American Culture is on my mind today.
Of the three big distinctions between Au Pair childcare and other childcare, the idea of cultural exchange often takes a back seat. One reason for ‘culture’ receding in to the background is that we regularly experience cultural differences and cultural exchange at the interpersonal level.
Cultural exchange feels like something that happens between us and our au pairs.
Another reason is that — especially these last few years– American Culture seems more divided. It’s less a unified thing than a bunch of competing sets of values and perspectives. Whether it’s red vs. blue, north vs. south, city vs. suburbs, or 1%ers vs everyone else, …
It feels hard to point to something and say “Yes, *that’s* American Culture.”
Just think about this weekend’s Labor Day. All too often it ends up being treated as just a long weekend because culturally we find it hard to agree what we’re actually celebrating.
We tend to overlook the fact that Labor Day is a holiday invented by the Labor Movement. Like the 40-hour workday and the weekend, we’ve got Labor Day because hourly workers banded together and fought for it.
Call me a socialist, but I’d like for more of us to talk about Labor Day as a holiday that honors solidarity among workers and reminds us that fair pay, decent hours, and safe working conditions are rights that workers not only deserve, but also that they/we have earned.
So why am I bringing this up on AuPairMom?
I can’t tell you the number of emails that I get from au pairs who are being taken advantage of in other countries– countries where Au Pairs’ work situations are not established by laws designed to keep them safe, to pay them fairly, and to make sure they aren’t overworked.
I know that the US State Department regulations didn’t come about directly because of au pairs or childcare workers banding together to demand them, but these regulations are modeled on national standards for pay, hours and work that were initially negotiated by Labor Unions. So, thanks Labor Movement! You’ve ultimately made it easier for us to have great relationships with our au pairs!
On the other hand, think about the countries that send us Au Pairs. Many of them have far stronger supports for common workers (and don’t talk about France or Italy … yes, perhaps some of the supports are counter-productive). Others have few regulations at all.
What do these differences in how Labor and workers in general are perceived tell us about ourselves, as Americans?
I’d love to see more of us wading into conversations with our au pairs and ourselves about “culture”, about holidays, about the value of work, about the value of workers, and about justice.
~~ end of rant ~~ Back to the beach chairs, everyone.