Driving, Comprehending and Bonding: Can this Au Pair relationship be saved?

by cv harquail on August 30, 2010

Here’s a request for advice– and it is a long one… read through and offer your wisdom!

Hi All,  We are a first time host family of a lovely Au Pair from China. She has been here almost two weeks. She is neat, helpful, and eager; she is willing to learn how to work appliances, etc. HOWEVER…

We seem to be having a few problems; I wonder how common they are, and would appreciate any advice people might have regarding how to fix them:

Our Au Pair Has Poor English

201008301108.jpgThis one I feel is largely my fault; when we interviewed her on Skype, it was easy to blame the conversation lags on the distance/ internet connection. However, it is now apparent that she often seems to understand statements or instructions, but in fact does not. I have tried the simple (but somewhat infantilizing) technique of asking her to repeat instructions back to me – she seems to find this a little rude, which I understand, but if I don’t do it, I have no idea if she understands me or not. She seems to want to appear to understand so much (saying “Yes, yes, OK” even before I’ve finished a question) that she does not ask for clarification.

Her limited English skills also have made it very hard to get to know her. When my husband or I try to have friendly conversations, she seems to get embarrassed or frustrated – when my husband asked what she likes to do on weekends, she told us that she would rather talk to us about it in a month, once her English is better! I feel bad for her, and I don’t know how to help….?

Our Au Pair Has Poor Driving Skills

Actually, poor is an understatement. We only looked at applications from people who stated they knew how to drive. We have had the AP drive with us twice since she arrived. The first time, with me, she was driving through stop signs, into intersections, weaving from lane to lane without signaling or looking (the whole “lane” concept seemed foreign to her), turning left into opposing traffic, etc. I told my husband (who I think didn’t really believe me) how bad it was. So he took her out. She drove right off the road! He also felt that they narrowly avoided two major accidents, one when she glided into an intersection without regard to the light, another when she failed to brake until the last possible minute. There is no way we would let her drive out kids!

The problem is, we picked her specifically because we needed someone to drive our kids to/from school in the morning and evening! That was made clear upfront, and now I feel a little duped… Furthermore, she seems to think that her driving is fine – as my husband said, when she drove off the road, she giggled. I’m sure it was a nervous thing, but I don’t know how to proceed. We signed her up for her driving test, but there is no way she will pass it. Do we pay for private driving lessons? Should the agency cover the cost? And what should we do if we still don’t feel comfortable with her driving even after lessons? Honestly, I wouldn’t mind if she were a novice, “rusty” or timid – it’s the fact that she does not seem to even know to be careful that has me spooked.

Our Au Pair is Struggling to Bond With The Kids

My daughter, who is 5, seems to really not like the AP. She was so excited about the au pair coming, and now says she wants her to leave! She was fine with the AP for the first day or so, but now seems to resent any instruction or even help from the AP.

I know my daughter is VERY strongminded, and is not easy to direct – she is hard even for my formidable mother-in-law to handle. But I cannot change her personality – she doesn’t often respond the first time when told it’s time to leave, put away toys, get your PJs on, etc. If our au pair tries to get her to do anything, my daughter says “No” or simply doesn’t pay attention.

With her limited English, the AP doesn’t seem to have the tools to overcome this problem. If I or my husband is around, we intervene (she knows better than to disobey us) – but we can’t always be around! I’ve explained to my daughter that she cannot be rude or disrespectful, even given her time outs for not listening to the AP, but it doesn’t seem to change things. Even my toddler (2 year old boy) seems to not like the AP – that might get better with time, although I think he picks up on what his big sister thinks, and it starting to behave in kind. I’m worried about the direction their relationship is going, but I feel powerless to redirect things. HELP!!!

What we’ve done so far

I’ve talked with the cluster rep, who seems to think this is all pretty typical, and will work itself out (except the driving, which will need attention). The problem is my husband goes back to full time in one month, and at that point, we NEED someone who can drive our kids to school / daycare. Hiring another person to do that is an option, or course, but that seems to defeat a main reason why we got an au pair.

Am I being unrealistic?

Is it too soon to expect things to be settling in?

Am I doing something wrong that is preventing things from working?

I feel really bad even writing this – I can tell the au pair is a good person, and it must be so difficult to be out of one’s country for the first time, in a foreign land with unfamiliar customs, barely understanding the language and expected to help with a stranger’s rowdy children – but I am starting to question whether it is fixable or not….    Overwhelmed First-Timers

201008301110.jpgDear Overwhelmed First-Timers

I just read your email aloud to my DH (we’re in the car) and he had one word for you — rematch.

I agree.

Of course, I’ll put this up on AuPairMom on Monday and we can get everyone’s suggestions, BUT

Driving is key. You can teach someone how to operate a car but you can’t teach them to have a serious, safe, skillful appreciation of the responsibility for driving someone else’s child.

Bad driving is a deal breaker. You don’t have time to teach her to drive— it would take many hours and much money, with no guarantees that it would be fixed in time.

As for the other two issues:

The language/instruction issue most of us would recommend you to keep working on.

The challenges of bonding with your children and learning how to interact with them would also be something that most of us would suggest is ‘fixable’ and worth working on.

But all three of these issues? That’s just too much for one host family to handle.

Go back to your LCC and put pressure on her to start rematch. The agency might balk, recommend driving lessons , etc. Have the LCC drive in car w/ AP to show her how bad it is. Demand a competent safe driver.

That’s my .02. Will put this up and see what others say. But get ready to rematch.

Also remember that there are great candidates out there — and you can and will find one.There is a better candidate for you out there.

You need to have a stronger foundation at the start that what you have so far.

cv, aka AuPairMom

Readers? Do you agree? What other advice do you have?

Images: Chinese car w’ chinese gal from Faye Yu
Chinese Shopping Mall from Ivan Walsh


NewAPMama August 30, 2010 at 12:01 pm

This must be a very frustrating situation. The driving issues alone would be enough to rematch for me. Combine that with not be able to deal with difficult children, and it sounds like a nightmare. I would begin the rematching process as soon as possible. Makes it easier on everyone. Explain to her that while you think she is a lovely girl and would make a great AP, she is just not the right fit for your family. Good luck!

Taking a Computer Lunch August 30, 2010 at 12:33 pm

Been there, done that with a Chinese au pair. We made it through a year with a Chinese au pair, but in hindsight, it would have been better if I had gone into rematch immediately.

Driving: Our Chinese AP managed to do over $1,000 in damage to another car – backing out of a pull-in parking space. We immediately booked her for three 2-hour sessions with an off-duty police officer. At the end of the sessions he said he thought she would be able to pass the road test portion of the driving test, but would fail on the parallel parking, 3 point turns, etc. She didn’t practice driving for a month, and her skills deteriorated rapidly. We then required her to book another set of lessons with the company of her choice and got our agency to split the cost with her. She improved to the point that we let her drive our kids around – until it snowed. When the roads cleared, it became apparent that she had lost all the ground she had gained in the Fall – she just didn’t have enough experience. She never did get a US driver’s license, and that was part of our decision-making at extension time. Bottom line: not only did it cost her, us, and the agency a lot of money, but DH spent a lot of his time.

Communication – some of it is language, some of it is culture. Our AP arrived with reasonable reading skills, but even after 9 months she still failed a writing course. Her receptive English became acceptable, and then declined the minute she stopped taking courses (but at this point we had told we weren’t going to extend with her and stopped pressing her to make an effort). I found that she couldn’t answer a simple question about how she spent her day, but if I asked her about her childhood in China she could hold a lengthy conversation. We spent a year with her, but we never got close enough for me to feel that I knew her. She said her goal was to speak English like an American, but as far as I could tell, she spent all of her free time on Skype or with members of the local Chinese community. She was good at ordering my son (9) around, but never talked with him (and lost the opportunity to really work on her English).

You need to decide for yourself whether this match is worth it to you. How much time and energy do you want to put into it to make it work? A comment from our counselor made us decide to make it work, and our solution was to hold monthly meetings and establish benchmarks for language acquisition and driving skills. Because I have school-age children, I added time to work on those skills to her schedule. She had to prove to me that she spoke in English for 10 hours a week to someone other than my children – she took a lot of free English classes through our local library and an Asian association, and did some volunteer work. Once she was approved to drive our car by DH, I told her she had to practice for an hour every day – that some of the time had to be parking and three-point turns. (Our local motor vehicles office had a very good brochure online for teenage beginning drivers with suggested of how many hours were needed for each skill in order to pass the driving test.) I made it clear that failure to work on these benchmarks would result in rematch. However, if your AP is going to be with your children full-time, then she’ll have to be willing to work on those skills in her free time.

All went reasonably well until we had months of snow (unusual in our city) and she stopped driving. At the six-month mark, when DH had to give up his day at work to drive The Camel to a doctor’s appointment because our AP couldn’t drive on imperfectly cleared roads, I freaked. I called my LCC and told her I wanted to go into rematch, that I was done working and pushing to make the match work. It turned out that the Venn diagram of available special-needs willing APs with drivers licenses was 2 (and I’m with a big agency). I bit my lip, took a deep breath, and made the rest of the year work.

If you’re a first-time host, you need to realize that all children misbehave for the AP when the parent is around – they won’t see her as the authority figure. You’d need to have a neighbor or another AP invite her to the park with the kids and have them observe how she does.

The bottom line – decide how much energy you want to put into make a low-skill AP acceptable to you. If you don’t have the time, then my advice would be to cut your losses. I’ll admit, that I’m unlikely to match with a Chinese AP again, it was just too much work for DH and me (and I still get agitated about it, a month after she’s left).

MommyMia August 30, 2010 at 2:26 pm

TACL, for future reference, you might want to check out a newer “agency” that has started up (they are affiliated with a currently licensed one and working on getting thier own DOS approval…) called ProAuPair. They focus mainly on families with special needs children and have a cadre of specially trained, higher-educated, mainly German (with a few Western European) applicants. Their price ranks right up there with AuPair in America’s “AP Extraordinaires”, but you get very personalized, caring service from experienced au pair moms who run the company! (No I’m not affiliated with them, but I was looking for an alternative to APIA and found them to be of a much higher caliber!)

JBLV September 1, 2010 at 6:17 pm

Man alive, Computer Lunch. Your energy continues to amaze. Managing your AP like must have been exhausting.

