I’m intrigued by the comments in the previous post about a Christmas/ Holiday tip for your au pair… it seems that some readers are taken aback by the idea that one would tip ones au pair. As a trained social scientist, I see these reactions as "data" — but what is the data telling me? Let’s think about it….
Here’s a data sample:
from ‘Bill Gates": Wow. I had no idea people “tipped” their au pairs. To me, tips are for doormen and housecleaners, and our au pair is in a different category. I guess it’s just another way to label the gifting that goes on this time of year, though, so I won’t get stuck on the nomenclature.
Other terms used were "distasteful" and "a little befuddled".
Clearly, the idea of "tipping" an Au Pair doesn’t sit well with everyone.
Why is that?
Au pairs, as a form of childcare giver, are differentiated from nannies and babysitters by the fact that they live with our families. When you learn about au pairs, you’re told that they should be treated as ‘part of the family’ — this is part of the story/myth/romanticising/truth about having an au pair.
But what is also true is that an au pair is an employee of your family who is paid by you to do work for you.
While we don’t "tip" family members, we do "tip" people whom we pay for providing us with a service.
The idea of ‘tipping’ an au pair may feel distasteful or just not right because it makes salient to us the truth that an au pair is someone we pay. She may be special in our lives, a key part of what makes our house a home, a young woman whose life experience we can contribute to — but your au pair is also a young woman working hard for you to earn some money.
It’s tempting to treat an au pair as either/ or — she is either a family member or she is a paid employee.
But keep in mind: What makes the role of an au pair unique is that an au pair is BOTH like a family member AND a paid employee.
Hypothesis 1: If you as a host parent
(a) have a close personal relationship with your Au Pair, and/ or
(b) like your au pair very much as a person, and/or
(c) think of an au pair more as part of the family than as an employee who lives with you,
— then the word "tip" is less comfortable than the word "gift" for describing any ‘extra’ you might give her at this time of year.
I bet that many of us prefer to emphasize the ‘family’ part, and that’s why for many of us our ‘gifting’ at this time of year includes what I describe as both "cash and prizes’.
That’s not to say that giving your au pair just money means you don’t care about her as a person, or that giving her sweaters, bathrobes and software means you don’t appreciate all the hard work she does. Every family/host parent finds the right balance for each particular au pair and each particular au pair relationship.
The rest of the story
Not anticipating the discomfort that the word might trigger, I used the word ‘tip’ in the post for very instrumental (i.e., non-philosophical) reasons, including:
- Every one of the 2,783 Holiday Tipping Guides that I’ve looked at has included "au pair" as a category of person whom one should tip at the holidays. Even if you aren’t thinking of an au pair as someone you tip, every regional newspapers’ Emily Post is. (Of course, she probably didn’t have an au pair…).
- I chose the term "tip" because I anticipated that it would be a good keyword for directing traffic to the blog. Usually I’m not very SEO attentive, but…. since that post went up 4 days ago, 38 people came to Au Pair Mom after searching the terms "tip", "au pair" "cash" and "holiday".
So, what do you think? Is this a plausible explaination of the phenomenon, or is there more to think about?