Share what you know about Au Pairs and Cross Cultural Communications!

by cv harquail on August 7, 2013


Earlier this spring, I was interviewed for a research project on cross cultural challenges with host families and au pairs. The researchers recently wrote to tell me they’ are having a difficult time getting the number of interviewees that they need, and they asked if I could share this request on AuPairMom:

We are two researchers (Yea-Wen Chen, Ohio University; Elizabeth Dickinson, UNC-Chapel hill) who seek families who have had au pairs and international au pairs to interview about their experience with culture and communication as au pairs in the United States.

The interview can be by phone or face to face (if you are in the Chapel Hill, NC or the Athens, OH areas). We’ll schedule an hour of time, but we can do more or less depending on how much you feel comfortable sharing. We’d ask you to agree to a consent form, and the interview would be audio taped with your consent.

If you’d like to participate in this study, please contact us at:
Yea-Wen Chen: or 505-730-1453
Elizabeth Dickinson: or 805-506-0090.

Thank you so much for considering, and we look forward to hearing from you.”

Personally (and not just because I’m a researcher myself) I love participating in interviews like this one — I never know what I really think until I hear what I say, so there’s always something that I learn just by sharing my opinions! Please consider connecting with Yea-Wen and Elizabeth to share your stories.


JenNC August 8, 2013 at 6:27 pm

Since this is one of the most recent I will post here as it is about communication. My aupair has become very good friends with a fellow aupair. So for the last few months my aupair has been confiding in me about her friends host family, that really indicated some red flags. The other aupair is young , 20 , but a sweet lovely German girl. My daughter loves her. ANYWAY, my aupair arrived in April, the German girl in March….. It took the host parents 3 months to get her to the DMV to get a drivers license so she could drive, so she spent almost 3 months captive. They live on a military base, so there is no transportation and you can’t walk or ride a bike anywhere worth going. Then her schedule was never really set, we went to the beach over Memorial Day, the host parents didn’t even bother to let the girl know she would be off, but decided to go to the beach and didn’t invite her. So she sat at home alone. My aupair has been in school since month 2… The German aupair has been waiting to go and take her exam to see were she places in English level, the last two times when she was scheduled ” off” her host mom took a nap that lasted “hours” past the aupairs off time. The host dad never arrived home on time. She missed her exam. She had planned to go again and a similar thing happened. Sundays are usually her day off, however most Sundays the host parents continue sleeping and the Aupair hears the kids crying and gets them….. On her off day… The host parents have asked to go to the grocery store during kids nap, when aupair is off, and said ” they are sleeping so your not really working” and the hour shopping trip has turned into all afternoon outing with the aupair stuck at home.

Most recently the host dad has left for training for a month, and the mom who works nights needs child are 20 hours straight… With a few hours break and then another shift….. This all the aupair agreed too because she wants to be helpful and no they are in a bind….. However because of the abuse of going over on hours, taking advantage of her on her off time, and her missing her exam two times. I advised her that she should talk to her host mom about these things and ask for more notice of her time off, a schedule more specific and to verbalized she was upset about missing her exam.

Unfortunately the host mom turned all around never apologized and got nasty with the aupair telling her ” a sitter would be better” and that she could now only take the car for school or exam and come straight home, no longer allowed to drive the car for any extra curricular activities. Told the aupair , after four months, never saying anything…. that all these little things have made them mad, all these things theaupair is doing wrong and on and on. The aupair was speechless sad and spent day crying and speaking with my aupair. The host mom told her that ever since she got her license all she wants is the car! Which I don’t blame her… then the host mom, takes kids, and leaves the house, and leaves the aupair on her “DAY OFF” stranded at home. Finally after many hours I sent my aupair to get her because I felt so bad for her.

She love the kids but if she is home she isn’t off. The dad comes knocking on door for her to watch kids.
The mom said ” she never spends time with them” but the family walks out the door never saying a word or telling her were they are going….and just leave her at home, the aupair is left feeling they don’t really want her company.