Taking a Computer Lunch September 1, 2010 at 9:08 pm

It was (she’s gone) and my DH is like “Get over it already!” My new AP, an Extraordinnaire from Germany, is already much better in communication with less than a week with us! Had my LCC meeting and we alluded to the issues with last year’s AP. Now to get this AP up and running with The Camel, who knows when someone new is dealing with her and is stubborn as all get.

hOstCDmom August 30, 2010 at 12:53 pm

Oh my goodness – my DH just emailed me to ask me if this a post/question from ME! It is NOT — but other than the ages of your kids, it could have been! We have a Chinese AP, and have EXACTLY the same issues you have. I could have written your post verbatim. Our difference is that we PREFER a driver, but don’t NEED one. You can read what we did re the driving here in a few of my posts:


We wanted a Chinese AP because she works on Chinese daily with our children who study Chinese. We also got weaker English, but felt that one was on us – we felt she was the best candidate for us in other regards, and her written active and repsonsive English is better than spoken/receptive. Our AP simply fibbed big time about her driving — she drives JUST LIKE YOU DESCRIBE YOUR AP. Either the driving condidtions are wildly different in China (probably true to some extent) and/or she passed/paid for a license and has never had any real practice. We had her evaluated by a professional driving instructer, and HE was wigged out by her driving! We also face challenges with her being assertive and proactively managing our 5 children….she does not have an intuitive sense of how to head off squabbles, or how to divide and conquer, or how to simply command respect. (Our children are very well behaved, but there are 5 of them all in elementary school, so it requires a strong managment hand to keep the trains running on time at our house — I’m a PT WAHM mom, so she’s not flying solo….but she does need to be able to manage a few of them at at time by herself on a regular basis….)

We didn’t rematch because the language component was KEY for us, and our agency ended their relationship with the agent in China and hasn’t yet opened up their own satellite office (due to do so at the end of this year) so rematch with another Chinese AP wasn’t really an option.

All I can say is that our situation is a work in progress….

Good luck….

chithu September 7, 2010 at 4:36 am

hi there,
not to criticize or anything! just a honest question… how old was your au pair? if she is under 25, the skills that you said she lacked… well, i had to work for a year with kids to cultivate them. i know young mothers who don’t possess such skills!

i am so glad you decided to keep her as your au pair and possibly spent much money on her to drive… but it’s not very practical to expect child-management skills from some one who’s not older than a teenager herself… and from another culture to boot :)

of course, unless she had lied in her profile saying that she possessed all those skills… in which case she deserved to be sent back :)

chithu September 7, 2010 at 4:45 am

and one more comment, but of course i’m generalizing here… but girls from asian countries – where children are usually raised according to the principle “they shold be seen but not heard” – generally have difficulty in being assertive. This makes them very polite, humble and eager to please, as they hate disappointing others or saying no to their hosts. But it also means they will have difficulty with cunning kid-management strategies :)

i can talk because i’m from asia (india) and i really struggled hard to set boundaries with the kids I took care of. initially, i was happy to help them with their homework, room cleaning but eventually my host mom sat with me one day and said she didn’t want me to clean their rooms or help in homework. she only wanted me to remind the kids to clean their rooms or do their homework. again, this is a cultural thing, because in india, the elders spoil the kids ;). so i had to struggle hard to overcome that mentality and be strict with the kids.

iMom August 30, 2010 at 12:54 pm

Agree that you should rematch – having a new au pair should NOT be this hard. Have no fear – you can find a good au pair that is great with your kids, can drive well AND has good English proficiency. The driving issue alone is enough to go into rematch if you need her to drive your kids. That is also the easiest way to frame it to her so that she doesn’t feel too badly.

PA AP mom August 30, 2010 at 1:15 pm

I think that it would be possible to overcome the communication barrier with continued practice. I also think that your daughter’s reaction is pretty typical and will likely resolve.

The driving thing is a different story! That alone would be a dealbreaker for me. I would be worried sick to let my children ride with her anywhere. If you need a driver, asked for a driver, and didn’t get a driver….then someone didn’t hold up their end of the deal.

Talk to your LCC and program director. Good luck!

Mom23 August 30, 2010 at 2:05 pm

We were in this situation once. We had a Chinese au pair who we really liked, but she could not drive (and we paid for lots of lessons), and she had difficulty multi-tasking.

There could be some cross cultural issues here. For one, facial expressions are much different in China than in the U.S. So, sometimes it is often difficult to read the nonverbal cues. So, I think issue #3 could be overcome in time.

When we have had au pairs whose English is poor we have written instructions down. Sometimes it is easier to read than to speak.

The driving is an entirely different matter. This is what led us to rematch. The driving was something we needed our au pair to do. We have actually had to rematch with two au pairs because their driving abilities were not what they stated on their applications. If you need a driver, the au pair must be a good safe driver. A third au pair whose driving was marginal was in an accident with one of our children in the car. Everyone was okay, but it is not a call I want to get ever again. If you don’t think that she will improve her driving skills in a month, I would say you should start the rematch process now.

Gianna August 30, 2010 at 2:21 pm

I am not sure how to ascertain driving skills because many people who were/are poor drivers ( in my opinion ) are in denial. I have never met anybody who thought of themselves as a poor or inadequate driver. What I have observed is that some years driving is more important than other years depending on the kids’ schedules.

ILHP August 30, 2010 at 2:38 pm

Gianna – I think you are exactly right – it is very hard to evaluate driving skills. After reading this post (thank you!) I called a local driving agency to arrange a 1.5 hr driving skill evaluation when our new AP starts in a few weeks. I figure for $97.50 it is money well spent, and will likely keep the stress between the AP and HD (who is home the first few days) down. If it’s bad, the stress will be high regardless. We’ll see how it goes!

hOstCDmom August 30, 2010 at 2:46 pm

I agree that having a professional driving eval can help — it make the assesment more objective and less personal. It also provides a neutral basis for further discussion about next steps — i.e. get a state license, need for lessons, or worst case, need for re-match. It makes it more “you don’t possess the requisite driving skills that we need (and that you represented you had)” and less “we think you are a bad driver”. It makes the “we like you but have to rematch” ring (more) true to the au pair and takes a little of the emotion out of the equation.

Of course, we have to keep in mind whether the driving instructors and the HF’s interests are aligned — the driving school/instructor has a strong financial interest in recommending driving lessons…

LVMom August 30, 2010 at 2:47 pm

I tend to agree with everyone here, rematch . . . . . I had a Colombian au pair who never got her English done. I never was certain if she actually understood what I was telling her she always said “yes” . . . It made for a very long and at time uncomfortable year. I was looking for someone to be a part of our family and never got that, my second au pair was from Sweden and we loved her. It took me having her to realize what I should have done with the first one. Driving aside, communication is huge and I realize 2 weeks isn’t a long time but knowing what I know now, I would personally rematch!!

franzi August 30, 2010 at 3:45 pm

you need a driver – from the way your situation was described here i believe that your AP will not be on a driving level that you need her to be. driving lessons or not, this does sound like a longer-time project to get her road-safe and you don’t have that time.

language issues – well, this can and will improve over time. there are plenty of free conversation groups your AP can join. however, that does not solve your immediate problems when it comes to taking care of your daughter and/or understanding your instructions. if you want to keep her as an AP language needs to be your priority as this will help in all other aspects of her life with your family. i can’t help to imagine the situation where your AP has a traffic accident and isn’t able to call 911 because she can’t explain herself…

personally, i think the driving will be the deal breaker. you need someone to drive and she can’t – it is that simple. i think your AP might be better off in a family that doesn’t need the AP to drive.

Dorsi August 30, 2010 at 4:49 pm

I don’t need to add anything to the above (Rematch! Rematch now!) but I will say that I think rematch is somewhat terrifying when you start the program. I have been with the program for 2 years now and I am so much less worried about rematching than I was in the beginning. While we have had reasonably good matches, I think I have been overly accommodating and delinquent about enforcing standards because I would hate, hate, hate to have to end a match. We don’t have driving APs (which, based on previous posts makes us the only people in the U.S., I think), so we don’t have the same issues you are having.

The idea (especially when you start the program) of welcoming a new person into your family who will make your life better, will share her culture, and will love your children seems idyllic. Ending that experience without really, really trying, even for just cause, seems (or seemed, in my mind) like something heartless, uncaring people would do. The reality, after months/years in the program is that my family standards matter, quality childcare matters, household harmony matters. Doing everything to maintain those should be more important that the relationship. With the next AP (ah….famous last words) I will be aggressive about not compromising on things that are important from the beginning.

I recently passes a mental hurdle with my current AP (who, in the big picture, has much more minor issues that she seemed unwilling to work on). I thought, if this doesn’t change, we could go to Rematch. It was the first time I had realistically thought about that. It changed the entire way that I managed the situation.

My mother once told me that you should live your marriage like divorce is never an option. I lived that way with APs for two years and am glad I have realized that rematch is not failure, is not cruel, but is a natural part of the AP lifecycle.

Should be working August 31, 2010 at 4:15 am

“With the next AP….”, yes this is my mantra as well. But having only had 2 APs and one rematch so far, I’m wondering if it’s realistic to think that I will be less compromising or better able to work things out to my benefit. Or in which respects it is possible to actually become less compromising when by nature I’m a compromiser (or softie, to put it more bluntly).

It is very instructive as to my own managerial skills–CV has discussed in other posts how having an AP is a form of management work. No wonder I do not work in a managerial capacity!

OFT August 30, 2010 at 4:51 pm

Thanks to everyone for all the quick replies/advice!

Well, we arranged for a school teacher / driver’s ED teacher to come and work with our AP today. He seemed very good; he took her out in his car which had the passenger side controls, etc. At the end of her 2 hour lesson, my DH and he had a long talk, the gist of which was he agreed with our assessment very closely. He found that she is not braking in time at stops, not looking before turning, etc. As we had felt, it also seems like she is not really able to recognize her weakness – she thinks she drives just fine. (I am starting to think this might be the standard situation in China – many Chinese got cars there very quickly, and it is not fair to expect everyone to learn to drive overnight.) He said she is more or less at the level of a 15yo starting driving. As far as getting her up to speed in one month, he feels it is very iffy. He said there is definitely no way he would trust her with a car at this point…

We had the LCC over this weekend, and the LCC actually came down pretty hard on the AP for overstating her driving skills; I actually felt pretty bad for her. At the same time, the LCC is pretty certain she can be brought up to speed – hence the driving lesson today. My DH is pretty set on rematch (actually, he wants to throw in the towel and just hire someone local to do the driving in the morning and evening). Right now, though, I am a little torn. I really like her, and I have to admit it is GREAT having an extra pair of hands to do cleaning and laundry at night (something she is very good at). It will just be a little different than I expected…

Anyway, I’ll be sure to let everyone know how it turns out! Thanks again!

Cailf Mom August 30, 2010 at 5:20 pm

DON”T let the LCC be overly optimistic! They do this every time, it seems, and it really just wastes a lot of everyone’s time in the long run and makes things much harder on family, kids, and the au pair, ultimately. She’s only been here 2 weeks; yank the band aid off now, go into rematch, and everyone can move on and breathe easier.

Try to find an AP in your area who is in rematch, so you can take her out driving right after your meeting — at a park– so you can see how she acts with the kids first.

Seriously, don’t let the counselor push you into just trying harder. That’s silliness in this situation. You have to look after your own sanity first–put on that air mask and start calling replacement au pair prospects!

best wishes!

