Hurricanes? Emergencies?

by cv harquail on August 26, 2011

Our Swedish au pair got off Skype with a friend back home in Stockholm last evening as we made dinner, looking rather gray and scared. She asked us to tell her which laws that had been changed now because of Hurricane Irene, and were we allowed to be walking around after dark.

Turns out that the news of various governors and President Obama “declaring emergencies” — which is a strictly financial declaration, freeing up federal funding to states and localities to pay for emergency response and preparation — has been interpreted by news casters in her home country into “martial law”. She pulled up the google translate app to show me that that’s what it really means. :-)

We assured her this was not the case, reminding her that English has a lot more words than other languages and sometimes that’s actually a good thing even though it makes it hard to learn. She then got a lesson in U.S. federalism using disaster response as an example, and was much relieved to know that armed police officers wouldn’t be patrolling our quiet suburb, that she and her au pair pals would not be arrested for going to the gym after dinner, as planned.

Poor thing! And her poor family and friends back home! No wonder they think Americans are uptight.

I can imagine this is being reported in many other home countries as well. Counselors on the Eastern seaboard would be doing their au pairs and host families a big favor by explaining what a “declaration of emergency” means, and that in the hours before a storm hits, there really isn’t much other news going on, so the news outlets all pick up on the official declarations and make it sound rather ominous.


cv harquail August 26, 2011 at 11:37 am

Folks, I’m posting this email from CalifMom from my iPhone, from the car, as we drive down TO the beach because we insanely want to take advantage of the pre-storm waves and get in a little surfing. Yes, DH is a little nuts. But we have 1.5 days before we expect any winds or rain. Meanwhile my parents who live between the ocean and a bay are tying down things at their marina. Different strokes, I guess

CalifMom is right, as usual. Folks don’t really know how or when to take weather drama seriously, and it’s our job as host parents to be prudent, pragmatic, and prepared. Help your au pair reassure family & friendseland find ways to moe this a safe and fun adventure!!

franzi August 26, 2011 at 1:39 pm

also relating to weather, as AP i was scared quite often because of the very detailed weather forecast and their predictions for coming storms/hurricanes/t-storms and the like. all this talking about precautions and the super-doppler-whatever-radar made it sound so much worse…

talk to your AP about severe weather and what to do in case you are not home but also mention that the American weather report is VERY detailed (and can thus sound more scary than it actually is).

Calif Mom August 27, 2011 at 10:50 am

Thanks, CV! Technology is grand that you could do all that en route. I’m impressed!

Not to name names, but as a former Red Cross volunteer, I’m telling everyone to avoid watching a certain broadcast weather channel (The Weather Channel). Talk about hype and hyperbole! I’ve started a collection of the most outrageous statements. You’re much better off reading the forecasts from the National Weather Service. Pop in your zip code and you get neutral, fact-based, clear-headed forecasts and preparedness info. And of course, has excellent info too on getting ready as well as locations of shelters in your area if you need to evacuate. And please keep those Red Cross *volunteers* who are hunkered down running the shelters–along with evacuees–in mind through this ordeal and the days ahead. They do their best in very trying situations. Things will go wrong, that’s how disasters are. We wouldn’t call them ‘disasters’ if everything went smoothly! But the amount of good that is done far outweighs small glitches. If you’ve ever had to evacuate, you know what I mean.

And by all means, keep talking with your au pairs! Their families are freaked out, and some of their friends are freaked out because some of the hosts are freaked out and not hiding it well, and everyone just needs to have faith in their own resilience. This is an opportunity to teach your children about pulling together, being grateful for what you have, being smart about managing risks, and even having fun in the face of adversity (we’re all set to make s’mores). Take care, all!

NJnanny August 30, 2011 at 11:11 am

TWC is the reason why my dad will call me seemingly randomly from across the county to make sure that our house isn’t under water or that I haven’t been otherwise smited by mother nature. WAY over-exaggerated, from what I can tell!

Jeana August 28, 2011 at 6:52 am

I’ve been in contact with one of our former aupairs that now lives in NY. Dikun is such a wonderful, special person. Just got another e-mail from her, and she spent yesterday studying for her new classes. That’s my girl! I’m still trying to get ahold of our most recent aupair, to make sure she’s okay. Once an aupair mom, always an aupair mom!!!

any au pair August 29, 2011 at 5:31 pm

HAHAHAHA Oh my god!! who says English is difficult to learn ? do you really think so? well is not …then why a lot of people world wide can speak it… Swedish is really difficult (and I am not swedish I am Latina)….And I can speak 4 languages a believe there are really difficult languages.. English is really one of the easiest languages to learn and to speak because it is easy to pronounce, write, and has a really nice grammar to learn. I am telling you this because I studied Linguistics at school and because people speak it because it the easiest way to communicate with the world outside the non english speaking countries.

