a conservative bent. At the same time, I also fully appreciate that someone else may not be ready to think about this or have had enough experiences to feel the same that we do, so I want them to know up front that our kids have friends who have two mommies or two daddies, and that’s a normal, loving family to us.

PA au pair mom February 12, 2010 at 5:11 pm

I make it clear before matching that we live in a VERY small town and that a lot of members in our community are very conservative and that they may be curious about, and even rude, her accent, culture, etc.

Otherwise, I don’t discuss politics unless specifically asked with the AP.

Should be working February 12, 2010 at 7:54 pm

As part of screening/selection I say that part of where we live and who we are is that our social world is very diverse: we have friends who are from different cultures, some are black, some are Filipino/a, some are gay and lesbian, et al. AND we have gay white male friends who have black children, and two-mommy families, and single-parent families of foreign-adopted children, and so forth. I say that if the prospective AP is at all uncomfortable with any of that, she should consider whether we would be a good match. So far all candidates have said it is “interesting” but I am hoping that anyone with reservations would not match with us.

aria February 13, 2010 at 4:47 pm

I’m an American au pair-ing in France, and my first HF and I had completely polar opposite views! They were EXTREMELY liberal- only ate organic food, made their own bread, lived on a farm in the middle of nowhere, dressed in mix-matched clothes… very artistic. I normally think of myself as pretty middle of the road, but in this family, I felt even more right wing than Rush Limbaugh. We didn’t agree on ANYTHING! My HM would always make snide little comments about Americans and cheese burgers, how stupid Americans are, etc, etc. I got fed up with them (for other reason included) and switched families, and I’m so happy in my new family now!!! I think it’s alright to have different views, but I don’t think it’s ok for the HF to be preachy, because especially when we work for you, and you are technically our boss, it’s really, really annoying. :)

Sela July 27, 2011 at 8:35 am

I’m an American AP in Australia, and I’ve found it absolutely fine to have different views on things than my HF. My first HF was largely uneducated about American politics, and I am largely uneducated about Australian politics, so it never really came up much. As for my second HF, they are actually very knowledgable about American politics, just on a bent that’s very much a result of the oddly bent Aussie media, so it makes for interesting discussions. They are VERY liberal, and I’m quite moderate, but we’re all mature enough that it doesn’t pose issues.

Sela July 27, 2011 at 8:39 am

I will say, though, it does get annoying to watch Aussie news on American political happenings, and to hear some Aussies talk about how much they think Americans are stuck in this little bubble and are all full of themselves. For me, it’s made me more patriotic and a bit more defensive about my country and our way of doing things. I have to just ignore the media.

extending au pair October 5, 2011 at 4:41 pm

Hi I started yesterday my second year as an au pair, but after 12 months being out of home I can’t believe that I am feeling so nostalgic. I think I am experiecing home sickness. I am not really a mommy’s spoiled kid but especially today I feel like throwing everything to the hell and go back home. I really miss my mom and my aunts. I extended for 9 more months but I think I regret that. I am now living with another host family in the west side of USA. I first lived in the east with a super nice host family. I wanted to extend with them but I could not because one of them lost the job and could not afford me anymore. My new host family is nice but they are not as friendly and warm like the last one and I don’t feel good at all. I know that It is my second day but I miss home in my country and home in the east. My lcc has not shown up yet and i kind of thing that this new family does not know anything about au pairs. Can you give some advice about how to overcome this emotion?
Thanks

Taking a Computer Lunch October 5, 2011 at 8:42 pm

I think it’s natural to feel as you do. After all, you were comfortable with your family, and had developed a network of friends, and now you have to start all over again. It’s likely that even if your second family were perfect, then they still wouldn’t be good enough.

The best thing to do is to talk to them openly about your homesickness and how it surprises you, given that you’ve already been away from home a year already. Be pro-active – if your LCC keeps a list of the other APs in your cluster, call them, invite them to join you for coffee. The sooner you build a new community for yourself, the sooner you will adjust

I would recommend that you call/Skype your HF at a time when you can say hello to the kids. Stay connected with them. It will help you get through the tough times.

Extending au pair October 5, 2011 at 11:06 pm

Me again, my lcc will send me the updated list of the 17 au pairs nearby. Now I have got another question. They don’t really require me to drive the kids but they told me by phone that they were fine with me using the car for my personal errands. However, today they told me that if i want to use the car i will have to pay the car insurance by myself (and it up 1,000) i can’t afford it :(. But i really need the car because they live far from everything! Is that allowed? They also told me that I will not have cell phone or computer because they don’t wanna pay for that? Is that fair either? I don’t know i am confused since my firts year was wonderful

Taking a Computer Lunch October 6, 2011 at 7:07 am

There is nothing in the AP contract that says the HF must provide use of a car, a cell phone or a computer. I think you need to decide whether you want the luxuries, which seem important to you, in which case you should rematch, or if the HF is otherwise nice and supportive and you might end up having a great nine months.

There is no one way to be a HF in the United States. Each family has their own rules. If you feel that you didn’t get enough information before you matched, now is the time to sit down with them and learn their guidelines and see if you can live with them.

Extending au pair October 5, 2011 at 11:13 pm

I am still using the cell phone that my previous host family gave me, because they told me that they wanna make sure that I am fine. But i will have to ship it back asap i get a new phone here. They also told me that if the experience with this new host family does not work good i can come back to work with them. But i know that they are having a bad money situation and i dont wanna make it worst. Are these new people being stingy or they don’t know how the program works??

HRHM October 6, 2011 at 9:39 am

As stated above, the requirements are for a bedroom, stipend and specific work hours. Things like a car to use, a cell phone (unless there is no land-line phone in the house) and a computer/internet access are perks or extra benefits that many but not all host families provide.

I can understand that your host family may not have realized how much extra the insurance would cost to allow you to drive, and now that they do, they are changing their mind. If that is the case, your only choice would be to pay for the insurance ( you may be able to get a cheaper rate if you have a state DL , take a course or have good college grades- you may also be able to get cheaper rates through a different company than the one they currently use) or forgo using their car. Even 1000 for the year is cheaper than buying your own car, but only you can decide if it’s worth it to you.

As far as the cell phone goes, buy your own pay-as-you-go and use it carefully. You may even be able to ask them to “chip-in” some money ($10 per month) since they will likely expect to call you on it while you are with their kids and thereby use some of your minutes up. But they are not that expensive and I too have decided to not pay for cell phones for our APs anymore because they never used it for work (didn’t answer when I called) but used it like CRAZY for their personal use and sucked up our family minutes every month.

For internet access, if there is wireless in the house, you can get your own cheap (used, refurb) net book and use it at home. If there is free computers at all public libraries or you can get a smart phone and kill two birds with one stone (phone and computer) although this will be a pricier option.

Overall, this new family does things differently from your first, but give them a chance to get to know you. You may find that if you are a great AP they may become more generous with the benefits over time. It’s always easier to give more to a proven deserving AP than to take stuff away from one who turns out to be a dud! LOL

extending au pair October 6, 2011 at 2:17 pm

Ok thanks you for your advices, I was asking all these questions not because I wanna live like a princess but because I thought it was the rule (my last host family gave me the iphone, the mac and the truck as a must have) I did not know that it was not mandatory as they provided it to me withouth me asking for that. I do have a state DL and good grades from the courses I took, I will see if I can get a cheaper insuarnce. Thank you very much god bless you.

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