Taking a Computer Lunch August 30, 2010 at 10:03 pm

Like CV, I just took the opportunity to read the OP to DH, who said, “Rematch,” but then followed up by saying, “Really, they need to sit down the au pair and explain their reasons.” For those of you with Chinese au pairs, I heartily recommend Country Driving: A Journey Through China from Farm to Factory, by Peter Hessler. It’s well written, amusing, and will give you insight from a Westerner’s perspective. The first half of the book is about his experiences with a driving coach, getting his driver’s license and then following the line of the Great Wall into the west of the country.

Overwhelmed First-Timers, you need not give up. There is a whole discussion here on questions to ask of au pairs in the interview and means to phrase questions to avoid a yes-no answer.

Should be working August 31, 2010 at 3:54 am

I agree that the LCCs are often overly optimistic, and you have to trust your feelings.

REMATCH, immediately. Here’s my suggestion for language instruction: instead of paying a driver (your husband’s idea) pay a Mandarin tutor. And get an AP from a country known for better driving and English instruction in school.

OB Mom August 30, 2010 at 8:10 pm

I say rematch. We have an agreement, if EITHER DH or I say rematch, that is what needs to happen. Otherwise, you will be second guessing the whole time, you saying ‘see, she is adapting’ and your hubby saying ‘see, I told you she isn’t competent’. No one will be comfortable and it will be a tough year.

I came to this website about a year ago pondering a rematch (and I only had 1 of your problems … not connecting with the kids)… it was the hardest decision I ever made, but the best one. Don’t be afraid of rematching — the AP experience should be positive for all. But, if you do chose to rematch, it is unlikely that you’ll be able to fulfill your Mandarin requirement, I guess it depends on what your drivers are for rematches.

Good Luck!

Should be working August 31, 2010 at 3:52 am

OB Mom, I like this. With our first AP, I was muttering ‘rematch’ and my husband essentially felt the situation was livable. Then when I finally convinced him (by promising to be the bad guy and manage the whole transition), he saw what a happy person I became AS SOON AS I had told AP we were rematching.

I think it’s an important rule for the marriage: if one partner thinks it’s time for rematch, it is. As you say, the second-guessing is destructive to the relationship.

PA mama August 30, 2010 at 10:04 pm

The person you described in your original letter could have been my Thai au pair. Bad driving, bad English, kids don’t like her.

If you are not comfortable with her driving, especially if she has to drive your kids, you must let her go. Point blank, she is not able to fulfill your needs for an au pair. She was a terrible, unconcious driver, and I refused to get in the car with her aftter 1 ride. At risk of sounding culturally insensitive, I will put here what my au pair said about driving in her country. She was driving with my husband, and after many close calls, failed to yield for a pedestrian in a crosswalk, and almost ran him down. After he freaked out on her for not looking, she replied that in her country, people with cars just drive, and pedestrians and bikes move out of the way. Now I don’t know if this is true of her country, or this is only true in HER mind, but she certainly drove like it. We severely limited her driving, her driving barely improved, and we eventually ended up in rematch. But our match lasted way too long.

As for the English, unwillingness to speak, or to clarify instructions, makes it very hard to trust that she knows what you want her to do, and whether or not she will do it. It also makes it very hard to bond, as you said.

As for the kids not liking her, they have their personalities, and they do need to adjust. I knew my son was not that keen on her, but I didn’t know how little my 18 month old son liked her until after she was gone. Another ap has taken her place, and it is clear that she is well loved and everyone is happy.

And, we went through the same thing where I wanted to rematch, and DH was saying she was fine. It really wasn’t worth the aggravation of discussing daily whether or not she was improving or working out. A great weight was lifted when we finally together she must go. Rematch is not the end of the world, and you appear to have time to find someone else. All of these things together are too much to have to bear at once, IMHO.

I hope the situation works out for you, whichever path you choose, because, I have been there, have felt your uncertainty, and I felt your pain.

Shana Medah September 1, 2010 at 3:02 pm

PA Mama-

In Burkina Faso, the country in west Africa where I was a Peace Corps Volunteer (and where my husband is from), cars rule and everyone else just gets out of the way. I once witnessed a car bearing down on a VERY old lady crossing the street with a full basket of wares on her head. The car never broke speed, and the old lady had to scramble across as fast as she could. She never gave the car a second look, so I understood that by local standards, she was the one with the responsibility to yield. (By the way, the same thing happens with animals in the road, too.) Lanes are merely a suggestion of where to drive, not a requirement. This sounds a lot like what your Thai au pair edescribed – I would say there’s a very good chance that it’s true.

JBLV August 30, 2010 at 7:05 pm

I understand that China is a very important country. Their economy is growing tremendously, and their culture is complex and nuanced. But, I am not quite sure why it is important to get a Chinese au pair over an au pair from other parts of the world.

There was recently a Suze Orman “Can I Afford This” segment where a man phoned in to ask if he could afford a Chinese au pair so that his infant daughter could learn Mandarin. (Admittedly, infancy *is* the best time to learn a language). Is language acquisition the appeal?

Taking a Computer Lunch August 30, 2010 at 8:46 pm

Actually, for us, our first choice turned us down and it came down to a college graduate from China or a high-school graduate from Germany who had severe asthma (we have 2 cats and don’t clean as well as we ought to). Rather than re-open our search, we selected the Chinese AP. Our LCC warned us that Chinese APs are notoriously bad drivers, and we took the risk anyway.

I will say, that our AP did everything she could to save face. She worked as hard as she possibly could, but sadly her best was never good enough. I thought as her English improved life would get easier with her, but it became clear to me that she was a “B” student – always striving, but never quite getting there.

Overwhelmed First-Timers”–If you have a bad driver who thinks she drives well, your kids might be in trouble. There is nothing wrong with confidence, but confidence in the face of being told that she’s making serious mistakes is another issue. If she drives like a 15-yo, and you need her to drive like an adult, that’s one rather steep learning curve, and it isn’t going to happen in 3 weeks. Nothing substitutes for practice when it comes to driving (and a host of other things too, it’s just a vehicle in the wrong hands becomes a weapon).

DH took our new AP driving tonight (German, high school graduate, but nearly 21 with tons of special needs experience) and reported that she did great. She has already written to several local APs because her “buddy” has not yet contacted her. It’s so lovely to have a go-getter again.

Deb Schwarz August 31, 2010 at 1:20 pm

Computer Lunch,

So glad to hear that you have a “go getter” – nothing better! Our male au pair got a visa rejection last week (not a huge surprise since he had overstayed a camp counselor visa), but luckily we found a 2nd year Australian right away (we’ve had good luck with Aussies) who arrives in Oct. We are au pair-less for a month – should be interesting…..

Now – regarding the Chinese au pair: I agree with all the posts here – it’s definitely rematch time – the faster, the better. The LCC is wrong – tell her to back off. The main reason you got an au pair was for driving, so that’s what you need. There seems to be a fair amount of au pairs available right now (Sept is usually a good month for in-country au pair) so do the exit interview and move on TODAY! You’ll be so glad you did.

hOstCDmom August 30, 2010 at 8:55 pm

For us, the language component is an essential aspect of the au pair program. We view it as an active language exchange with our au pairs — and we fully disclose this. Our APs know they will also be speaking their mother tongue with our family while in the USA. We help them with their English and speak English to them, and they help us with our Mandarin (or other languages we speak – HM speaks 6 languages, and we’ve had APs with various mother tongues that work with the children on these languages). We engage in language exchange and language immersion as an active aspect of au pairing for us. We expect our au pairs to do daily, individual, language lessons with each of our children, 5 days/week. We provide curriculum, materials, books, grammars, textbooks in her language. For us, the language learning aspect is primary — so we could live without a driver, althoug we would STRONGLY prefer one. So only speaking for our family, yes, language acquisition is one of the main appeals. IMO, like much of the au pair program it is give and take — having an AP is never perfect in all regards — it is a matter of knowing your priorities and ensuring that enough of them are met that you are satisfied, even if you would prefer some aspects were otherwise. We gave up driving to get Mandarin.

NewAPMama August 30, 2010 at 10:59 pm

I’m so glad that I am not the only one who requires daily lessons in X language!! We also provide curriculum.

HMinWI August 30, 2010 at 10:00 pm

I’m in the corner for rematch. Three issues like that would be enough to make me want to start again, but like others, the driving would be the deal breaker.

Host Mommy Dearest August 30, 2010 at 10:49 pm

I vote that you don’t put another ounce of energy or spend more time trying to make it work, or even trying to prove it won’t work. Pulling off a band aid is not the sort of thing you want to do slowly, to pull in Calif Mom’s analogy. Save the time and energy as you will need it to welcome your new AP, making her feel like part of the family while getting her up to speed quickly before she needs to be in charge on her own. You will want some time to be picky when selecting your new AP, so I would get the rematch ball rolling ASAP if you can.

AnonHM Europe August 31, 2010 at 3:22 am

For us the lack of being able to communicate with the children would be the dealbreaker (we don’t need APs that drive). We found out, that even if the hostparents are able to speak the same language as the APS, the kids are really annoyed if they cannot talk (play!) with the APs because of their lack of our native language. They will not accept such a person any longer (it’s much easier with small children!)

Maybe I can tell you a little bit about my China/Thailand experiences: I have been in both countries on a regulary basis: Driving is pure Darwinism: Only the strongest will survive. The children will hop on a motorcycle as soon as they have reached the necessary height to handle the machine. Depending on the personal features it may happen that 8 yos will drive motorcycles (Speed up to 80 km/h, about 55 mph, no helmet!). Drivers-licenses are a formal paper that tell you, that you have the right to drive a car. They are usually bought, no testing takes place (my experience). (Big) Cars are the kings of the roads – no matter who is the driver, he will not pay attention to any other “lower lifeform” on the street (smaller cars, motorcyclists, byciclists, dogs or even kids playing in the curb).
It is really awful! I have 23 years of driving experience and I would never drive in a city like Bangkok or Beijing. (Thais driving on the wrong side of the road, mind you!) Maybe you want to keep that in mind, if you evaluate the driving experiences of your future APs in an interview. In the countryside, roads may not even exist, cars are even more rare => more Dawinism. I wouldn’t trust any young girl from Thailand or China saying she can drive well.

(Of course there will be the one exception one or the other family has heard of, I do realize this!)

FifoMom August 31, 2010 at 8:42 am

Having immigrated from China myself when I was 13 and having just had a Chinese AP with us for a whole year, I thought I might shed a bit of light on the cultural side of this. Sorry if this is going to be a bit long-winded.

The driving thing is totally cultural. If you’ve never visited China (or Thailand or India), the driving habits of the general public is really scary. Taxi drivers don’t signal before changing lanes; traffic lights are only obeyed at major intersections in major cities where there are usually islands of traffic cops in the middle helping to direct and re-enforce the lights; pedestrians and bikers are numerous and fearless and also don’t obey traffic rules. In non-major cities and non-major intersections, drivers often honk their horn before gliding or in any way change their speed before going through an intersection.

