Dear AuPairMom Readers —
What do you do when your (otherwise great, fabulous) AP has ATROCIOUS table manners – think smacking and chewing sounds not even heard at a trucker convention! Chews with mouth open, talks with mouth full of food, slurps drinks, smacks lips when chewing….it is REALLY LOUD.
It is also setting a really bad example for my kids, who have pretty good table manners. My own boys (ages 6 to 14) use silverware not fingers, put their napkins on their laps, ask nicely for things to be passed, ask to be excused from the table, clear their place, don’t drink and eat at the same time, chew with their mouths closed. (Okay, this is 90% of the time, the other 10% I am reminding them of specific manners).
The point is, my DH and I have gone to a lot of trouble to teach our boys good table manners. So it is appalling when I’m telling 6yo – don’t make noise when you eat – and AP is next to him making loud smacking noises with every chew of the cud!
I must stress that this AP is otherwise great. Her other manners, away from the table, are good (she says please, thank you, she’s considerate, etc.) She just seems to have missed the memo on table manners.
I’m aware that part of this may be cultural, and that what passes for good manners at home may not be working for her here.
I also concerns me that her manners don’t offer a good model for the boys. I can’t tell them not to talk with food in their mouths while she’ll telling a story through a mouthful of… well let’s not get into it.
Also, her manners are likely to make a bad impression anywhere else in North America, not just at our family table.
In truth, crewing with her mouth open, smacking her lips, and so make my stomach turn. Our family eats together with our AP five nights a week at least, and there is no way to avoid noticing her manners.
How can I bring this up? How much can I say?
Once I had shared a grad student office with a perfectly nice Finance student from X, who, when he had a cold, would snuffle up and swallow– or spit into the waste basket — all his snot. When I had a cold, I would quietly blow my nose into a kleenex, and fold it up and put it in the wastebasket. Two very different strategies, and his grossed me out.
Turns out, another grad student told me, that for a X guy to blow his nose into a tissue, and to blow it more than once into the same tissue, seemed gross to him. Who wants to touch a tissue damp with snot? My office mate was grossing me out, and I was grossing him out.
How did I handle it?
I traded offices with another grad student. [ Note, I don’t know what exactly is considered polite to do with mucus if you are a X male.] The point is, we each thought we were acting politely.
Okay so maybe that story has grossed you out. Maybe it’s a digression. Maybe it just creates space for me to get in another cat picture.
I think it’s okay for you to tell your au pair that you’d like to share with her what Americans think are good table manners, and ask her to model them for your boys. As we all know, what’s polite is culturally determined, and it’s perfectly okay to ask her to practice common American manners.
We feel fine asking our au pairs to drive on the right side of the road and to sunbathe topless only in the back yard, because we can explain that these choices are not good or bad, they are just ‘what people do here’ and so that’s how we do it too.
Also, things like table manners, phone manners, and greeting & salutation manners, are the easy things to learn so that you can flex into many cultures. Similarity (and okay, conformity) to these conventions are what help you create a space to participate in the culture.
And, it never hurts to emphasize that it’s about teaching the kids what’s right to do in the USA….
Other thoughts Parents? APs?