Taking a Computer Lunch August 30, 2011 at 7:04 am

While I agree with Calif Mom that The Weather Channel is full of hype (I often joke that the snow reports would be different if they were located in Maine and not Atlanta), I do think people take disasters more seriously than they did 40 years ago — mainly because they are more informed.

My incoming au pair survived not only an earthquake but a hurricane during her first week in the United States. I’ve been trying to stress how rare both these events are for the Mid-Atlantic. Nevertheless, it is necessary to stress certain things when a big storm is coming – it’s not a time for driving and partying (the incoming AP had not yet been cleared to drive our vehicles). As darkness approaches, it’s time to get that flashlight (I had just put in fresh batteries before she arrived — I think I purchased the last packet of “D” batteries in the store). She also watched me do the walk-around, putting loose items in a secure place, clearing exterior basement stairwell drains of debris. However, we also went about our business, grocery shopping and school preparations, until it was clear it was time to get a board game out and hunker down indoors.

However, despite my warnings that the power could go out, she had not experienced a 24-hour power outage in her life. I could sense that she, as a “digital native” newly arrived in the US, felt very cut off from the world. We were so calm about the loss of power (been there, done that) that merely telling her we would lose power didn’t work – she had to experience it.

Other APs have learned to shovel immense amounts of snow, drive in snow, endure a week’s power outage after a more direct hurricane, but their competence in the face of these challenges depends, in large part, on HP reaction.

Interestingly, for the first time in the 10 1/2 years I have been hosting, the State Dept. sent out a message to agencies, which our LCC forwarded to HF and APs, telling APs to keep important documents with them (passports, visas, plane tickets, etc.). Our LCC also told our cluster, that she thought the warning was for APs closer to the ocean than us, but that if we were told to evacuate, to be prepared to bring all their documentation.

Gianna August 30, 2011 at 8:21 am

This is very interesting. I did not hear one word from my agency and it ticks me off to learn now that the State Department sent out a message to the agencies. We were very fortunate: power off and on and a few trees downed but nothing terrible or prolonged.Did everyone else hear from their agencies ? Did LCCs call aupairs and offer some TLC ? Did the agencies even check to make sure that the young people they are sponsoring are safe ? My impression is that you, TACL, have a fine LCC but I wondering about agency policies as opposed to the humitarianism or social sophistication of random LCCs. Sorry to rant but now that the crisis is passed, I have to wonder why in the world we did not hear from our agency.

Gianna August 30, 2011 at 8:26 am

If anyone has a copy of the message that the State Department issued to agencies , would you be willing to share it on this site ? It seems like it would be a good reference for the future … I heard on the news last evening that another big storm is headed this way in two weeks. Thanks

Taking a Computer Lunch August 31, 2011 at 7:32 am

This is how it came from our LCC:

As a precaution, the State Department has asked us to send out the following reminder. Please don’t see this as a reason for panic. They are asking all J-1 visa sponsors on the east coast to send this alert out. Some clusters are located much closer to the ocean than us. Those living along the ocean will likely be evacuated.

If you need to relocate:
– Take your important documents. This includes passport, Form DS-2019, Form I-94, Social Security Card, Financial Records, plane ticket, checks, credit cards, etc.)
– Take contact numbers and e-mail address of your community counselor and agency.
–[Counselor’s name and contact info removed]
–APIA emergency line – 1-800-9-AU-PAIR or 1-973-413-1372
–Take SEVP and Department of State contact information. SEVP email address:; Department of State e-mail address:

Stay safe everyone!

Gianna August 31, 2011 at 1:37 pm

Thank you !

Calif Mom September 1, 2011 at 9:23 am

We heard nary a proactive peep from our agency. Not a word. (Actually, I’m on the mailing lists for two agencies now, and didn’t hear anything from either of them.)

I think the State Dept should consider building a database of host families so they can directly contact us with info like this. At the very least, setting up a way for host parents to opt-in to receive notices through GovDelivery would be very helpful. They could also push out a link to the tax policy in March, since that comes up every year!

As for how easy English is to learn, well, if you’re studying linguistics, I would hope languages come easy for you! But don’t assume that’s the case for other people who don’t have your facility with languages. Whether it is easy to learn them or not, English just plain has more words than other languages.

Gianna September 1, 2011 at 9:46 am

Great ideas Calif Mom. Does the DOS have a list of aupairs ? Most likely. But frankly, I do not fault the State Department on this. Although I am often an outspoken critic of government , I think our reps came across on this. I fault the agencies who did not pass along information sent to them by the State Department. I am aware of individual LCCs who took a pro-active interest in their aupairs and families but I am told that this was not in response to any direction from their administrators. After reading the post by TACL , I accessed the DOS website and saw that one agency posted a bulletin on its website. Every PTA that I have been involved with has a ” snow chain call ” and it does not take rocket science skills to set it up. You probably don’t need a snow day call list in California !

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