Choosing An Au Pair: Reading between the lines of an email reply

by cv harquail on April 28, 2014

People tease me about the number of emoticons, doge gifs, and exclamation points I use in my email, but I refuse to give up on anything that might help me convey the feelings behind my words — and to avoid being misinterpreted.

It’s happened to all of us, when we’ve rushed to reply, or we were thinking ‘funny’ when they were thinking “snarky”, or when we didn’t even imagine how the words might sound out loud in some other voice than our own and


We’ve offended somebody without even trying.

And when the emails are flying during the matching process, when people are nervous and writing in their non-native language, or across a cultural gap?

The chance of misconstruing someone’s intent in an email is even higher.

1522534302_44843c4da9_zNBHostMom is experiencing this dilemma as she aims to interpret the meaning behind a reply that felt terse, but may simply be succinct. Or not. She can’t tell.

Dear AuPairMom —

We’re currently in the dilemma of deciding between two au pair candidates.  I shared my dilemma on the open thread and got some great advice!  I sent off a “challenge email” to both candidates.

One candidate opened his response email with these two sentence, after which he went on to very politely answer all questions asked.  If he had omitted these two sentences, I would have been impressed. The offending words:

“these are a lot of questions to answer and I am a little irritated because we’ve already talked about most of the questions. Please let me emphasize that I would love to be your au pair and for me there are no questions left.”   

My first (and probably final) reaction is to disqualify him as a candidate for us.   I read the response as immature and shows a lack of understanding that this is in fact a job he’s interviewing for (a very important job involving my children).

However, I’m left wondering how much of those two offending sentences are a cultural communication style (very direct/blunt!) vs. a lack of maturity.

I’d love some further insight as to the allowances others make for the communication styles and English language limitations during the matching process.   I feel if I let the above mentioned candidate slide with these two sentences I’d be ignoring a big red-flag. But, am I wrong?

How much leeway is reasonable, to make room for cultural differences?  



Image: “Golden Lion” by Evan Leeson



WestMom April 28, 2014 at 3:05 pm

It would be helpfulf to know the candidate’s native language to understand if this might be a communication issue. I can see the second sentence as meaning ‘Let me reassure you that I would love to be your AP and you have answered all my questions…’. This first sentence is a bit more tricky. I’d probably dig a bit more to understand what ‘irritated’ means in his native language.

FormerEuropeanAu-Pair April 29, 2014 at 9:41 am

in german it would mean “I am slightly puzzled” …

TexasHM April 28, 2014 at 3:11 pm

Ok as a HUGE challenge email advocate and having a lot of experience in this area, I have to say that you are right to ask this question and this is a tricky one that could go either way. A part of me says cross him off because APs are on their best behavior during the interview process and honestly, in an interview if you got asked the same question 10 times would you say “I’m frustrated because you have asked me this already”?! Do you mind sharing what country this AP is from. The only grace I would give would be if the wording was an ESL issue. Meaning if this AP was trying to say that he very much wants to be your AP and he wishes that you didn’t have any doubts thats different than I want to be your AP but I find your process frustrating because you are making me answer the same questions again. If he truly meant the latter of the two then I would cross him off. Sorry, but if he’s “frustrated” by a challenge email then he will be “frustrated” when your kid doesn’t listen, when your plans change, when other things don’t go his way. On the other hand, if he is passionate about being your AP and in translation chose the wrong wording, then you hate to cross him off. What are the odds you Skype and ask? Am I the only one crazy enough to do that? If thats too confrontational then I would email back. One of two things will happen. He will explain and you will realize it was a poor choice of words or two, he will likely get more frustrated and vent and then you have your answer. I would probably phrase it in a non confrontational way (because I am sneaky) and say something like “you mentioned in your email you were irritated and that concerned me – was it a particular question or did I say something that offended you? This is a trick question in a way because you are validating the comment (even though its not valid) and hopefully that will open the AP up to say what he’s truly thinking. If he says “you asked me about my experience and you have already asked me that twice before” then I would cross him off. If he says “I am just really excited about joining your family and I thought we had covered everything and I thought (mistakenly) that you were going to ask me to match so then I was a little surprised by what appeared to be another long round of questions but I didn’t mean that to sound so harsh, I meant to say I was a little disappointed but that I am happy to continue this process as long as it takes for you to know that I am the match for you that I know you are for me.” Ding ding ding winner!! Does that help at all or am I just preaching madness at this point? :)

