How Should An Au Pair Bring Up A Challenging Topic? Your preferences

by cv harquail on March 9, 2011

We all want our au pairs to let us know if they have questions, concerns, or issues that are bothering them. But how do we want them to bring these issues up?

In our family, the informal-yet-scheduled-family-meeting is the best place to bring up any “issue” that goes beyond something like how best to load the dishwasher. Other times, a short note to give me a ‘heads up’ has worked to help me pay attention and prepare to discuss the issue.

Personally, I dislike that discomfort of feeling like something is wrong, but having no idea how serious it is or even what it is. I’d prefer a very gentle, open-minded invitation to talk about problems.

Any of the methods I can think of to start a conversation, though, require an au pair to be forthcoming with her issues.

Why? Because I’m really bad at mind-reading.

Dear AuPairMom,

First let me say that your blog is a great way to prepare to be a good au pair and meet the hostparents’ needs. It really helps to see the other side of the coin and read all the views of the different parents. I think I will learn a lot to be a good au pair when I come to the US in summer.

In advance of arriving in the USA, I am little confused about the cultural differences that I should be expecting. Everyone tells me something different.

My question is whether it’s true that Americans approach any issues that might occur directly and “boldly”, or whether Americans try to find a way around discussing an issue directly.

Question Mark Sign On Hobson's Old Building, Corner Of Henry & Main (Honor, MI)

My interviewer told me that American families often wonder why the au pair just doesn’t get their criticism — the reason behind that would be that Americans tend to not approach any conflicts directly. Instead they speak in euphemisms. On the other hand I have heard that Americans would be offended if an au pair waltzes in and just talks about any problems openly, directly and “boldly”.

Then, here on the blog I read a comment here that it’s the AMERICAN way to approach things directly and not waste any time with chit-chat but try to directly find a solutions. So, I am confused about what most host parents would prefer.

I’m asking about this because I personally am very good with dropping hints (that cannot be missunderstood) but I also like to approach things directly to find a good solution.

I really think that talking things out is already half of the solution so I thought, this might be the perfect place to ask such a question:

Is it wise for the au pair to politely but directly talk about things (not just a problem, but just everything that might occur in every-day-life) or is it better to slowly and carefully approach a subject?

Both would be bad: saying things directly and offend your family and make them think something seriously is wrong when it really isn’t.

And also tip-toeing around a problem which could lead to great missunderstanding when really both sides would have been fine with a direct conversations.

I know this depends on the character of the people involved, but I’ve been told by my agency that this is also a cultural thing.

By the way, I am from Germany, so maybe it helps know that to make a comparism.

Thank you for taking your time to read my not that important but (to me) really interesting problem.

Thanks for all of your advice, Heidi

Question Mark Sign On Hobson’s Old…
from takomabibelot


PA AP mom March 9, 2011 at 9:24 pm

I am a more direct kinda gal.

I would be in favor of the AP saying, “could we talk about a few things?”.

What I do not like is when I have had a hectic day at work and the first thing when I come in the door is the AP yelling criticisms at me. I prefer to schedule “down time’ when we can actually discuss issues and give them our full attention.

azmom March 9, 2011 at 9:42 pm

Definitely – the can we talk is good, but set a time THAT DAY. don’t wait 3 days, that’s crazy and the whole time everyone wants to avoid each other and the tension is crazy.

PA AP mom March 9, 2011 at 10:01 pm

Good point azmom. We always try to do the meeting requested by either party within 36 hours. I forgot to mention that.

Taking a Computer Lunch March 9, 2011 at 10:06 pm

One thing that I would not accuse Americans of being is indirect, but maybe that’s because I grew up in the northeast. We tend to lay it on the line to the point that we may even be considered rude. Sure, there are times when we tend to speak euphemistically (e.g. passed away instead of died), and of course it does come down to personality – some people go to great lengths to avoid confrontation. I am rather “in your face” myself (and I have a thick skin – I don’t hold grudges against people who are open and honest).

When I need to correct an au pair, I try not to “blow up,” especially in front of the kids. Instead I call an adult meeting after the kids have gone to bed. I do my best not to be rude (at least by my northeast American norms), but I am direct. I make every attempt not to correct in front of the kids, because I don’t want them ordering the au pair about – when she is alone in the house with them she needs to be in control.