That being said, the roads can be so crowded that the speed at which drivers do this is not very fast (under 40mph). So accidents, although numerous, are not usually serious. Our Chinese AP never drove above 40mph and was quite skittish on the road and made it very clear that she didn’t want to drive here, even though she said she could drive on her application. Luckily, our son was quite young at the time and didn’t need to go anywhere on a regular basis.

Vast majority of the general public don’t have cars and either bike, moped or take the bus (don’t get me started on bus drivers) or the subway. Those with the privilege to have access to a car usually have access to a dedicated driver as well. For a young girl to have significant driving experience is extremely rare and actually unnecessary. They “drive” for the novelty of it… like “look ma! no hands!” =) So she’s not lying when she thinks she’s doing ok… it’s just unfortunate that her calibration point from her native country is extremely low by western standards.

I honestly think au pair agencies should conduct their own driving test and use standards when allowing someone to say they have driving experience. They do this for the language portion, so why not driving too?

When we had our Chinese AP, a few things really helped with the communication:

– she had dinner with us every night and spoke English to both my husband and I, even though I can speak Mandarin Chinese. I have to admit that we did resort to it in the very rare occasion that sticky subjects came up. Having a good understanding of the culture definitely helped. To that point, you might read some books on Asian culture… some novels reflect it quite well (albeit a bit more dramatic than reality), like “The Joy Luck Club”.

– try encouraging your AP to venture outside and do some activities on her own that requires at least some interaction with the English language… like figuring out train schedules, buying tickets, shopping, etc. Anything that gets her out into the world on her own will help spur the survival instinct and try harder with the English language. Think of the case where she gets lost and must find her way back on her own… she’ll figure out a way to talk to somebody and make herself understood.

– we spoke slowly to our AP, and if she has trouble understanding or articulating, we would try with a different or simpler phrasing until she understood. We would use her dictionary and look up words for her, and keep going until the she understood and made herself clear to us. I think it’s important to keep going with her regardless of how embarrassed she might be in speaking English… once you’ve gone through it a couple of times, however painful, she will quickly understand that there is no dodging even on simple topics like “do you like that chicken?” We do this today with our Polish AP so it’s not just a Chinese thing.

– When she says things like “I’ll talk to you when I’m better at English”, my response would likely have been “well, if you don’t start now, how are you going to get better?” Don’t be shy about challenging her logic or worry about making her feel uncomfortable. It’s all part of the growing-up / being independent process. Again, this applies to APs from all countries, not just China.

So, given what you’ve described, I also agree with other APs that you should re-match. Any one of those things are hard enough to deal with and all three together is a bit much. I’d hate to stereotype, but if you need a good driver, look to EU countries (such as Germany and Poland) where driving is a part of life. You have a much better chance of finding a good driver there who speaks English well. For a lot of Germans, English is a second language.

I’m glad to hear that your AP is a good person, so hopefully she can be a better match for another family… perhaps one that doesn’t require driving. Best of luck to you both!

hOstCDmom August 31, 2010 at 9:31 am

Thanks FifoMom – this was a very helpful perspective. I’m wondering if you think my approach re driving was a helpful/useful one, given the “cultural issues re driving”/ “callibration point” that you describe above. (I’m not the OP, but I posted above and on other threads that I noted above about our driving issues with our Chinese AP). I’m wondering if you think making getting a license *her* responsibility, financial and motivationally, and allowing the driving examiner to be the judge of her driving, is a way to set an objective standard that will help our AP to adjust her perception of her driving skill ?

In sum, she’s a horrendous, unskilled (by US standards) driver who does not think that she is a bad driver and she does not lack confidence despite no driving skill appropriate for driving in the USA. We don’t need a driver, but would prefer one and she would very much like to be one. We told her that she must pass the state license test (2 written exams + on the road test) in order to ever drive our car, including for practice. We’re fortunate that our state law backs us up here.

I’m wondering if this is an approach that will have a chance of success, given the unique cultural factors regarding (many) Chinese APs and driving.

Taking a Computer Lunch August 31, 2010 at 10:49 am

In my experience, my Chinese au pair did not extend herself to do anything about which she felt uncomfortable, unless she felt compelled to do it. After six months of urging her to take our state’s mandatory “drug & alcohol class” so she could get her documents reviewed and apply for a road test — and promising to reimburse her for all expenses, I stopped asking. My LCC advised me that if I didn’t want to extend with her and she didn’t get her license, I had an easy out. She never took the class and never got her license — and she extended with a family who won’t let her drive.

If anyone wants to get an idea of what it’s going to be like to teach your child to drive, then I recommend getting a Chinese AP. We had to undo everything she had learned in China so that she would be safe on the roads her. Unfortunately, that meant being blunt and telling her she was a lousy driver. It also meant that we had to explain every one of our actions when we drove and pointing out common practices that would get points deducted on a road test.

I actually wish agencies did a better job of preparing non-Western APs and their HF’s for a year together. A culture class would have definitely helped me to be more sensitive (a Phillippina friend gave it to me at the end of the year).

FifoMom September 5, 2010 at 7:31 am

I think putting the responsibility into the hands of your AP is a good idea, provided she’s motivated and mature enough to handle it. Having a second, objective opinion such as a driving instructor is useful as well… although it’s only good if her English is good enough to understand him. On that account, it may help to look for a reputable Chinese-speaking driver’s ed. It’s a good idea to interview the instructors yourself to make sure they’re actual good drivers and not just passing down bad habits or ways to get around things. The message would get across a lot clearer in her native language, culture and from someone who can compare the vast difference in driving standards. Taking a driver’s ed class will also lower your insurance for the AP, so that’s another plus.

When I got my license when I was in college, I took a driver’s Ed class that showed horrible images of car crashes and stories too… I hope not all driver’s ed classes are as macabre, but it definitely put the fear of God in me about taking driving seriously. You might want to look for something with visual image to help drive the idea home (no pun intended!)

5kids=AP August 31, 2010 at 9:09 am

REMATCH!! I did not read all the replies, but you need to rematch ASAP! We had a bad driver w/poor comprehension skills from Slovakia. She was the sweetest au pair we had, but it was the WORST au pair year ever. I kept giving her more time to “catch up” but she had absolutely NO learning curve whatsoever. It was a very stressful year for me and we would’ve been much better re-matching earlier. Especially if you have more time w/your DH at home, do it now.

OFT August 31, 2010 at 10:57 am

Hello again!

Thanks again to everybody…

As of right now, we still haven’t pulled the plug. Family dynamics are now getting in the way… DH is pushing to rematch, but doesn’t seem to want to be the “heavy.” The LCC is pushing very intensive driving lessions; 2 hrs per day, everyday. She also thinks the AP should pay for these (she seems to think it is her responsibility, since she said she was a good driver…) Of course, that would mean the AP won’t be available when WE need her most, i.e. late afternoon and early evening. That is when our job description states we want her to pick up kids, watch them / help with dinner prep, and help manage baths, etc.

Heres the thing: I know I am being a softie, but I actually think she was not lying or being deceptive – based on the descriptions on here, it seems likely this is cultural. She told me “I know how to drive,” but she just needs time to become familiar with our laws, etc. My husband’s response was, “Knowing how to start a car and put it in gear is NOT the same thing as knowing how to drive.” Sure he is right, but why do I have to be the one to pull the plug?

And yes, we were very naive about doing this. We thought, “This will be great; a Chinese au pair can teach our kids Mandarin, broaden their horizons, and she won’t be getting drunk and chasing boys.” Way too optimistic / unrealistic. The LCC did tell us that German au pairs are the best drivers (of course, DH doesn’t remember THAT part….) and we went with a Chinese au pair anyway.

Two additional questions (if there is a better place where these have been addressed before, if someone could just point me there, I’d love it):

1) The LCC is proposing that we have AP take the driving test for our state in 3 weeks, and let that be the judge of whether she is capable of improvement. I should mention that she has expressed a willingness to practice driving on the weekends with a cousin who lives in the area (and has been in the US for 8+ years). This course of action seems reasonable to me, coupled with SOME driving lessions at night (maybe just nights both DH and I are around?). Any thoughts?

2) I am having a hard time finding info on how “rematch” works – of course, the agency seems to suggest it is so unusual as to not warrant a section on their website. I did raise the possibility with the LCC, and she stated that she didn’t hink she could find a better driver for us in the next few weeks… If we go that route, how do we do it? How do we / the LCC go about finding replacement APs? Are they just people who didn’t work out elsewhere? New APs from whereever (at this point, we would place driving and talking English at the top of our list….)? Do we find them, the lCC, or the agency? And are our hands going to be tied, i.e. “this is the best we can get for you in this area on short notice?” And what happens to our current AP; does she get sent back to China? Placed w/ another family? I would feel very guilty about sending her packing if she is going to get kicked out or treated badly by the agency – I feel that they should have screened her driving better, since it sounds like we are not the first folks with a Chinese driver who didn’t “get it.” It is not her fault that the Chinese are bad drivers…

Should be working August 31, 2010 at 11:54 am

Several points to make:

1. In my frank view, you should forget the LCC. Especially forget what the LCC is saying about driving lessons and so forth. The AP cannot afford those lessons, and you cannot afford–for safety’s sake–to have such a beginning driver drive your children.

2. As I said above, use the money all this will cost you to pay a Mandarin tutor for the kids, and try another nationality with the rematch AP.

3. As a total softie myself, I will say that you seem to me to be too concerned about what is fair to the AP. She’s nice, she might be willing to try. That doesn’t make her a good match for you. It’s not her fault, but having an AP is not supposed to be this difficult. Your kids and you deserve an AP who actually meets your criteria–including communication skills and driving.

4. Also as a total softie married to an even bigger softie, I ended up being the heavy when it came to firing the previous AP. It was hard. There were tears and begging on her part. Watch “Up in the Air”–I channeled the George Clooney character while doing the firing. I felt sick about it and yet was IMMEDIATELY filled with relief. This is about doing what you need for your kids, you do not owe this AP a happy match. It will be a hard 15 min conversation, and an awkward 2 wks. But check earlier posts on this blog for whether ANYONE has EVER regretted rematch. I think no one ever did.

Good luck and keep us posted!

5. Rematch means, at my agency, that you tell the LCC you are going to ask for a rematch. Then tell the AP. The 2 wks of obligatory further housing for AP start then. Then the agency has to start sending your profiles again. Check Greataupair.com if you want to get an idea of some of the APs out there.

hOstCDmom August 31, 2010 at 12:26 pm

One comment on tutors for language lessons — I have EXTENSIVE experience in regard to language tutors/instruction. Drivers are MUCH less expensive than tutors. A driver will cost you ~$15-$25/hour (depending on where you live). Mandarin tutors (unless you live near Chinatown NYC, or in CA, or another area with a very high density of native Mandarin speakers, and possibly even then) will cost you anywhere from $50-$150 per hour.