Kiwiana April 28, 2014 at 3:21 pm

If he or she is German, than it’s a very common mistake. Irritiert (falsly translated to irritated) is the German word for confused.

gianna April 29, 2014 at 2:18 pm

I had a similiar experience. An aupair asked me to re-write some instructions because my written note was ” a little annoying “. She was a wonderful aupair so I was shocked to hear her use that word. After a roundabout conversation, I realized that she meant that she was confused. I was glad that I had not become self-righteous. Language can be very subtle ( and confusing ! )

exaupair April 28, 2014 at 3:31 pm

He said he would have been excited to match with you, why not ask him for a Skype interview then? I’m saying this because e-mails in my opinion don’t fully reflect the tone of reply. Skype is much more of a job interview.
You can bring his “offensive” e-mail up and dig a little bit more into it, observe his reactions to any other of your questions – the tone of his voice (his gestures even) as much as the words he uses.
English is your native language, but it’s only a second language for him. Even if he states he is “fluent” you have to be aware that in reality he could be just OK. Every AP does their best to answer in a polite manner, but they only use words and phrases THEY think are best suited.
I have spoken to many HPs whose English was far worse than mine, and to be honest sometimes, when they tried to explain the extend of my duties I felt like they were barking orders (“you do X”, “you go to Z”), where in fact during Skype conversations they turned out very polite people.

Should be working April 28, 2014 at 3:35 pm

This strikes me as a German reply. In German people can say “irritated” [irritiert] where we would in English say “confused”, especially in a situation where someone asks you about something you thought was already clear. Although it could have a hint of irritation at being confused, but really it’s more about confusion.

This looks like an AP who will speak her/his mind and thinks things are settled when they are settled. That may bespeak rigidity. It may also bespeak confidence, go-getting, etc.

German translation issues notwithstanding (if I’m correct about it being a German), I would be put off by this answer because it means the AP is not as moldable as I like my APs. Some people like less moldable APs because they are more independent and don’t need as much hand-holding. I think you should look at the whole arc of your communications and see how you felt about them.

German Au-Pair April 28, 2014 at 4:49 pm

My thought exactly. Irritiert= confused. False friends. I believe the connotation does not go into the direction of the word “irritated” at all but it really just means “I wonder why”.
That said, if you put yourself in his shoes…you exchanged emails, to him everything seems perfect and from your conversation he probably thinks that goes for you as well.
Suddenly you ask the same -or nearly the same- questions again (assuming he didn’t make that up). If an AP did that you probably would think “wait, what?” like she hasn’t paid any attention to what you’ve said before.
I haven’t followed the other thread so I don’t know the reason behind asking a lot of the questions a second time but I would wonder, too.
To me voicing that concern just means that he wants to make you aware that HE is aware of having answered those questions before. Maybe you’re testing him? Maybe you missed the email? It sounds to me like he is not afraid to speak his mind (keep in mind that “irritating” was in no way a rude way of speaking his mind to him”) and making sure missunderstandings are avoided. He also answered the questions afterwards so he shows he’ll do it nevertheless but isn’t afraid of pointing out if something doesn’t make sense to him.

Host Mom in the City April 28, 2014 at 3:52 pm

Tough one! I’m personally not a fan of the challenge email approach and typically let my gut make the final decision. But since it’s already out there – I think you need to Skype with him and ask him what he meant. Just say you were confused and hope you didn’t offend him, and see what he says. His reaction will tell you what you need to know, I presume. It is possible that he thought he was “in the bag” based on all your previous communications and the way the conversations were headed, he thought you’d pretty much covered everything there was to cover over multiple weeks, and all you had to do was ask him to match – and then you hit him out of the blue with this big long request including many of the things you already discussed (and did you mention it was down to a final face-off between him and someone else?). If that was my impression, I think I’d be a little irritated too.

NBHostMom April 28, 2014 at 5:09 pm

Hi…. The last conversation we had in Skype ended with me explaining that I was talking to him and one other candidate (I believe in being transparent) and that I’d be getting back to him shortly regarding any outstanding things that would help in the decision process.