In general, my AP tells me about her frustrations with the kids after we’ve had a chance to great each other. I don’t often have larger issues – in fact we get regaled with stories of her friends’ families and I think “My AP has figured out she has it pretty good here.” (I’m pretty flexible with anyone who cares for The Camel well. And she’s done a good job of sorting out princesses from hard workers so far.)

So, my advice would be – don’t be afraid to confront your HF when you have issues. Personally, I’d rather you told me you were homesick, angry, frustrated, bored, lonely, afraid, etc. than you kept it to yourself. Americans tend to be pretty open about emotions. But as PA AP mom said, ask for a private time to talk. When you’re with the kids, you’re the adult.

The important thing is not to make assumptions about us. Just ask.

Should be working March 10, 2011 at 4:38 am

Hard to give general advice on this. I think the cultural cues about directness and indirectness are actually pretty different between the US and some other places, including Germany, and also between different regions in the US, and also between dozens of cultural sub-types and of course individuals, and then there are different mixes of factors involving directness, harshness, taking things personally, managing conflicts and so forth, that fall on my different axes.

For instance, my experience of California (warning: my own generalization coming) is that many people there are not at all direct about criticizing or even making suggestions. They smile, say some positive thing, and then suggest an alternative. Makes me crazy, personally, because I don’t know whether the person is annoyed or just offering another idea. I can imagine an au pair having difficulty understanding that she is being criticized or corrected in such a case. I guess I would advise an AP that if an HP is offering a ‘suggestion’, it’s actually something to take as a ‘recommendation’ or even ‘request’.

I agree with TACL that the northeast is most like northern Europe regarding directness, but again I think that conflict-management styles vary there as well. My general experience is that northern Europeans take criticism less personally than Americans, for instance. They are more direct about solving problems, but also more reserved at the same time, even perhaps more stoic about dealing with certain difficult situations. All this is under the caveat YMMV. It’s also part of the fun of international exchange–figuring out the big and small differences, what is cultural, what is individual, etc. Makes for endless conversation, that is for sure.

Another thing to consider is what it means for a conflict or confrontation to be over. My generalization would be that some Americans (the same ones who don’t criticize directly) might be a bit more willing to hold onto a grudge, or save up small resentments, whereas northern Europeans would consider a topic closed when the discussion has been had, and if necessary apologies have been offered and accepted. Actually I loved that about Germany–a sincere apology, when accepted, meant that the topic is over unless something unusual happens.

“Just ask” is good advice, but I think it requires some elaboration, because indirect, smiling criticizers won’t be able to give a direct answer if it’s not their style. Perhaps the AP might consider including the issue of cultural confusion in her approach (which, I agree, should always be after-hours in a calm meeting), as in “You told me yesterday that I ‘could go to the playground’ with the kids–is that just one possibility, or is that really what you want me to do? I want to be sure I understand, because in my country ‘could’ means it’s just one possibility;” or “I can’t tell if my way of handling that yesterday was annoying to you, can you just tell me, because if it were my family at home they would have just yelled right away if that had been a problem.”

Should be working March 10, 2011 at 4:42 am

That ‘my different axes’ should be ‘many different axes’ (first paragraph).

And the references in my suggested formulations in the last paragraph to “in my country” are meant to help the HF see that the AP is trying to do things the way the HF wants, and also to defuse the confrontation–sometimes putting things in terms of a cultural difference makes it a little easier to offer criticisms, make suggestions, and so forth.

Calif Mom March 10, 2011 at 10:40 am

My brother has called my family of origin’s communication style “smoke and mirrors”… And we are several generations of Californians.

But, he married a woman also from California whose family is the exact opposite, with overt frankness that makes me blush.

So I think the best response for the OP is to not worry about “which style should I use” because you can’t yet anticipate that for an abstract, theoretical family.

What she CAN spend her time on now, before she is an au pair, is figuring out what she herself prefers, and thinking about how she can interview potential host families to maximize the chances of matching with a family she will mesh well with.