If you want daily language instruction in a second langauge (which we do, and as a polyglot I can tell you this is the only way your children will ever be proficient in this second or third language) the cost of this could be prohibitive for ONE child, let alone 2, 3, 4 or 5 children…even if you only want 2x/week 1hr tutorn for your child, that alone will possibly cost you more than a driver.

So, IMO, it’s apples and organges re the comment “just hire a tutor”

The AP program is a cost efficient way to achieve multiple goals — flexible childcare, cultural exchange, reasonable cost AND language immersion/instruction opportunities. But at the end of the day it is about priorities – which is more essential – Mandarin or driving. For us, it is Mandarin, so we are sucking up having a non-driving AP in an area not conducive to non-driving APs. For others, the driving could, and should, be a deal breaker.

hOstCDmom August 31, 2010 at 12:29 pm

Re cost of driving lessons, you might be surprised. We were when our AP said she would take on the $1-2k cost of lessons herself. (She brought $5k in cash with her! Can we say stunned HM when I took her to the bank to open an account!). She said it was an investment in her future to learn to drive/get a USA driving license.

Used to be an AP August 31, 2010 at 12:05 pm

I am not in the US and my whole AP knowledge is based on my own experience as an AP, but this is what I would do: You really need a good driver and someone whose English is at least reasonable. I know I am advertising for my own country but I’ve got several reasons. Go into rematch and ask for a German AP. It is likely that there will be quiet a few Germans available as July/August is the main arrival months for German APs because high school graduation usually is sometime in June. To get a driver’s liscense in Germany, you have to take at least 22 driving lessons, some of them at night, some on the highway. You have to take (I think) 14 theoretical lessons and you have to pass rather difficutl written test and a very difficult on the road test (usally between 40 and 60 minutes long, it includes driving in a city and on a highway, parallel parking and “backwards parking”). If you fail more than twice you have to go see a psychologist who evaluates if you actually are capable of driving. There is no way you can buy a dl in Germany. Because of the English skills, my advice would be to get someone who lists “Abitur” or “A-level” as their high school diploma. This usually means 9 years of English lessons at school, so most of them should be fine.

Aupairgal September 6, 2010 at 4:52 am

Well, at least a minimun of 5 years of English.

Host Mommy Dearest August 31, 2010 at 1:38 pm

Should be Working is right on – of course assuming driving is a higher priority than the second language. I would not be able to concentrate at work if I had someone with a few weeks of driving experience driving my kids around. Accidents can happen anyway with experienced drivers, but someone with that little experience (plus no apparent “natural ability” to drive) is just an accident waiting to happen.

Tell your LCC to take her out for a drive in HER OWN car, and agree that she can have the AP drive her babies around in 3 weeks, then see if she is singing the same tune.

If you wait 3 weeks, you are up against a wall and your options are narrowed. Tell your LCC that NO, you absolutely cannot wait and she needs to start rematch and get you viable candidate applications to look at. Put it in writing – email this to your LCC and include her boss/program/regional manager on the email. Do not wait. This is sort of like a horror movie where you ask the TV why the kids are going in to the haunted house. Then you say “No, don’t do it! Go back!” Not making light of your predicament – just trying to keep a sense of humor. You are more than fair to rematch, and the agency will do everything in their power to find her a new match. Take as much emotion out of the situation as you can, and let her know you will help her by providing great references to families who do not need a driver.

JBLV August 31, 2010 at 2:40 pm

It sounds like you need to prioritize your priorities with your husband. Leave emotional commitments on the side for now, and decide what is most important: driving, language acquisition or the ability to communicate on a basic level. When you make your priorities, you may also want to consider that a driver may be less expensive than a Mandarin tutor, and that it is probably unrealistic to expect the average Chinese AP to drive well and/or communicate at a level with which you are comfortable. You can then base your decision on rematch according to your priorities.

If after taking stock of your priorities, you decide that a good driver or communicator are your top priorities, you can then begin to think about how a rematch would work and how you can continue to be a big “softie” while making your family’s needs your first concern. As has been stated many times on this blog, having an AP that is not a good fit for your family can be stressful, and compounded stress over time can be ruinous (no exaggeration). My husband and I never realized how much we were stressed by our “bad fit” AP until found one whom we trust and like.

As for continuing to be a “softie,” you can do things behind the scenes to help your AP. Approach her, explain that you need to have someone who is a better driver in the US, that it is your fault for not understanding the cultural differences between American drivers and Chinese drivers previous to your match. (If you can find a Mandarin speaker to help you with that conversation, all the better.) Then help her – indeed do all you can – to get her placed with a new family. You can “pre-re-match” by going on GreatAupairs.com to see if there is anyone who would be interested in a Mandarin speaking AP. It does sound like your LCC is hesitant to rematch you for reasons that may not be putting your needs first (she may not want to send your AP back to China for fear the AP may be shamed, etc). So you must be firm with your LCC when you explain that you want a re-match, and then discuss all you can do to get your current AP placed with another family. Many times LCC’s can ask other LCC’s if there are families looking for rematched AP’s before the formal rematch begins. You may not want to go into a formal rematch until you find a family willing to take your AP.

If it is essential that you have a good driver and a good communicator for the health and well being if your family, then it would probably be best for everyone if you fess up to yourselves and your LCC and admit that you made a mistake by maybe having unreasonable expectations of the average Chinese au pair. Then you need to do all you can to help your AP find a new placement.

JBLV August 31, 2010 at 2:43 pm

Host Mommy Dearest totally beat me to the punch.

franzi August 31, 2010 at 4:32 pm

do not be afraid of a rematch and do not believe that there will not be an AP for you that is a proficient driver. so many girls are starting their year around this time and end up straight in rematch – there will be an AP for you that REALLY knows how to drive and speaks more english than your current AP! however, if you require that AP to be fluent in mandarin of course you are limiting your pool if possible candidates.

good luck for the next days and weeks to come! it will be stressful whichever decision you make.

Dorsi August 31, 2010 at 11:01 am

I do wonder if the way the application process works, it leads people to be more willing to take a confident/terrible driver rather than a realistic/average driver. Since there is no independent verification or standard that can be communicated over Skype or on paper, I would guess young women who think they are very good drivers (and so sure of themselves that they can’t be talked out of that impression once they get here) get selected more often than ones who have realistically assessed their skills.

MommyMia August 31, 2010 at 8:25 pm

Good point, Dorsi. I had often wondered this too, when I asked candidates who confidently asserted (sometimes too vehemently) that “they would have no problems driving in the US” or “could not imagine any situations while driving that would make them especially nervous” etc. If they say they’ve driven with kids (usually relatives) previously, I ask if they were in a carseat, and if they know just how long it takes to install a car seat properly. When our APs remove the car seat for weekend use of the extra car, then need to take one of the kids somewhere on Monday, they are usually late or rushing around because they forgot to re-install the seat or didn’t want to do it when they got home the night before. And while my preference is great English skills/native speakers, the majority of these come with the disadvantage, if you will, of driving on the left side of the road. I admire those who tell me they are good or experienced, or usually drive manual shifts, admitting that automatic will probably be easier, and especially those who say, “well, it will be different, and I’m sure I’ll be a little nervous at first, but if you can take me out in the car to show me where I’ll need to be going, point out some of the main differences in your driving laws, and if there are maps/directions/GPS to assist me, I’m sure I’ll soon be taking and passing the test to get your state’s driver’s license!” Good answer!

Deb Schwarz August 31, 2010 at 1:31 pm

Sounds like your LCC is inexperienced, or naive. Do NOT delay – go into rematch today! Depending on the size of your agency (hopefully you are with a larger one) – there will be options right now as it’s a good time. If you happen to be with Cultural Care, I’ll be glad to help you find a good in-country au pair asap – just email me. (I feel so sorry that you’ve had this as your first experience – oh vey…..). If not, then be the squeeky wheel with your agency. Not all in-country au pairs are rejects – some come from families that have lost their job, or from those that don’t need childcare anymore – although a lot are au pairs who say they can drive (but can’t). Some are real gems – but it’s a bit like panning for gold. Take your time and don’t panic – wait for the right one. Be sure to talk to the au pair’s LCC and host mom/dad before you commit. If you’d like me to eye ball any application or situation – feel free to email me. Try not to worry about your current au pair too much – hopefully there will be a family that doesn’t need a driver that can take her.

darthastewart August 31, 2010 at 1:48 pm

/\ What she said!

{IME, the fear of the rematch is much worse than the actual process..}

darthastewart August 31, 2010 at 1:43 pm

It sounds like your LCC is taking you for a ride. Tell her you want to break the match now- because of the driving. Don’t listen to the “if only you do….”.. Nope. Not gonna happen.

IMO, you’re paying a TON of money for an au-pair. You need them to cover certain hours now- not three months, or six months from now.

And honestly? I’ve never had an au-pair with horrendous driving skills improve. We had an AP from Georgia, and her driving skills never have improved. (not even 10 years later.. We still keep in touch) The driving culture is so different, that I’m not convinced that 2 hours a day of driving lessons is going to be worth it to you.

I know that being the heavy sucks. (I posted on FB about it yesterday, whining about the same thing myself.. Why is it that _I_ Always have to be the disciplinarian in the family, whether it’s with the kids or the au-pair???) Sometimes you just have to pull out your big girl panties and mosey on up to the table and do it. (Then go out and have some whine and cheese! ) Sorry. It really is a pain. Truly…

And don’t let the LCC keep pushing that way- my first one did that, and it took me two years to wise up… Wish it would have happened sooner!

Gianna August 31, 2010 at 1:51 pm

I cannot help wondering why the LCCs and agencies resist rematch . Wouldn’t it be in their interest to cut the losses ? It also is interesting to me that so many host families have arrangements whereby the aupairs teach host children highly desireable languages like Mandarin. My own experience had been that many aupairs are adamant about not speaking/sharing their native languages. My experience with this language issue has been with French aupairs. So I think this is a very strong advantage of having someone from China. But everyone has to evaluate what her family cannot trade off in the grand scheme of things and driving may be one of those assets.
Why do the agencies resist rematch ?