I opened my email explaining that if like to clarify a few items to get some more insight and to ensure we’re on the same page. The email I sent had 10 questions, only 2 required a “real” (more than one sentence) answer. In my mind that was well within reason, I certainly didn’t expect to “irritate” anyone.

Host Mom in the City April 29, 2014 at 7:48 am

Sorry, I definitely didn’t mean to imply that what you were asking was unreasonable. Believe me, I have a similar long, drawn-out matching process! I think I was just saying that thinking about it from the candidate’s perspective – it must feel fairly powerless and confusing. Like she keeps asking me all these questions over and over and I’m completely ready for this – why isn’t she??? Now obviously that feeling shouldn’t be expressed to the interviewer :) But I can see feeling that way. That’s all I was saying. Sorry I wasn’t unclear.

I said pick the female candidate when you first posted, and this further cements my feelings, but I do agree with him that matching can be an “irritating” process! :) Can’t wait to hear how this goes!

TexasHM April 28, 2014 at 4:03 pm

I know I have said this 100 times but I think the term “challenge email” is misleading. The intent is not to anger them or be a jerk, but to have a “real” conversation and hard look at the match. I do wonder about the list of questions. My “challenge” emails are me typically telling them what I love about them followed by my concerns and asking for their feedback. Its not a new list of questions so much as it is pointing at the elephants in the room we have discovered over the interview process. Things like – I know you are already bonding with the kids and they think you are great, but watching 3 kids full time is hard and you haven’t watched more than one at a time before. This is a tough job, do you think having 3 at once will be too much? Or – driving is an essential part of this job as our AP drives everyday and you have only had your license for 6 months. While we have no problem practicing with you and investing time to get your comfortable, if you can’t pass the driving test or it proves to be an issue this could be grounds for rematch and thats the last thing we want. Do you think this is too much to ask of you having only had your license for 6 months?
Our great APs have not been irritated or frustrated by these “challenges” at all and later thanked me for bringing these things up. It made them think hard about what they needed to do and if they were ready to commit 300%. It also showed me they could objectively review themselves and both came up with solutions to help. Things like our 6mo driver practicing everyday with her dad before she came and taking the online driving course before she arrived. The AP that got upset over our challenge round came here and got upset frequently at the drop of a hat.

Seattle Mom April 29, 2014 at 4:38 pm

I like that “pointing at the elephants in the room” – I’m going to have to think of that when I’m matching again.

Angie host mom April 28, 2014 at 4:09 pm

I would probably cross him off the list. Not because of the word irritated – I get that language can be a factor. He is obviously complaining that he has to answer questions he already answered, and complaining that you have a lot of questions.

I didn’t read the whole challenge email thread before – so I don’t know if you DID ask him a lot of questions that are repeats…but there is a lot going on in all of our lives and we do ask a lot of questions a second time — What time is your class again? Are you driving to the au pair meet or your friend, I forgot?

Unless he has answered a large number of the exact same questions before in an earlier email with a lot of questions in it, he doesn’t get to be irritated, and he doesn’t get to complain about you asking questions a second time when he isn’t even matched with you yet.

I may be not giving enough power to the concept of language barriers – but if the response had been, “wow this is hard, great practice with translating,” or “I thought we were past these things, is there something that has made you more worried” or even copying and pasting answers from another email – I’d be fine with all of that. Even a slightly snarky, “wow, that’s a lot of questions! I hope my answers are clear this time.” I’d probably let pass.

SwissAuPair April 29, 2014 at 7:51 am

I think that he is not complaining about the questions. To me it sounds more like an exciting “Woooooow you have a lot of questions, let’s start”. The same with the word “irritated”: I think he wanted to say “confused”.

Maybe he was surprised that the HM had so many more questions, since for him it is already clear that he really likes the family and want to match.

But these are only speculations. I would talk to him on the phone and ask him about that Mail. Specially if the answers he gave were great!

Momma Gadget April 28, 2014 at 4:46 pm

Wow- Maybe it is just a ginormous ” Lost in Translation”- but there are too many negatives in that sentence for me to get past.