AFHostMom March 10, 2011 at 11:21 am

Have to agree here about figuring out your own style first, and possibly sharing that info with families as you interview because it does vary hugely.
My perception from our 2 years in Germany was that Germans *tend* to find it more acceptable to be direct about some issues (a person’s size comes to mind–here in the US you will almost never have a shopkeeper suggest that an overweight person won;t find anything in his or her shop, the customer is expected to figure it out). My perception was that Germans were more direct, but I heard so often at the end of our time there that “a German would never tell you that, we’re too polite” or “even if there was a problem, he’d be too polite to say,” etc. My experience told me something else–when I got dysentery in Africa and came home and told our German neighbor, he looked me up and down and said “well, you can’t tell.” Meaning I should have lost some weight from it and hadn’t. But it varied person to person–we also had friends who were very demure and cautious about hurting a person’s feelings. I suppose that’s true everywhere–it just varies based on the individual.
So in some regards I’d say Americans ARE more direct. I know my family is–a military officer husband and a military employed civilian wife (who’s also an attorney), with 3 kids–just cut to the chase if there is an issue. :) And I also don’t care for the “can we talk later or tomorrow?” when I’m on my way out the door. It kind of ruins my day.

My 2 cents March 10, 2011 at 10:06 am

I’ve found over the years that being direct with our au pairs is the best way to get the message through, and some of our au pairs have been German btw. I’ve had the “you should take the kids to the park, or to the pool today, it’s pretty outside” cue blow up on me and come home to find that, yes, they spent another day inside because the au pair for whatever reason decided she didn’t want to do what was suggested. So now I just say “please take them to the park today” and then if there’s an issue the au pair needs to raise it. I do the same with the laundry, the dishwasher, cleaning up the play room, etc. I literally write or tell tasks each day so there’s no confusion. It’s more like an office envrionment that I’m comfortable with.

On this topic, though, I need some general direction. I’ve never used the suggestion from our LCC to have weekly family meetings as a way to address issues. They sound like a great idea in concept, but when you get down to doing them it’s scheduled and forced time for people to essentially air their grievances and feelings toward one another and, at least in my experience, small ones. Seriously? I envision the au pair being forced to sit during some time that not convenient for anyone, certainly after kids are in bed or watching their evening shows and she’s “off” or may still want to be away with friends, and hear about problems and my feelings and vice versa. When I think hard about it it’s almost as if it could do more damage than good.

But I do like the concept behind it. Get the dirty laundry out there and share it so things don’t build up, feelings don’t harden, and everyone communicates and moves on in a positive direction. It’s regularly scheduled so it’s not like a button gets pushed and now we have to schedule an emergency meeting to sit down with lots of pre-meeting anxiety and the rest.

Does anyone do the weekly meetings? How do you do them and schedule them so they aren’t this forced, uncomfortabe weekly trial.

PA AP mom March 10, 2011 at 10:29 am

We don’t do the weekly family meetings. Often times we struggled for things to address because we were doing so during the week. I don’t like waiting until a specified day of the week to address issues. I would rather address them as soon as possible.

AFHostMom March 10, 2011 at 11:25 am

We try to address issues or potential ones at specific times. One is at dinner, which sounds crazy cause the kids are there, but the distraction they provide can actually take some of the edge off (provided they are young enough–which ours are–to be oblivious). Another is when I, the HM, am alone with AP, on the way to shop or something. I really try to be sensitive to the fact that there is a huge imbalance of power by the very nature of the HP-AP relationship, and that AP is outnumbered by us, and I do not want her to feel ganged up on, helpless, etc. Of course when things get really serious HD and I both sit and talk with her (not there with current AP but it came to that several times with the one who just left).

Taking a Computer Lunch March 10, 2011 at 11:51 am

Weekly? No! I try to have one evening meeting shortly after the AP arrives to go over the manual (even then there are always surprises), and then occasionally as issues arise. If we want to extend we call for a meeting 5 or 6 months in (before the extension packet arrives). I’d say, on average, we have 4-6 evening meetings a year. I try to keep the casual warning conversations (like – summer is coming you’ll be working full-time more often, you come from a far north country, you should buy some sunscreen and start wearing it) to within the time frame of my arrival/her departure time.

There was only one AP that we ever called regular meetings and that was because we couldn’t get her to practice driving or use her English enough for her to make sufficient progress to keep The Camel safe. I recently went through my work email and was surprised at what issues they were even 7 months in. Our last evening meeting with her was to tell her that we would not offer to extend with her at the 8-month mark.