Host Mommy Dearest August 31, 2010 at 1:56 pm

I think there is a financial driver. Rematching families and APs uses resources and that drives up cost. They also make transportation and training resource investments into APs so sending an AP home who is not successfully rematched is costly to the agency.

hOstCDmom August 31, 2010 at 2:19 pm

We make the language a REQUIREMENT of matching with us – I’m sure that this turns off/cuts out many candidates. But we have very full disclosure, knowing that some APs would not want this arrangement. But as a quid pro quo, we are very actively engaged in teaching our APs English (For example, they write a paragraph about their day, each day, for my information, but I also correct it for grammar, tense, word choice, style (depending on the level of the APs English) each day. This is required of our APs, and we tell them this. The smart ones realize this will really help their English and they embrace it! We also have an entire section of our handbook devoted to this, including the schedule of expected lessons/teaching – 30 min/kid/day, M-F. Certain blocs of time when only APs language will be spoken in our home. We also go into detail about the integration of the APs langauge in every day life, including specific examples — e.g. we mention that we have a huge white board in our kitchen above the table and EVERY MEAL is to include 3 new words (of any nature, not just meal related) and that this is to work 2 ways — AP learns new English words from our kids while they simultaneously learn the same words in her language from her. It probably isn’t for everyone, but it has worked for us!

Should be working September 1, 2010 at 3:35 am

Wow, HostCDMo, great ideas. We are also a family that asks our AP to speak their native language to the kids (which I also do), but it never occurred to me to formalize my offers to help them learn English in these ways. Thanks.

Taking a Computer Lunch August 31, 2010 at 8:17 pm

When our Chinese AP had an accident in her first afternoon behind the wheel and basically refused to eat anything in our house because it was so foreign to her, I said to my LCC (whom I love), “I don’t think this is going to work.” She replied, “Our agency just started accepting Chinese au pairs, and if you go into rematch now, there is no way she is staying in this country. She does not have the skills. I can’t send her back home.” And so, I took a deep breath and then wrangled agency support for driving lessons, and this year, a steep discount on my new AP. Was it worth it? No. Would I advise anyone else to do what I did? No. This AP turned out to be excellent with The Camel, but not with the rest of the family. We made it work for a year and then we said goodbye.

Should be working September 1, 2010 at 3:38 am

I still find it scandalous that the LCC admits that the AP does not have the skills to be an AP, and you end up sucking it up for the year. The special-needs criterion is obviously the crucial thing for your family, but I’m glad you at least wangled the steep discount on the next AP.

Taking a Computer Lunch September 1, 2010 at 7:19 am

She had excellent skills to take care of The Camel, and was okay with my typically developing son. What made her unmatchable at her arrival was her inability to drive and her weak language skills. Believe me, we pushed her hard to acquire the language skills. I told her The Camel was not safe in her care if she could not talk to an EMS crew if The Camel had a crisis (the only time The Camel has ever been in an ambulance is between hospitals, but one never knows). The issue was not childcare, it was driving and communication.

Gianna August 31, 2010 at 2:20 pm

I think you are right. Perhaps they also don’t want to deal with the problems that arise if one party matches beofore the other party does so.

Long Island Host Mom August 31, 2010 at 3:13 pm

REMATCH ! Done – Done – Done….your most precious cargo is your child.. I would NEVER put my child in a car with someone who has no driving skills and this is not something one learns overnite – or even weeks or months. I rematched for other reasons and it was the BEST decision. This to me is a no brainer – aside from the language problems…the Car deal is just non-negotiable. In addition…if she said she was an experienced driver just to get here…what else will she tell you that you can trust is the truth.

Hula Gal August 31, 2010 at 4:36 pm

Seriously? You are going to provide intensive driving instructions for this au pair when there is a slew of au pairs out there who are lovely, have wonderful driving skills
AND excellent English. You are wasting your time. And frankly, your au pair is a danger to other drivers on the road. You need to really think hard about the danger that you are unleashing onto the roads where other people are driving their precious children. I’m not sure if anyone else mentioned that yet because I stopped reading the responses. Wake Up! Stop being so NICE! REMATCH! and yes, I am yelling a bit. I’m sorry but I am frustrated by your situation and the position you are taking on this.

PerfectHostMom August 31, 2010 at 11:16 pm

We’re struggling with the driving issue right now. We have a Thai au pair who I am fairly sure bribed and flirted her way to a Thai driver’s license and never drove anywhere in Bangkok. We need a driver to take our son to school, and that requires her to also transport our toddler while dropping off/picking up. My husband and I spent at least 20 hours working with her, and she finally got her state license – first try, amazingly. The problem is I am still uncomfortable having her drive the kids to school. We have had au pairs drive our children before (even a Thai au pair), so it’s not a general trust issue – I simply question her skills and judgment on the road. She is doing a lot better, and the school is fairly close (but definitely driving distance), but school starts next week. We live in suburbia and I am thinking of trying to find someone to handle drop off/pick up for a few months until she is more adept at driving. Any suggestions for temporary drivers until she can get more practice?

MommyMia September 1, 2010 at 12:18 am

You could see if there are any college students or even unemployed individuals or SAHMs in you area who would want to earn a little extra money or perhaps some bartered child care time in exchange for driving. Or, there are online sites, mentioned in another posting a while ago (temporary or fill-in childcare between au pairs or when you have to go into rematch) such as Care.com. You could advertise on Craig’s list, but you’d probably have to spend a lot of time checking references (which is something many of the online sites already do) or if you’re a member of a church of other community group, ask around or post a flier on a “jobs” bulletin board.

Taking a Computer Lunch September 1, 2010 at 7:14 am

If your child’s school has a listserv, why not post a message there. There may be several moms already picking up their kids that might do it for you. The summer we were using nurses to care for The Camel, my son had several weeks of camp that were too out of the way for DH and I – a neighbor who wanted to pick up some extra cash drove him.

BTW, for beginning driver’s don’t think of the license as the end, it’s just a benchmark that says her driving is basically acceptable. You could require her to practice for an hour a day after her shift ends, and reassess her driving on a weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly basis.

ILHP September 2, 2010 at 9:16 am

In the Chicago ‘burbs some of the taxi compnies have special school drop off/pick up plans because of the bus fees. Another option may be sittercity.com.

Minnemom August 31, 2010 at 11:35 pm

I have to agree with all the previous posts with a resounding REMATCH right now. We were in this very boat with a poor driver. I cannot reclaim the lives of my children and didn’t take a chance with bringing my AP up to speed on driving. We rematched and was it uncomfortable for a few days? yes. But in the end, it worked out for the best. She is headed to a family who doesn’t need a driver and we are getting a better driver. Rematch, don’t wait!! I am a softie too but knew in my heart it was the right thing to do.

Jess August 31, 2010 at 11:50 pm

I agree with the posters who said that your children are precious cargo, and their lives cannot be reclaimed. If you watch the news you’ll know that car accidents are common occurrances, with many fatalities every year. Even good drivers make mistakes, but good, experienced drivers are more likely to be able to fix that mistake than an inexperienced or bad driver.
Think about this; do you really want a policeman coming to your door one day, or ringing your phone, giving you the bad news that your au pair and your children were killed in an accident? Or that au pair has killed a pedestrian because she drove straight through a crossing?
Don’t take that risk, and don’t try and find another person to take on the driving if that is what you really need your au pair to do. If something was to happen, I’m sure you would look back and wish you had rematched while you still could.

Anna September 1, 2010 at 10:06 am

I didn’t read all the comments, but I say you should rematch.
First the driving – there is no way you can trust an unexperienced driver to drive your children. Even if she passes state driving test in a month.
The above would be enough to rematch, but there are other issues.

I had the au pair who was too ashamed of appearing stupid and told me she understood my instructions without really understanding them (she was Brazilian). I probably had a feeling and always asked her twice if she understood, and even if she replied in the affirmative, I rephrased my instructions again.
If your au pair thinks it is rude, she really doesn’t place your children’s safety and well being very high on her list of priorities. And it IS rude to interrupt your instructions with “yes, OK” and vigourous nodding.
I think it is not your role to work out her insecurities ASAP – you won’t be able to. I tried to work on this issue for 3 months and ended up rematching after the au pair put my kids in the same dangerous situation TWICE, just because of her reluctance to call me at work with questions (which I emphasized many times that she should do). At the time one of us parents was home most of the time, but I realized I cannot trust her to keep my kids safe when she is alone with them. We rematched before the mostly-stay-at-home parent was scheduled to start working from the office full time. There is your answer.

(in case you wonder what the dangerous situation was – was one of many other incidents – but she gave my baby medication without asking or telling me; I didn’t even know he got sick! She went into the medicine cabinet, got out baby tylenol, measured out the dosage and gave him. Her English was poor and I couldn’t trust that she could do it right even with my instructions… After a big talk about it with all the explanations and strict instructions to call me when one of my kids gets sick while I am at work, I came home one day to find my older child – still a preschooler – with a high fever since mid-afternoon, laying on the couch, and me finding it out upon arriving home at 6 pm!)

Communication is a biggie for me. Maturity is too. It appears that your au pair is not mature enough to be open to learning and adapting quickly. The fact that your kids disrespect her is a testament not to her poor english skills, but to her personality – she cannot project authority and elicit respect. Kids sense this in any language, she could be signing to them they would know. She just doesn’t know how to deal with them, and it would show even if her english was perfect.

Aupairgal September 1, 2010 at 2:24 pm

Man, she didn’t even call you? I call my host mom like 3-4 times a day(also cause the kids like to talk to her because they don’t see her mornings). Even though she has given me liberty with basic medicanes I still call. I’d rather annoy her than do something dangerous for the kiddos. I seriously think that one of the host parents should be available for calling and aupairs should utilize that.

Anna September 1, 2010 at 7:06 pm

Aupairgal, I think your hostmom gave you liberty with medicines after she was sure that you are competent and your command of English is good enough to read the instructions and give the right medicine in the right dosage. I wasn’t sure of either. It was scary for me, thank G-d my baby was OK in the end. She never once called me at work all time she was with us, even though I repeatedly encouraged it.
I think your hostmom is very happy that you are communicating with her the way you are!

JJ Host Mom September 1, 2010 at 5:24 pm

OMG this was why we rematched, too. I came home from work on a hot summer day, my au pair had my 10 month old on her lap, he had a 104 fever. She said he’d had it all afternoon. She hadn’t called me or given him medicine. We took him straight to the ER – he had swine flu. Rematched that evening, after trying like heck for 8 months to make it work… definitely should’ve just thrown in the towel at the first sign of incompetence.

Deb Schwarz September 1, 2010 at 12:00 pm

OFT – so we are all wondering – what did you decide??? I really hope for your sake that you are on your way to a new au pair.

Feel free to email (DebSchwarz@mac.com) or call me on 415-990-7571 if you want some support. Rematch isn’t easy and it sounds like your LCC isn’t being terribly supportive.


Trina September 1, 2010 at 3:15 pm

so much has been said, so i’ll be brief:


2. as someone above said, this could have been written about my thai au pair who is leaving next saturday after exactly 11 months (one month early – the EARLIEST possible non-rematch option available) that we’ve been ‘grinning and bearing’ the situation.

3. not everyone’s english improves, even after a year of being in the states. again, as another poster said, my AP withdrew from communicating w others in english and spends all her free time skype-ing in thai, watching thai videos and visiting thai friends. her lone venture on her own into our southern california culture was to go to universal studios – beyond that, she’s stuck with shopping w a friend she knew from bangkok and hiding out in her room.