“these are a lot of questions to answer”- as in too many?
“and I am a little irritated”- even with the multiple meanings I have a had time putting a positive spin on this. Did my questions give him a rash? They couldn’t have confused him, because in his mind he already answered them.

“…. we’ve already talked about most of the questions.”- you’re wasting my time asking me questions I have already answered.

“for me there are no questions left.” – This is the one that does him in for me. He is comfortable, but he has taken for granted that the Interviewer is not, and has not decided to offer him the position yet.

The real question that the OP’s email asked is “how do you respond to pressure”. I think he clearly gave an answer. For me this response show’s a rigidity and lack of patience that would not fly with us. When I get stressed. It also suggest (IMHO) either a sense of self-importance, and/or inability to censor one’s opinion when it would have been prudent to keep his ‘irritation’ to himself.

I’ve been on many interviews where the company has interviewed me multiple times, by multiple people, all asking the majority of the same questions. I may have thought “enough already! just hire me!” but to declare it to the interviewer would be arrogant.
The companies that took the longest to hire me, have been the best experiences because they were just as concerned with how someone fits into the company dynamic as they were with how well they could preform the actual job. If a HF still has questions, or doesn’t feel that a question was full answered in Skype interviews, then they are well within their rights to ask again.

One last thought-with any of the APs who did not work out or were just so-so, there were nigglings in the back of my mind that I ignored or explained away. If that sentence bothers you enough to question the applicant’s suitability for your family, then walk away.

Seattle Mom April 29, 2014 at 4:44 pm

I agree with this completely.

He may not mean what he says, but he is answering some questions that you aren’t even asking. One is “how do you handle pressure” as above, another is “are you a patient person?”

If he’s getting impatient with your matching process then how patient will he be in dealing with the ever-changing needs of your family? Maybe when he is your AP you will have to give him instructions to do something new and you will be rushed and not as clear as you would like, will he be patient then?

Even if he means “confused” rather than “irritated” just to voice that feeling is to show some impatience. I require patience above all else from my APs. They have to deal with the fact that sometimes I am going to be unclear, and sometimes I am going to tell them the same thing 3 times. If they want to complain to their friends, fine, but don’t complain to me. It’s the same with my boss- if I don’t like his communication style, tough noogies, there’s not much I can do about it.

He might be the right AP for someone who can tolerate impatience. Maybe that is the OP. But it wouldn’t be me!

NBHostMom April 28, 2014 at 4:53 pm

Thank you everyone for your feedback!! :)

To give a bit more background, yes the applicant is German, good guess! His English on Skype has been excellent, I’ve been able to converse the same way I would with a native English speaker.

I tend to give people the benefit of the doubt in most situations, I’m just not so sure I can let this slide. Reading everyone’s feedback, I think I might have to give this candidate a pass. My initial reaction was to consider this an indication we might have a mismatch in personalities, but I was second guessing myself, language and culture can be tricky to navigate, especially in email.

Kiwiana April 28, 2014 at 5:11 pm

For me this calls cultural misunderstanding in big letters. I can see from your comments how these sentences can be interpretated. Still assuming the AP candidate is German, this would be perfectly acceptable in Germany. German communication tends to be direct if not blunt and yes, a lot of Germans would be very surprised if the same question is asked twice.

Always Hopeful HM April 28, 2014 at 6:28 pm

I was going to suggest that maybe the AP meant that he was a little “worried” because he thought he had assuaged your concerns, and he was comfortable and happy with your family, but… I have to agree with Mama Gadget. There’s a certain arrogance in the response that doesn’t bode well. You might do another Skype call just to be sure, but I think he’s given you the answer you need.

WarmStateMomma April 28, 2014 at 9:30 pm

The other AP can drive and doesn’t need training to help out with child-related housework, right? Maybe this guy is whiny or arrogant; maybe it was a cultural/communication thing. I’d probably just choose the female AP and not lose sleep wondering what if….

TexasHM April 28, 2014 at 9:58 pm

Momma Gadget hit the nail on the head, I was just about to respond that after thinking more about it, I am getting a vibe of impatience. Whether that is with you, with the process, with the depth of your interviewing whatever I don’t care, this makes me question his patience and if you have children of any age, I would guess you would consider patience a necessary skill set for this. Again, I would ask him what he meant by that and I think you will know very quickly.