Host Mommy Dearest March 12, 2011 at 11:10 pm

We do a weekly meeting every week. Sometimes it is just to pay our AP and talk through the schedule for the week. The schedule is in Google Calendar, but we want to make sure any crazy differences are discussed, and make sure we know about any plans she may have that we forgot about or she forgot to tell us about. We always ask how things are going for her and if there is anything she wants to talk about. The meeting makes it easy for us to give feedback in a very non confrontational way, and without having any “problem” meetings. It seems unnatural to call a meeting for an issue, then to give a compliment sandwich to address the issue, but for us it fits in easily to praise our AP for doing ABC great, asking her to handle XYZ differently, then telling her that she is doing a great job overall. Weekly meetings keep our lines of communication open with our AP and allow us to provide frequent, carefully delivered feedback more seemlessly.

My 2 cents March 10, 2011 at 10:13 am

Sorry, OP, I hijacked your thread and didn’t even leave some advice.

Yes, I would lean on the direct side. It does sound like you have some innate personal communication skills that will really serve you well. One tactic I use at home and in business and I’ve seen our au pairs use to be direct without being rude is to ask direct questions. When I say go to the park today please, you could say, “well there’s a story time at the mall and some of the au pairs are going with their kids and I thought would be fun. Could we do that instead?” Or “the other day you left your laundry in the washer and I didn’t know what to do with it when I went to do my laundry. What do you want me to do with your laundry when that happens?”

NE mom March 10, 2011 at 12:10 pm

Totally agree that you need to get to know your HF’s communication style. Every family is going to be slightly different. I would suggest bouncing ideas off of your LCC on how to approach issues, and even communication. She can be a great resource for tapping into a family’s communication style, especially if they’re not a first time HF.

As for when you have “issues” (problems, concerns, etc), I would also bounce the issue and your proposed solution off of the LCC. Oftentimes an LCC can steer you in a direction that will be amenable to the HF. (I am thinking here of issues that could be sore spots for the HF and require some thought to the communication plan and style.)

I would say -always- in the U.S., a please and thank you, smile, and polite, respectful communication go a long way. Good luck!

Anon for this March 10, 2011 at 12:29 pm

(As an aside, I think I need a new user name, because I know AP2 reads this and worry that she will recognize herself in my nice postings and then also in my terrible postings)

I do frequent meetings (not frequent enough as the year goes by) and try to do them out of the house. I think there is some seriousness and respect that get conveyed by leaving the house. I take the AP to a cafe after the kids are in bed. I frame the conversation as an important tool to know how she is doing, how she thinks the kids are doing, and then I go in with how I think she is doing. We try to hit the big topics of childcare, house responsibilities, scheduling, child development. It is nice to have quiet time to just focus on assessing the relationship(s).

It does feel a little forced at first, but it works for me. I specifically come with a few things to talk about so that it doesn’t just become a session to air grievances (like, what do you think about DS’s new bad behavior? are we addressing it the same way? is it getting better? what else should we be doing?). I do air my grievances as well — and probably could/should do that more directly.

In reference to the OPs topic, I think American’s are generally very direct. However, I think that parents (and moms in general) have a hard time being direct with their child care providers. I have certainly been at fault for some “managerial failure” with former APs – making suggestions when I should have made demands with consequences. I agree with the above advice: think about how you like to solve problems and ask the host parents how they prefer you deal with things. Most of all, be open to different styles of communicating. If your HP never say anything direct, the try to pick up on the “should”s and “recommendations.”

NJMom March 10, 2011 at 6:03 pm

I had a place at the end of my handbook (from CC) that said “How do you want the au pair to raise difficult issues or problems with you?” And I said that whether it was personal or work-related (we’ve had AP’s with embarrassing health issues, or at least they were embarrassed to tell me at first and I can’t blame them), that I always prefer they come to me in the evening when the kids are asleep, especially if it involves the kids. I also offered that if it was too difficult to approach me in person they were welcome to email me but that I didn’t consider email the ultimate solution, just a way to get the idea out there. I made it clear that it was way better for an AP to raise something than to try and gloss over it or drop hints so I’m more of a direct person but I believe strongly in diplomatic, well thought out feedback. Just blurting out that someone is doing something wrong or whatever can be very damaging to an AP, and by the same token can be upsetting to host parents when it comes out of the blue and/or at the wrong time of day!