Anyway…. I advised aupair to speak with regional advisor….but Then I went over a whole bunch of talking points to go back and speak with host mom first, to see if they could talk this MATURE adults…. which I have clearly gathered the “young hostparents” are NOT….i gave her ways to apologize if she hasn’t met their expectations but to also express how she had been disappointed that these things had upset her… Also to ask specifically what she is doing wrong and what she could do to do a better job…. That she wanted to be helpful to them and on and on….. To talk about the driving and access to car, because it was something they had reassured her she could do before she agreed to be their aupair……

Well the host mom was not nice not willing to really talk about anything… So the aupair asks does she not want her anymore? The aupair says she doesn’t really want to rematch she doesn’t want to make host mom mad or fight she just wants to talk…. Host mom says no I don’t want you anymore…… And I won’t talk to you anymore…..

So the regional manager is supposed to be going to talk to them maybe tomorrow, 3 days after this happened. But obviously she is going into rematch……

I personally think this host family wanted someone available to work whenever they wanted, someone who doesn’t have a life, and once she got her “wings” that she was not meeting their expectAions, unrealistic expectations of a young girl who has made friends and in the US for first time…..I think they needed an old woman instead who wants to do nothing but spend time with their children.

Anyway…. I know she is going into rematch…. I am not so confident In our regional person….. And with knowing the family was going to way abuse the working hours they should be kicked out of the program period… They are too selfish to have an aupair in my opinion.

Any thoughts… I feel bad I made it worse….but I think she had to stand up for herself….or they would have made her a prisoner….. She has 7 months left and wants to stay another year in US with a good family…. If I had the money I would keep her too and have 2 aupairs….. But I don’t …and she so deserves a good family. :(

Jen in NC

Host Mom in the City August 9, 2013 at 7:17 am

Well obviously she just needs to rematch. Honestly, I’ve heard stories like this before and the au pairs always say they don’t want to rematch, but there is no other solution. Why was she so hesitant to rematch? That doesn’t make sense to me.

Momma Gadget August 9, 2013 at 9:08 am

Jen- that sounds like an awful situation! I’m guessing that this is a first time Host family who doesn’t understand the rules or the spirit of this program. Perhaps the added stress of having a spouse deployed is clouding the HM sense and sensibility. I hope her RC is experienced and helps her through all this.
I am sure your AP appreciates your family even more, seeing how her friend is being taken advantage of.

HMITC- I think Many au pairs are reluctant to initiate rematch because they are afraid that a) they wont find another family
b) that the new family will be worse than the first. c) some are just so shell shocked by this type of abuse that they internally blame them selves.
Good luck to her!

KM August 8, 2013 at 6:52 pm

If the au pair worked more than 45 hours a week or more than 10 hours a day, she may have back wages due. Recently an au pair filed a civil suit against a host family for wage and hour violations. She won and was awarded $12,000 in back wages.

Was the family removed from the program?

JenNC August 11, 2013 at 9:05 am

I am happy to report when our regional manager met with family and realized how dire the situation , literally 2 days ago, she told the host mom she didn’t understand the rules of having an aupair and was completely wrong in her treatment and use of the aupair. The host mom also was kicking the aupair out of her home instead of allowing her to stay the two weeks, again breaking the rules, and besides her own arrogance she had no grounds for her horrible treatment of aupair, except she is a young immature mom, and selfish. I know this aupair and she is so sweet….. She really was believing the host mom that all things were her fault, until I told her no,the host mom is wrong and abusing you and has not been doing her job as a host mom to help her acclimate. It was after I talked with her and supported her feelings that’s she knew she was right to feel used.

Imagine being in a foreign country, 20 years old, with a host mom blaming you for everything when you come to talk about things that are bothering you. And hearing in the past that your regional director has not been always helpful, not really knowing all your rights as an international person in a foreign country, without “adult” advice I would probably be reluctant too because of fear of unknown…. I would be worried that it will be 2 adults against me ( a forge aupair girl) but THANK GOD our director did a Good job…

I also sent our regional director an email prior to her meeting to ensure she knew the truth about the aupairs schedule because I was afraid the host mom might lie , I told her I had been hearing red flags for months but this was the top. So the host mom didn’t have a leg to stand on.

The aupair has gone to stay with the regional director and is starting rematch process. If you know of anyone looking ASAP she is with

I think the host family will not be continuing with the aupair program and I am thinking because of their own actions it has ended ugly and they will be paying a lot of money. I hope because I sent my email to our director on her company email this highly will keep them from allowing another aupair with this family.

Sighhhhhhh thanks everyone.