Aussiemum April 29, 2014 at 3:46 am

Ask him what he means before assuming he knows the definition of the word

DCBurbTwinMomma April 29, 2014 at 5:52 am

I’d pass on this candidate because he is already questioning your decision making. I read this at best as, “why are you waiting my time, if you had only paid attention we would not be here.” I don’t care if I asked for an interpretive art piece to describe his theory of childcare–I asked for it. (Caveat–a caregiver should question something that is harmful to a child, otherwise my rules are THE rules). If it seems unreasonable now, imagine the push back you’ll get when he is not vying for the opportunity. I brushed off some negative feedback about cloth diapering during the interview process the first time around. When she got here, I’d find that she was resentful of having to cloth diaper twins and made a point to tell me about it for almost an entire year. I could have lived without that. My point is that he’s setting the tone for the year and whether there is cultural miscommunication of the exact words is irrelevant–he intends to say that you’re follow up questioning is excessive and troubling to him and that basically you’re wasting his time.

Good Luck.

NBHostMom April 29, 2014 at 9:33 am

Hi everyone … I’ve been reading all your comments diligently. I hope this message goes through because a couple other are tied up in moderation. Your feedback has been invaluable as a source of perspective. Last night we offered our other candidate the position and she happily accepted. I feel so much relief with the choice. When I wrote this note to CV, I was really torn about how to interpret his comments. At the end of the day, they’re probably nothing more than some poor word choices tied to translation, however, enough doubt was created to make me uncomfortable offering him the position. As many of you pointed out, this might be a hint to inflexible or impatient personality trait (or maybe not, I guess I’ll never know). We did consider addressing it with him, however, we had another very strong candidate over which I had no concerns. I guess this wasn’t the year for a bro-pair… maybe next time :)

WestMom April 29, 2014 at 12:00 pm

Congrats NBHM!
Just curious, how do you announce to the other candidate that you chose someone else? In the past I have done this by email with an offer to do a follow up Skype, though it sometimes feel a bit impersonal. How did you , and how do others handle this?

Should be working April 29, 2014 at 12:20 pm

Forget skype. Everyone’s time is precious. A polite, explanatory email is enough. Let everyone move on quickly, no drama. If you can offer a reason that is true and doesn’t hurt feelings, all the better (“we decided that someone from a snowy climate was in the end better for us”). Don’t tell the candidate anything that might make her/him strategically hide something from a future HF! (“We were concerned that because you had an accident in your home city, you might not be a good enough driver for us.”–don’t say this a nd thereby blow it for the next HF who wants to hear this info!)

Returning HM April 29, 2014 at 12:30 pm

Last year we interviewed two candidates for a long time (nearly three weeks), and it was a very hard decision to pick between them. When we did, we sent an email to the one we didn’t pick explaining that we had decided to go with the one who had more experience with children with learning and behavioral differences – a better fit for our family – but that we had thought very highly of him and named in specific what we found the most impressive. I then emailed the matching coordinator at our agency and gave her specifics about what I thought made him a strong candidate so that she could keep him in mind if families she worked with had needs that matched his strengths.

As it turned out, I am glad we had written such a nice and personalized note and followed up with the agency about him, because this guy ended up becoming good friends in training school with our current AP! They have remained such good friends that now one we didn’t pick is flying east to visit our AP (and stay with us) in mid-May! So I am glad we had handled his “rejection” in a sensitive way.

This year, the one we didn’t pick (we also interviewed two) ended up emailing me to ask for advice on specific aspects of his application that he wanted to make clearer, and I went out of my way to advise him (good point, SBW, about being careful not to help them hide things; in this case it was to help elevate or bring to the forefront particular experiences that were more “hidden” in his application). The funny thing is that I noticed on Facebook recently that the AP we did pick for next year has now become FB friends with the one we didn’t pick. Very small world, especially among German-speaking male APs, I guess!

WarmStateMomma April 29, 2014 at 12:38 pm

Good karma came back around!

Bruna April 29, 2014 at 1:23 pm

@Returning HM that was so nice of you that you helped the other candidate, because this is what most concerns me when I get online. I heard from other au pairs that some families get their profile and don’t answer e-mails or show any real interest making her unavailable for other families. I super understand that these 3 weeks were really necessary for your matching and ended up being really worthy for him too! Happy to know me that some HFs think the way you do!