4. her driving is exactly as you described, and it was quite clear after both DH and i took her own that it wouldn’t improve. fortunately, we were able to work around this, but our next AP who’s coming tomorrow has been licensed for 3 years and drives regularly.

5. it hasn’t been worth it to make this work. i wish we’d have gone into rematch within the first few months. i’ll never try this hard to make an AP situation work again (this is my second AP).

6. my 3-yr-old girls are fine, though not ‘in love’ w the AP. my 9-yr-old son, however, doesn’t like the AP mainly bc she can’t engage him in conversation and has absolutely no idea how to relate to him as a result. we called a meeting w our LCC after about six months and a few safety problems arose and at that time we emphasized reaching out more to my son. she nodded politely, tried to speak 2 or 3 sentences to him for a few weeks after that and gave up. so did we. my son tolerates her, and that’s it. he’s very much looking forward to a new AP.

7. don’t feel guilty about this! the cultural gulf is a tough one to cross sometimes. if you continue through the entire year, her time in the states is potentially wasted if she fails to engage w the culture, and rather than appreciating another culture more, you may wind up respecting it *less* – which is the case w us.

8. our thai AP, despite many, many requests to be more assertive w our girls and resist following their every command, gives in to their whims (i want something else to drink, eat, another dress, go get my toy from the other room, etc), in part bc this seems to be inbred in the thai female culture as ‘good service.’ this causes 2 problems for us – one where the girls try to act like brats w us and another where i don’t want them modeling her behavior of doing whatever someone asks without question.

9. it’s in your LCC’s best interest to keep the AP here – and more specifically, with you. the agency makes the most money when they’re able to retain APs, esp into a second year. that’s why she’s going to try to get you to keep her. resist – i say it agai – REMATCH!!!!

Gianna September 1, 2010 at 7:43 pm

I have nothing to add to the comments above on the issue of driving and rematch options but I would love to explore Taking A Computer Lunch’s idea about a class in cultural issues for western families considering non-western aupairs. How could such a project work ? Would families be required to take an internet class perhaps or would it be a recommended but not mandated option. Would the agency pay for it ? It seems to me that both Thai and Chinese culture is worth learning about vis a vis an aupair; certainly China is increasingly important in business and many people do want their children to learn Mandarin. I do know that universities require all students to enroll in at least one non-western class ( language, history, religion ) so there is something very valuable in these cultures. How could this be made to succeed ?

Taking a Computer Lunch September 1, 2010 at 9:10 pm

Yeah, I don’t know. But it would have been helpful if someone had said, “Well now you’ve matched with an Asian AP, and it’s going to be a very different year for you, and there are some things you ought to know.” It could have been a three-hour seminar with some practice sessions, and it would have helped – but hindsight is always 20/20.

Anna September 1, 2010 at 10:00 pm

This is a very interesting idea. I know some agencies (in particular I saw it in GoAuPair’s marketing materials) have information about what to expect from an au pair from each of the countries they recruit from. I really liked that brochure; but it was maybe just a few paragraphs about each country.

I wonder if it would turn some families off certain countries. For example, I really like confident, communicative and assertive au pairs. Would that preclude me from looking at candidates from Asia?

Gianna September 2, 2010 at 7:22 pm

Your observation about GAP’s material interested me so I googled GAP and read the material on Chinese aupairs. Not a word about driving. It was all promotional spin. I think we going to have rely on each other and academic literature rather than
agency PR for serious information.

cv harquail September 2, 2010 at 11:03 am

This kind of class is just what Shana is organizing at Jamana Intercultural. Not to sound like an advertisement before I even try their webinaxrs … The specific challenge of “re-opening” to a *new* different culture might be something they could do a session on. Look for more on this soon, cv

Shana Medah September 3, 2010 at 1:36 am

Hi, everyone-

You’re right, CV. This is exactly the reason why Jamana Intercultural was created. We do include a LOT of information and hands-on practice on dealing with cultural differences in our online sessions. However, if you have suggestions for things that you would find helpful to learn, please feel free to contact me offline at smedah@jamanaintercultural.com. Chances are, if you have a particular question, someone else does too, and this will help us make our sessions as relevant as possible.

Shana Medah
Co-Founder and Director of Training
Jamana Intercultural

Minnemom September 1, 2010 at 10:53 pm

OP -what did you decide? Would love an update …

pa host mom of two au pairs September 2, 2010 at 1:52 am

Op: since I am chiming in here late I hope that u receive this, I have had two cars totaled in a matter of 4 months due to the Ap driving skills. Plus both other auto were totaled in both major accidents. Most recently all 4 of our teens + the ap were taking to the Er. In addition to an elderly couple seriously injured. I strongly agree with your husband to rematch! The fine that you like her and the extra set of hands around, but can you mentally see yourself holding up if the ap was in an accident with your children? my insurance agent that I have been with for 13 years is claiming they clearly will cancel my policy after the claim is closed. This accident along he estimated it to be close to 500,000 + due to all the injuries. In addition to both current accidents, my previous Thai. Ap did a hit n run with damage. our agent said you and your husband is not the problem its the other people meaning the ap that poor driving skils… All the accidents are nothing but grief, increased premiums or cancellation in our case, plus searching now for new company for not just auto insurance, but life insurance and homeowners insurance since they all were with the same company!

darthastewart September 2, 2010 at 8:26 am

And- if it’s “only $500,000”, then you maybe got lucky. – Having an au-pair that is unsafe to drive is a HUGE liability.

pa hostmom of 2 au-pairs- is everyone okay now? I hope OP listens carefully to your story. Huge cautionary tale!

Kadie September 2, 2010 at 2:46 pm

Admitting that I skimmed most of the comments on this but wanted to pipe in that this happened with our first au pair from Siberia – after the discovery of the misrepresented driving skills we made our LCC go for a car ride with her, any thoughts of training her went away and our LCC immediately agreed to start the re-match process for us.

Initially we thought we could teach her but we thought about putting our kids in the car with anyone else that just learned to drive, foreign au pair or not, we wouldn’t do it and we had the same issue of her not thinking there was a problem with her driving.

We had a lot of feelings of desperation ( we just wanted to get back to work AND know our kids were safe) but in the end waited until the following July, cobbling childcare together until we could get an au pair form Germany (tough driving laws/tests).

MommyMia September 2, 2010 at 5:05 pm

Does make you wonder if maybe the agencies should send out some of their employees with the “good driver” au pairs during orientation and pre-screen them before they come to the families! (I wouldn’t propose that the partner agencies who interview overseas do this, as they would have no vested interest in ensuring that they passed only competent drivers, and their standards would no doubt vary greatly.) Maybe the au pairs could even stay a couple extra days of orientation and enroll in a special driving class on the agency’s dime. Maybe some families would have to start all over again and match with new au pairs, and it might be an inconvenience but as everyone points out, our kids are precious cargo and we’re not willing to compromise or risk increasing our insurance premiums after accidents or heaven forbid, having our policies cancelled, like pa host mom, above. What a nightmare!

Gianna September 2, 2010 at 7:09 pm

I am also wondering about the agencies that match families with aupairs as opposed to the whole data base review. Why don’t those agencies that do the matching pair aupairs from countries without established track records for good drivers with families who do not need drivers ? The other thing I want to say is that my knowledge of rematch is that many of the aupairs in rematch are there because of driving issues. I don’t have any hard stats on this but it is something to watch out for.

darthastewart September 2, 2010 at 11:16 pm

They’ll match you with anyone who has a driver’s license. It’s caveat emptor for sure.

KM September 2, 2010 at 6:48 pm

Don’t know if anyone will see – but for what it’s worth.

We have found au pairs from any country (yes, even Germany) have difficulty adjusting to driving our SUVs, adjusting to automatic transmission, learning the rules of the road, understanding signs and having an English level to read signs quickly let alone comprehending quickly what a sign means. Four cars totaled by German au pairs. Slight fender bender by Mexican au pair. Speeding tickets and traffic court for French au pair. DUI for another Mexican au pair. A GPS confuses them even more if their English is weak. As one au pair said, “I hear merge. What does that mean?”

We begin the driving experience by taking them to a big empty parking lot. We assume they have never been in a car before and go from there.

First Time HP September 2, 2010 at 8:40 pm

Probably a good idea not to assume anything and just test their skills before setting them loose. We have a large SUV and our AP has had absolutely no incidents and was a great driver from day 1. So much so that even early on when we had a long (12+ hour) family trip she drove the majority of it even though both of us were fine to drive. She liked to drive, we preferred read or do something else, and never felt the least bit worried.

PA Host mom of two au-pairs September 2, 2010 at 7:54 pm

Km: Our car was totaled by her listen to the GPS and not paying attention to
“red light” she blew the light. No more GPS for our au-pairs…

KM September 3, 2010 at 1:35 pm

LOL! We all have our experiences, don’t we? And we adjust our AP training based on our individual experiences. I guess if our family had had perfect drivers all the time, our AP driver ed would be different. Thanks for sharing.

Should be working September 3, 2010 at 3:07 am

Our first AP relied entirely on the GPS, even when taking the very same routes every day with kids for weeks. Made me doubt her cognitive capacities a little–why can’t she just recognize places and know where to turn, after 6 weeks! And I agree that the GPS is distracting. She, however, had brought her GPS from home country and so the language was not an issue. And my kids learned in perfect German how to say things like “In 100 meters, turn left.”

Taking a Computer Lunch September 3, 2010 at 6:59 am

Our current AP states she is going to buy a GPS, and that she drives in her home city with one. She passed HD’s driving test quite easily, much to his relief. For my money, when driving in suburbia, the GPS is capable of sending one miles out of the way in order to stay on “main roads,” that it’s no replacement for map reading skills. In my experience, however, it can take 2-3 months for an AP to develop a muscle memory for local places, and those who are less visually inclined have a tougher time adapting. I’ve only had one AP who loved reading maps as much as I, and she did extremely well in navigating.

JJ Host Mom September 3, 2010 at 10:10 am

Umm, I rely heavily on the GPS, and I’d say I’m a smart person. Some people just aren’t born with a sense of direction.

Should be working September 3, 2010 at 3:15 pm

I apologize for implying that GPS use is connected to smarts. To be clear, the AP used to drop me off at work after we together dropped off kids at school–so that she could have the car during the day and for kid pickup; and even after 4 weeks of driving the same, only-3-turns, 2-mile route from kids’ school to my work, unless she had the GPS she still needed me to tell her where the turns were. So what I meant was that I wondered if she actually had trouble recognizing places AT ALL.