HM Pippa March 11, 2011 at 2:20 pm

Based on many years of social interaction with groups of Germans, Americans, and bi-cultural German-Americans, I have observed some differences in communication style. Making requests/demands and giving direction is a big one.

I (American) tend to make demands of people in my life using the subjunctive rather the imperative: I say “Could you please…” or “Would you…” or “If/when you have a chance, …” To me, the command in these statements is clear–I expect you to DO something and I use the subjunctive to make it sound more polite and less bossy. Often I skip the “please” for little requests (Could you pass the salt?) because it seems implied by the politeness of could/would. To German ears, using the subjunctive should/would/could gives the impressions that the person addressed has a choice. The same requests made in German would use the imperative (Pass the salt) and sound bossy and impolite to me.

When telling my kids what to do, I expect my AP to model and use the polite subjunctive. I want my kids to learn how to make demands politely, and learning to use could/should and please is part of it. I want my kids to learn that a demand made of them politely is still a command to action. Also, I don’t like the tone of an AP “bossing” my kids around with lots of imperative commands.

I enjoy having conversations with our German APs about the linguistic and cultural nuances of our languages. These are subtle, but significant differences. Understanding these differences is an important part of gaining culturally competency and moving toward real fluency.

hOstCDmom March 11, 2011 at 4:14 pm

So nicely and clearly explained! As someone who speaks both English and German I completely agree with your grammatical/linguistic outline above.

a March 13, 2011 at 7:18 pm

I hate to be a nitpicker here, but that’s not subjunctive you’re talking about, it’s conditional. Subjunctive is rarely used in English. Otherwise- completely agree!

HM Pippa March 14, 2011 at 1:29 am

If only I were more on the ball, I would have caught that. Thanks for the nitpicking.

Should be working March 14, 2011 at 5:11 am

Hehe Pippa, I get it that you put that first clause in the subjunctive (“If only I were . . . “–a classic subjunctive-contrary-to-fact).

GermanAuPair March 11, 2011 at 7:51 pm

Ah, so great that you put this out in the air, thank you!
(By the way, my name is NOT Heidi :D great pick for a German name, though)
Yes, I was the one asking the question and I find it really interesting to read your thoughts on that.
The subject came up -like it’s said above- when my interviewer told me that there have been many issues with American hostfamilies complaining that the German au pair would simply ignore their criticism and the au pair was absolutely cluelass as to her, the HF never criticized anything.
On the other hand an American au pair left Germany because after one week of work, the HF sat down with her and told her, what could be working out better to their point of view. She felt extremely uncomfortable with how directly they approached her.
And when I came to read this blog and read this comment about how directness was so typical for Americans, I was confused.
It’s not really something that worries me. I have matched with a hostfamily that seems very well educated and communcative and it just seem’s like a good fit. It’s just really interesting to me.
An example for the German rudeness (eventhough *I* think we are very polite) is this typical British-German-problem. When a German travels to GB and is asked how he likes it by a local, he would always respond with “Great…but, oh the weather”. And the local would always be offended.
I myself would view myself as someone who can adjust to either way. I am the master of giving someone a broad hint but I also can politely adress an issue if that’s the best way.
But the hint dropping always seems a little dangerous to me, especially when used in intercultural realtionships. Of course you can drop the hint and make it VERY clear but that’s not really the point of dropping a hint, right? So a normal dropped hint could lead to great speculation, frustration and missunderstanding in my experience.
Like I said, I am not really worried that communcation will not work out for me because -obviously..- I am really communcative.
Still, I find it really interesting to read all you opinions and experiences on that topic. and it’s always great to get some input and consider alternatives.

Shana Medah March 12, 2011 at 7:20 pm

Dear German Au Pair,

Here is my contribution to an already well-discussed subject. It is true that Americans tend to be more direct than some other cultures, but there are a few important exceptions. The first is if the issue is something that could be considered very personal in nature- for example, body odor, personal hygiene or one’s apprearance in general (previous posts here on body odor are a good example), where bringing up a problem could potentially embarrass the other person or hurt their feelings. The second exception would be turning down a request that someone has made, where the refusal could hurt the other person’s feelings. It can be difficult for some Americans to say “no” when they feel that the other person might feel bad or embarrassed as a result.