Boys Mama May 1, 2014 at 2:08 pm

That happened to me too – a candidate we interviewed landed in our hometown and was friends with our AP. I was glad that we could all smile about the fact that we’d already “met”… and it was quickly obvious that we had made the right decision about her.

Also we stayed in touch with another candidate via Facebook through the year he was with the family that eventually hired him. He wanted to extend but with a different family and kept plugging to be our next AP – He had much more experience driving, had been an AP for a year, etc. He wasn’t ultimately for us but it was nice to have an option we had already interviewed and liked the following year.

Momma Gadget April 29, 2014 at 12:44 pm

Congrats NBHM and hope you have a wonderful year.
I agree with SBW. A polite email is enough- “We had a very difficult time choosing between 2 APs because we liked your XYZ.In the end we decided to go with the PDQ (older or more experienced, etc…) candidate would be a better match for our family. We wish you luck in finding a great HF”

NBHostMom April 29, 2014 at 12:33 pm

To be honest, I didn’t tell him, the agency is handling that for us. They handle it sensitively and focus on them moving forward in their search for a host family. I’m relieved I didn’t have to break the news, I did not want to get into any conversations with him about why he wasn’t chosen.

Emerald City HM April 29, 2014 at 8:32 pm

If you don’t mind sharing which agency you are with, I’m curious which agency gets that involved with the interview process.

TexasHM April 29, 2014 at 8:36 pm

I believe it was Interexchange, or at least I had given her info.

BackHome April 29, 2014 at 12:39 pm

I think telling the candidate by email is perfectly fine. I always was really excited and nervous before and while skyping with potential HF and I think I would have been much more disappointed and probably very unconfortable if they told me on Skype. But I can only speak for myself. Just don’t let her / him wait once you made your decision. When I was in matching process I skyped with a potential HM and I thought it went pretty well and she said she liked me but had another candidate she wanted to talk to before making a decision. She said she wanted to email me the next day and maybe skype again – well, she didn’t. I emailed her a few days later and her replay was that she had matched with the other candidate and was going to tell me after her (two week) vacation. I think every candidate deserves to be told – soon after the match ;)

Host Mom in the City April 29, 2014 at 2:40 pm

Agree – we always make it a point to reach out to each and every candidate as soon as we make our decision. Usually in the form of “this was a really difficult choice for our family because we were talking to a few really excellent candidates. We particularly liked how you [whatever I liked]. Unfortunately, when it came down to it, we decided that [whatever skill we liked in the other candidate] would be a better fit for our family. Thank you so very much for your time and I wish you all the best in finding a great host family and having a great year.”

Would never do this by Skype! Particularly because I think the candidate would think you were just having another Skype session and would be really blindsided!

TexasHM April 29, 2014 at 5:21 pm

Agreed with most above. I always send an email immediately telling them we have made our decision. I don’t tell them what the other candidate had that they didn’t because I don’t want them to doubt themselves in any way, I try to instead focus on their strengths and if possible, offer some advice for their process and ironically, this last round the 3 that we had serious conversations with and did not match with are now all friends with our current AP! One Slovakian sent us an amazing care package of things from her country for “helping” her, a Thai AP matched with a family an hour away and is making plans to visit us to meet in person and another went to Boston and messages me on FB regularly. Its no secret I go DEEP in interviewing so we really feel like we know and bond with these APs so its really hard to cut that off so we don’t. The very first AP we had our second candidate we loved as well and she matched to Ohio, stayed in touch and invited us to her wedding! (we couldn’t make it but hope she visits sometime) Second round our AP was the only one we seriously considered so nobody else involved there. We are honest with the APs we don’t pick. This last round the reasons were bad timing on one but I gave her advice on what to look for in a HF and questions to ask to find a good match (she’s the one that sent huge care package of goodies after matching with an awesome family 45min away from us!). Another it was driving concerns because she was an extension and current HF didn’t let her drive and with current AP departing for family emergency we didn’t have the bandwidth to devote to practicing driving at that moment. She was great about it and totally understood. Boston AP had never left her home country and never watched more than one kid. I told her I was worried she would be homesick so far from her sister (sister is AP in boston too) and that my 3 would be a hard adjustment. I recommended she match close to her sister and watch older/fewer kids. That is her situation now and she is very happy. She is coming to visit at the end of the year. ;)