Taking a Computer Lunch September 3, 2010 at 11:03 pm

There are at least two types of mappers. Those who follow street signs and those who look for other visual cues (this works best having been to a place before – although Mapquest has that 360 view feature for major roads that assist with visual cues). For example, some of my friends will give me directions with the number of lights, or major street names. Me, I’m more like to tell you to turn left when you see the fire station in front of you or that when you see the Pizza Hut on the right, you need to think about getting into the right turn lane. So, if you have an au pair who is having trouble because you tell her to turn left on X Street, try saying, when you see that white house over there, you know the left turn is coming up.

Most of my APs have complained that it’s hard to drive on the major highway near my community because all they have to get their bearings are the big green exit signs – and I understand that when you’re trying to master a new community it’s hard to memorize all those new names and which ones are important to you.

Host Mommy Dearest September 4, 2010 at 9:18 am

My APs lament that not only our highways are routes #s, but many of our secondary roads are too. When we give directions that say – take route 124 to route 10 to route 4 it sounds more like a mathematical equation. They have all gotten it down within 1-2 weeks, but it takes an investment of time from us – having them drive the route daily with DH or I in the car – in the dark too since everything looks different in the dark.

AFHostMom January 29, 2012 at 10:45 pm

For what it’s worth, 1.5 years later….:)
I do that in my home country (in fact I *just* stopped using the GPS to drive to work….for the first time since my office relocated in May), and I definitely relied heavily on the GPS when we were living outside the US because landmarks WERE difficult for me to pick out, especially before I knew the language well.
In addition I have major spatial problems–I have a diagnosis of non-verbal learning disability, in fact. Which really would have helped to know when I was younger, but I just found out it was a thing a few years ago. I’ve been successful and consider myself pretty smart and competent….but yeah, directions are NOT my thing.
Anyway, I’m just re-reading some old posts where language was an issue….ad this one gives me a lot of perspective. Our new AP is struggling a lot with English, but she is making a heck of an effort and that’s our only problem as of now. We’re persevering.
Oh and one more thing–our GPS has many other languages available. I’ve used German when we lived in Germany because I was trying to improve my language skills, and when our AP drives, I’ll set it to Spanish (IF we let her use it….after reading this, I have doubts).

Mommy Mia September 3, 2010 at 12:32 pm

LOL! Such a handy phrase to know – I can envision the kids as tour guides in Europe during college breaks, leading Americans (dressed in their stereotypical attire) on a bus, giving the driver instructions in German while describing the sights in English!

Gianna September 3, 2010 at 10:57 am

Mapquest is tricky, too. It gives directions without regard for the safety of a neighbohood – just speed. Most aupairs I’ve met are so dependent on the GPS that they have never heard of mapquest. I always ask my aupairs where they are going and if they need any background on how to get back and forth . Mostly they tell me not to worry – they have the GPS. This is good because they go lots of places but I get the sense that they really have no idea where in the world they are ( this is true of many people ) . A map gives me a big picture and a sense of perspective .

Mommy Mia September 3, 2010 at 12:34 pm

Yes, map reading is a valuable, and quickly disappearing, skill. I was encouraged to see some school assignments that did have the kids learning to use maps, so maybe there’s some hope for the future!

Should be working September 3, 2010 at 3:18 pm

I wonder about this too–our AP asked us, when we visited an east coast beach (and we live on the west coast) what ocean we were swimming in, the Pacific or the Atlantic. Can’t tell if it’s lack of map-reading skills or lack of curiosity, since she wasn’t so interested in taking that trip and so perhaps never even bothered to see where we were going.

NewAPMama September 4, 2010 at 3:29 pm

Or maybe it’s just something she hadn’t thought of before she got there. I don’t see the big deal with that question.

Busy Mom September 3, 2010 at 1:32 pm

Saw a blurb in yesterday’s NY Times about a $70 SafeDriver gizmo that tracks speed, distance driven and sudden braking. http://www.lemurmonitors.com/ It plugs into some data port in a car. Looks like it’s being marketed to parents of teens, but might be useful to some host parents. If someone tries to remove it, it displays a “tamper” message.

On the GPS front, I make our AP’s memorize the way to school activities both because I think it keeps them more alert and because I sometimes send them on a route that differs from the one on the GPS (e.g., easier turns). I just told my husband last weekend that I think that GPS’s are making people dumb when I followed the GPS to a friend’s house instead of my recollection of the directions and we ended up taking awrong turn. I prefer to read a map or use mapquest so I know the lay of the land.

KM September 3, 2010 at 1:52 pm

I read an article several years ago about taxi drivers in France having significantly lower percentage of Alzheimer’s disease. Seems without GPS, memorizing routes helps the brain.

Found great info on driving in China. Gives great insight to those with Chinese AP.

Used to be an AP September 3, 2010 at 3:58 pm

Slightly off topic: If you are taking your first “road trip” with you au pair and the AP has only driven cars with a manual transmission before, tell the AP to put her left food under her seat. It’s a bit uncomfortable for sure, but it is the most effective way to keep her from using her left foot on the brake. In cars with manual transmissions you need your left foot for the clutch, which you usually just push down, you only need to be careful when letting it go. With the brake it is of course the other way around. If someone who has never driven a car with an automatic transmission before hits the brake with his/her left foot, he/she will just push the brake down. Other cars are bound to crash into it because of the sudden stand still.

Rematching September 6, 2010 at 5:38 am

I can actually relate myself to the AP on point #2 and #3.

#2 Coming from a country which drives on the opposite side of the road, I had to consciously remind myself to drive/turn into the right lane and not the left lane. I mistakenly did the windscreen wiper several times when I wanted to do the turn signals. Probably, that’s why your AP is not doing it at the moment as she’s still working on her mind body coordination and also too focused on her driving on the correct lane. It was difficult at first and after sometime, at least 2 weeks of daily driving, I soon got the hang of it. Having to come to a complete stop at the ‘STOP’ sign was something new to me too. The ‘STOP’ sign I’ve been practising back home is to yield and I may continue as soon as it’s safe to turn. It’s not necessary to come to a complete stop at the ‘STOP’ sign.

#3 My 9 year old kid also refuses to listen to every instruction I gave him and would bluntly say ‘NO!’ though he knows the instruction comes from his mom. I’ve tried talking to him but he refused to listen and just doesn’t want to find a solution to mend our relationship. He likes to vent his frustration on the rules set on him to his AP. He knows better than to argue with his mom. I used to text her whenever he ignores my words. After awhile, she thought the relationship between me and the kid’s not improving and thought that it’s better we split.

I don’t know how far this reason could affect my chances of rematching. I’m into my second week of the rematching period right now and a little helpless here. Hopefully, APC could redirect me out of this transition mess at the very last minute.

I wonder what others do during the rematching period. Just wait for a family to show interview interest? I’m still with the family and working for these final 2 weeks.


Gianna September 6, 2010 at 8:58 am

I don’t know what protocols your agency has in place for rematch. Do they publish your profile to all of their families or do they match you with a family ? Some of the regular readers/posters on this blog are LCC ( Deb Schwartz, Karen Six and others – check the blog roll ). If you go to those LCCs websites you will see that they encourage aupairs to help in the search by seeking their own families by registering for online websites like Great Aupair and directing families back to their agencies. Do you have a good relationship with your LCC ? Ask her if you can so this. Great Aupair is not the only website – there are many. I think that a tepid referral on driving skills will put some families off but we know now that not everyone wants a driver. Ask your LCC is she knows other counselors in cities : NYC, Chicago, Philadelphia , DC. Ask all of your friends to ask their LCCs if they know anybody who is looking for an aupair. I read your blog – you are an excellent writer and you will be able to present yourself very well.
Maybe you can use some of your jounalism networking contacts to find other ways to find a family and direct that family to your agency. Good Luck !

OFT September 11, 2010 at 9:58 pm

Hi all – don’t know if anyone will see this (or still care) but I did want to did everyone an update:

We did NOT rematch. Before I get yelled at, let me explain….

Of our original three issues, two of them have resolved, at least in part. My daughter has warmed to the au pair, and vice versa. My son is not quite there yet, but I think he will come along eventually. With regards to the English, it is getting better, she is taking classes, and I am sure we will get where we need to be.

Which leaves the driving issue. As many of you all posted, that is the “deal breaker.” After reading everyone’s comments, I have to saw my husband and I were less and less enthusiastic about ANY au pair driving our kids, or even our car, especially once winter hits. We are fortunate in that there is workable public transportation (buses) in our area. So we decided that overall, we would probably just as well change our plans, and have her walk / bus our kids to school / day care each day. If the weather gets really bad, she can stay home with our son, and we will call a taxi for our daughter.

Honestly, this feels like the best solution. It takes all of the worry off our shoulders, and we save money by not having to add her to our insurance, or to pay for driving lessons / license fees / fender benders / etc. We also will have less to worry about with carpooling, etc because we will have a second car available for us. We put it to her as a choice: we are not comfortable with you driving. Either you can use public transportation, or we can rematch you in to a home where they are more understanding and/or have less need for a driver. She chose the former. Working out so far! Fingers crossed….

Interestingly, the LCC was VERY against us rematching. As my husband said, he got so frustrated with the LCC that he felt like he wanted to rematch just because she was so against it! I was always on the fence – I know I’m a softie, but I also felt a certain amount of responsibility for bringing this young woman to our country and home, and didn’t want to give up without trying. In the end, I think this solution is a good one, so good on the LCC for not giving in so easily. The funny thing is that the LCC is still pretty insistent about our AP learning to drive. We told her that, from our perspective, any thing the AP does at this point is her perogative, and agree that she would benefit from training more, but that we were not going to pay for more driving classes, spend time teaching her, let her practice with our car, etc. LCC came back with her concern that our AP would feel isolated, and she should at least have access to the car “at night and on weekends.” As my husband said (and the driving instructor agreed) AP has no “road sense.” Why the LCC thinks we should give her a car at night is beyond me, but DH put his foot down and told the LCC that if she felt so strongly about it, she could lend the AP her car once AP got her license!

Thanks to everyone here for all the advice and support! Particularly Deb Schwartz, for being so generous with her offers of help. I’ll let everyone know how it works out!

Gianna September 11, 2010 at 10:28 pm

I think you are awesome ! It is inspirational to see how problems can be worked out with creativity, intelligence and good faith. I think you are a wonderful example to your children. You came up with a solution that works for you and you didn’t cave in to pressure that would have taken you farther than you wanted to go. That is very impressive

BBBG September 28, 2010 at 9:59 pm

One word: Rematch

PL January 11, 2011 at 6:07 pm

I thought I was reading my own story! We also got an au pair from China and experienced your first two problems, maybe even the third one. The driving was a deal breaker for us too but she was really lovely, eager and most importantly, cared and loved for our kids. We kept at it. She learned to drive after taking lessons, including classroom instruction. Her English improved over time. She is taking classes at a community college and I work with her on her writing at home. After all, it is a cultural exchange. After about three months of concern, she really blossomed. She is still a work in progress but she will be spending a second year with us. The kids now say she is their best friend.

Comments on this entry are closed.