There are also certain “rules of conversation” to follow when bringing up a topic, aside from choosing the right moment. Many Americans have been taught to present problems using “I-statements” – in other words, presenting the problem in terms of how it makes you feel or how it affects you, rather than telling the other person that they are doing something wrong. (For example: “I get confused when you say that I “should” do something rather than telling me directly” – this would be the I-statement version of saying “You confuse me – just tell me what you want me to do.”) In some cultures, this can sound really egotistical, but the logic behind it is that you avoid sounding like you are accusing or attacking the other person. This is really key to presenting a problem: it should be presented as a collaborative effort, a problem we can all solve together, not a personal attack. Americans also tend to be careful to add praise when giving criticism in order to avoid making the other person feel that all you have to say about them is negative.

One final thought regarding “instructions” vs. “suggestions”. In my experience, Americans try to respect another person’s individual right to choose his/her actions, even when giving instructions. As a result, instructions might come out sounding as if there is room for you to choose whether to follow them or not ( as in the example “You should go to the park today.”), when in reality, this is not the case. You can get a clue from the context whether a suggestion is really a suggestion or a polite form of directions. Your friend telling you that you should check out XYZ website is probably not a direction that you *must* follow; your host parents telling you that you should do the kids’ laundry today probably is an instruction that they will expect you to understand and follow.

Advocate for yourself if you notice misunderstandings happening. If you explain the difference in the meaning of the word “should” between German and English, your host parents can at least understand if you make a mistake. If you have a good relationship, you might be able to ask for clarification in a light-hearted way: “You should go to the park today.” “Do you mean “should” in the German way or the American way” ha ha….. Understand also that it may be uncomfortable for you host parents to tell you what to do directly, and this kind of clarification can help put everyone at ease, while acknowledging the differences in how you communicate.

EuroGirl March 12, 2011 at 8:49 pm

It’s worth adding that in “British” English (as opposed to American English) the “should” clause is used slightly differently again, because I would encounter the same issue – a “should” instruction leaves room for negotiation and interpretation example “You should not drive too fast” – interpretative statement expressing concern for what MAY happen, “You must not drive over 130kph” – a command statement, implying DEFINITE consequences (in that case, legal). The American dialect can take a lassez-faire attitude to the difference between the two, but for any non-native speaker, this is understandably hard to grasp.

It’s also worth bearing in mind that the majority of young European women who learn English as a second language do not learn American English.

Steff March 12, 2011 at 10:33 pm

I have to say that I very much too think this was a great topic to discuss and one that could probably help both sides in some way (HF & APs) I for one, before reading this last comment, would have been on the side of just say what you gotta say.
I really, *really* don’t like when people gives me “hints” as to what they want me to do, that sometimes even gets me cranky, if you want me to do something you might as well just tell me to do so (I think I can understand though the whole “window of opportunity” to misunderstandings that “should” and “would” can lead to)

On the other hand, now that I think about it, I do tend to be more “direct” with some things more than others of course, and at the same time expect the people I’m dealing with to do the same. It’d be just plain rude to tell a person that she/he smell bad so in that case I think hints here and there can be the way to go.

In most cases anyway I do prefer honest and direct communication and hopefully that’s how it’s gonna stay in my own hostfamily / aupair relationship.

I think that as long as the person communicating the “problems/issues” is polite enough I have no problem whatsoever receiving criticism or orders/instructions etc.
In my case, I’ll very much rather to approach problems with the HPs politely yet directly. I guess the whole point in my opinion is to try not to let small problems become big problems in the long-term :)

German Au-Pair March 11, 2011 at 8:44 pm

Oh and this “should”-thing is a tough one! Because -correct me if I’m wrong- even in America you would say “This is a great book, you totally should read that!”, right?
So I would prefer someone TELLING me to go outside when they want me to go outside and SUGGESTING me to go outside, when they just think it might be nice.
Another fun cultural thing between the Germans and the Americans seems to be the nice word “mustn’t”. For a German (who slept through his English class) “musn’t” is the excact translation for what means “don’t have to do”. I’ve been told that there has been a lot confusion when the German au pair told her hostparents that they “musn’t have done that” for her!