Bruna April 29, 2014 at 9:51 am

@TexasHM and @WarmStateMomma

Saw you talking about special ways to announce pregnancy (btw, congrats WarmStateMomma), then I saw this video and remembered of you!
I dont know if youve already seen it, Its so cute, made me cry :)

WarmStateMomma April 29, 2014 at 10:58 am

Aww! Maybe it’s the pregnancy hormones, but the video made me cry too. Thank you for sharing it!

Bruna April 29, 2014 at 10:05 am

Back to the topic, I think it was a language problem, I studied translation in college and still get caught by using many false cognates incorrectly.. However, if what he actually meant was ‘confused’, I seems he’s kinda impatient with the process, and patience is a very important quality to work with children.
But I would ask what he meant anyway..

CAcapitolHostMom April 29, 2014 at 4:43 pm

Is he irritated that you’re asking questions in the email or irritated that the answers he’s giving are some how not understood by you. English speakers would find the word offensive. But really, the dictionary says it means, “to excite to impatience.” Just ask him what he means.

I would hope that you wouldn’t count him out because of one wrong word. Like in any relationship, seek clarification before you think you know what someone is telling you. Good luck!

Mimi April 29, 2014 at 5:15 pm

I know the issue is now moot, but I think knowing this AP candidate was German, this was a language/cultural barrier. I apologize if someone said this and I missed it, but part of what was likely frustrating him was feeling that he was not answering your question adequately and I think he was more “irritated” by this than by the repeat question.

I’ve found that our German/Austrian APs will get frustrated (with themselves) if they don’t understand something fully the first time and will even circle back after a conversation when the context of something becomes clearer to them to clarify or expand on something that is long gone from our minds.

When we Americans are irritated, it’s more about someone, but IMO, the Germans are more irritated by the intangible/inanimate, i.e people do things that annoy us, but not to annoy us specifically.

NBHostMom April 29, 2014 at 5:34 pm

That’s a great point and was much of the reason for me writing this email to CV. It is difficult to know when allow for mis-translations and cultural communication styles and when something should be taken at face value as a red flag. I may have passed on an excellent au pair, it is just such a grey area. If we hadn’t had a second very strong candidate, I would have explored the intent of his words more.

Momma Gadget April 29, 2014 at 6:31 pm

Upon releasing him, a wise AP once told me “You can’t choose us all”.

Your selection was weeded down to 2 candidates, one gave you pause, one did not. Now your family looks forward to the excitement of a new AP. Good luck!

Mimi April 29, 2014 at 7:53 pm

It’s a perfect example of how cultural differences can affect the AP experience and I think you made the right decision given the circumstances. You also need to take into consideration that had you chosen him, going forward you may have had problems based on these kinds of communication issues and that causes stress for everyone.

Going back to our past posts about not hearing why we as HFs are rejected, if he emails you to ask why you didn’t choose him, let him know how his response came across. I think he’ll take it as a learning opportunity.

Returning HM April 29, 2014 at 8:49 pm

This year in matching I had the reverse situation: Something I wrote ended up causing offense and but for the grace and good will of the candidate we were interviewing, we would have lost an AP whom we expect is going to be a very good fit for us:

We were more than two weeks into the matching process with this candidate, with daily emails and frequent skype calls, and I was just “dotting i’s and crossing t’s” by emailing his references. The three people I contacted had checked on their references that they were comfortable speaking English, so I wrote to them in English, but I also used google translate to send my notes in German as well. Well, the two people who read my notes in English replied very helpfully, and I got some good feedback that gave me a great sense of the AP’s responsibility, warmth, and experience. The third reference did not write back but instead called the AP, who was student-teaching in her school, in to talk to her. As soon as the meeting was over, I got a note from him asking to skype immediately because he had an urgent issue to discuss with me. It turns out that google translate had made a question about whether she considered him a good fit for a 12 year old girl into a question about whether he would be appropriate with (instead of appropriate for) my 12 year old girl! So this headmistress called the AP in to tell him that we did not trust him and that we had concerns about his designs on our daughter. Luckily, he was calm and realized that I would not have spent two weeks emailing and skyping with someone I had such concerns about, so he called me to talk about it, and we were able to clear up the issue easily. But someone who jumped to judgment quicker or was touchier in general would not have responded this way, and this could have ended up being quite the disaster! Anyway, this experience did give me a good taste of how easily one can be misunderstood — and how imperfect google translate really is!

TexasHM April 29, 2014 at 9:25 pm

I definitely agree with never assuming but in the previous thread she mentioned that her gut was telling her to go with the female candidate so perhaps she felt something in earlier interactions or suspected something she couldn’t put her finger on and this is the nail in the coffin. We all frequently reference trusting your gut, I am going to guess thats what played out here (hopefully). Congrats on the match!

JenNC April 29, 2014 at 9:56 pm

I’m sorry but I don’t care if there is a language barrier, if he wants the job then even this comment should not have been added, period, you don’t want to be dealing with “irritation” with a new aupair, he is smart enough to choose his words, and the typed English looks very understood, don’t take him, choose the other one .jen

Bruna AP2B May 1, 2014 at 9:08 pm

I think I have a problem: I found out I cant stand two days without a post or new comments or an open thread.. I’m an AuPairMom addicted

Momma Gadget May 2, 2014 at 10:49 am

LOL! I hear you!… But I get a lot more work done when there’s not.

Bruna AP2B May 2, 2014 at 12:00 pm

Me too!! lol

OpinionatedHM May 2, 2014 at 12:14 pm


AussiePair May 2, 2014 at 1:12 pm

Agreed!! I think I check APMom more than Facebook!

NoVA Twin Mom May 2, 2014 at 1:47 pm

Yay for the open thread tomorrow!

Bruna AP2B May 2, 2014 at 2:18 pm


GP May 2, 2014 at 8:50 am

I would be particularly interested to know if the au pair candidate was from Germany. In German the word “irritiert” is often used to mean “confused” or “unsure”, and it is a classic pitfall of Germans speaking English to say they are “irritated” (meaning confused) and have native speakers think that they are angry or annoyed.

OpinionatedHM May 2, 2014 at 1:16 pm

Thanks for this information, GP.
The first thing I thought upon reading the original post is that the AP might have meant “confused” rather than “irritated”. Changing that one word changes the tone of the entire paragraph. He might have been trying to express concern that he was not being understood or he was not correctly understanding the HP questions. It seems he wanted to make sure that the HP’s were getting the answers that they needed from him given he had already answered the questions in prior communication with the HP’s. I think that might be why he made sure to add that he wanted to be their AP and that he had no more questions. He wanted to let the HP’s know that he felt great about matching with them to ease any concerns the HP’s might have had about his level of interest.
I have managed, hired, and fired many people in my professional and personal life. Sometimes, even the best candidates won’t get the job for communication issues like this. I’ve interviewed candidates that I really wanted to hire, but I did not hire them because I knew they would struggle with the formal environment at my company. Every company has a corporate communication style. Some are formal, some casual, some have lots of meetings, some do emails, some do large scale announcements, some do small group Q&A sessions. Families are the same. I think the AP’s intentions were good and it is a translation issue, but this type of misunderstanding can come up quite often during a year of living with someone from a different culture who speaks English as a second (or third) language. If
the AP’s approach to resolving a miscommunication doesn’t work for the HP, then he’s not a good fit for the family. The communication style of this AP also seems, from the two sentences we got, to be very formal and businesslike. Maybe this is part of the issue for the HP as well. It is important to find someone with compatible communication style so you don’t spend the year trying to interpret and resolve communication issues.
NBHostMom, don’t feel guilty about not choosing this candidate. It sounds like he will be a great AP, for someone else.

Ruth May 30, 2014 at 11:49 am

We have since left the Au Pair program after it just didn’t pan out for us with 3 AP’s in 6 months time, but I think of this group from time and time and wanted to share with you that Microsoft Research has come out with an online language translator for skype. My colleagues have tried it and say it’s pretty good! I hope this helps since I know we muddled through our skype interviews with the language barrier!

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