EuroGirl March 12, 2011 at 10:37 am

I think the idea of a “family meeting” in itself is very “American” to me, personally I cannot in a million years imagine my real family ever sitting down to discuss issues in the household – we would just have a bust-up and clear the air.

But I suppose that betrays my own nature – in work (including as an au pair), I tend to be direct but not rude – example last week my wages were miscalculated, I put a complaint in with my manager straight away and told him I will not do work for which I am not paid. People do, I find, appreciate that honesty and that up front nature.

Then again I also own up just as openly when I make a mistake of my own (example – the time I dyed my German au pair mother’s towel with hair dye because I thought it was the “dog and muddy boots” old towel – oops) I find if you are up front and honest about your own mistakes and about positive things (I love the food you’ve made, your new dress looks amazing) – people accept and trust that if you make a complaint, that there is a reason and they will take it into consideration.

I feel like some young girls becoming au pairs maybe don’t think of it both ways – how you discuss a problem should be in keeping with how you discuss anything else – otherwise you at a danger of sounding like a whingy little girl and no one will take you seriously…!

AFHostMom March 12, 2011 at 10:57 am

I don’t think it’s so much American as it is made-for-tv. ;) My family (as a child and now an adult) has never had a family meeting, and will never have a family meeting. None of my friends have ever done it either. We just talk. I think, though, that when you have someone who is “a part of the family” but distinctly different from the family (and employed by the family to boot) living with you, it’s a different story.

EuroGirl March 12, 2011 at 3:07 pm

To be fair, I probably got the idea that it’s an American thing FROM the tv… Oops :-P

Taking a Computer Lunch March 12, 2011 at 7:58 pm

In my house the family meeting is called dinner.

German Au-Pair March 12, 2011 at 3:03 pm

I don’t think it’s an American thing but an au pair thing to give au pair who are less direct the grounds to voice their opinions. To me adressing a problem on a date which is made to do exactly that seems easier than saying “hey, we need to talk”. But in general I hope I will have good enough communication with my host parents that neither one is necessary. I hope a daily communication will be a normal thing no matter the subjects.
But I totally agree with you, it seems important to be able to say “Hey, messed up here” because this is the only way to create trust. If someone know you will be telling them when you made a mistake, they won’t worry about you making one.

Taking a Computer Lunch March 12, 2011 at 8:02 pm

One linguistic different that initially caused confusion was that my AP translated the wurde clause directly. She told DH, who had not studied German, “When I come home I will eat dinner with you.” Instead, she meant “If I come home then I will eat dinner with you.” DH waited. Knowing a bit of the AP’s language definitely helped.

German Au-Pair March 12, 2011 at 8:33 pm

I think this whole cultural differences topic is extremly interesting. And the new language…for example the fact that I will have to get used to not listening to the same kind of music with the kids around. When I drive around with my brother here, I can listen to English music and I just don’t care if there might be any inappropriate subjects (not that I listen to inappropriate music but in Germany we get all the dirty words uncensored…) my brother doesn’t know about the subjects (just mentioning Milows “Ayo technology”…) and if he catches a dirty word he actually can understand…we don’t really mind over here, if a child knows about the f-word.
I thing this aspect of the au pair program, getting used to different cultures and habits is just really really interesting and exciting.

Shana Medah March 13, 2011 at 1:18 pm

Dear German Au Pair,

I’m glad to hear that you are excited about learning about other cultures. It sounds like you already have a good start on preparing yourself for the challenges of being an au pair, at least from a cultural point of view. You brought up a subtle but very important part of preparing to leave home – reflecting in advance on things that will be different. Try to list as many of the things that you can think of that will be different, and how difficult it will be to live with each of those changes. For the things that are really important to you now that will be different (or missing entirely) when you arrive at your host family’s home, make a plan for how you will manage that difference. Will you not have as much access to a car as you do now? If that’s important and you know you will miss it, make a strategy NOW for how you will deal with that. Although this is a little off the original topic, this is a really good point you brought up and an important first step in keeping homesickness from getting out of control later on. Right now it might not seem like you could ever be homesick, but it eventually happens to everyone to some degree. It sounds like you’re really actively preparing yourself – take this additional step as well and you won’t be sorry you did.

Shana Medah
Co-Founder/Director of Training
Jamana Intercultural

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