Old China Hand August 15, 2013 at 9:28 am

Our au pair (from China) often tells me stories about the way that her friends (also Chinese and in different cities) are treated. I have tried to give her advice about how the au pairs can talk with the host parents in a really non-confrontational way, but our au pair says that the girls are scared to talk with their parents. Mostly what I was suggesting was that the girls ask for written schedules with what they have to do and when they have to work. Girls from China pay something like $5000 (US!) to be in the au pair program and none of it is a deposit. They all plan to stay for 2 years because otherwise the program fees aren’t worth it to them. So they are terrified to speak with the host parents and to end up in rematch in case they can’t find a new family and get sent home at the end of the two weeks. Usually there are real concerns with families abusing the system – not having set work hours, not being supported with taking classes, being required to cook/clean/do laundry for the entire family, and working way more than 10 hrs/day and 45 hrs/week. It doesn’t help that often they still end up in rematch because they were told by the agency in China to lie on their applications and say that they can swim (when they can’t) and can drive (when they just learned how). We all can read between the lines on the driving, but the swimming is much harder to be certain about. Our au pair was really upset to find out that I considered this to be a lie on her application but I was so happy that she told me that I don’t care that she can’t actually swim. But now I know not to have her take my son to swimming lessons. In any case, I ended up writing to our LAR about this for some advice and she said that from what she has seen, majority of families don’t follow the rules and that the girls are generally from desperate situations and are terrified to say anything. It all makes me so sad!

Host Mom in the City August 15, 2013 at 10:00 pm

How terrible! I had no idea they paid that much, and it makes total sense that they would be afraid to say anything.

Taking a Computer Lunch August 16, 2013 at 6:26 pm

I had the opposite problem with an AP from China. She couldn’t drive, could only speech English when she was answering questions about her past experience, and couldn’t swim (we have a pool). However, we stuck it out with her for a year (she did try hard and improved enormously for 8 months until we told her we had decided not to extend with her – and then she completely backslid). Why did we do it? My LCC made an offhand comment (after the AP scraped another car — and ours — after backing out of a pull-in parking spot) that she was going to be stuck with her if we couldn’t make it work.

The experience wasn’t completely horrendous, but the cultural conflict was so great, that we have never tried for another Chinese AP.

Old China Hand August 19, 2013 at 6:20 pm

I can’t imagine having a Chinese girl living with you if you don’t already know a lot about the culture. We knew ours wouldn’t be able to drive, despite the license, and we knew that we didn’t care if she could swim (although we thought it was a bonus that she did and are disappointed that she doesn’t). In our case, though, I speak Chinese fairly fluently and have lived in china several times. I grew up in Hong Kong. My husband and I lived together in china and had 2 Chinese flat mates. We want our son to learn Chinese. So we are comfortable with having someone Chinese living with us and knew what to expect culturally. Our LAR says that we are basically the only family with a Chinese Au pair that she has seen be successful. I suspect that my familiarity with the culture is the reason, in addition to my insistence on following the rules. I personally think it would be harder for me to have an Au pair from a country that I didn’t understand so well (like a European one). But I think that the china-us cultural differences make it really hard on both sides. The lying thing is definitely something that we have had to talk about repeatedly.

Taking a Computer Lunch August 19, 2013 at 8:31 pm

We went into it thinking that we could open new doors, and in many ways we did. Our Chinese AP was a fantastic cook and both kids loved the things she made for them (we still make some of the recipes that she made for our special needs child – several years later). We didn’t understand about saving face, so I’m sure she found us incredibly confrontational. She was great with our special needs child and lousy with the adults in our household. In the end she wasn’t a great match for the family. She matched with an Asian-American family that didn’t need a driver.

Her culture shock was enormous. She lacked the curiosity to wonder at the differences between China and the U.S., and was overwhelmed by them. She ended up joining a Buddhist temple where she could speak Mandarin (her 2nd language), becoming vegan (she hated my cooking and failed to notice that I cooked vegan meals 3-4 times a week), and retreating from the AP community.

Momma Gadget August 19, 2013 at 9:02 pm

Being in the import business for the last 28 years I have worked extensively with so many lovely Chinese people. Yet, the cultural difference is so huge, I don’t think I would ever host a Chinese Au Pair.
We view their “saving face” as lying, and they view our “openess” as being inapropriately forward. What we view as “showing interest” they see as being intrussive. What they view an obvious observation, we view as a rude insult… I’ll never forget when my china counterpart told my assistant “your face is so beautiful, but your but is so fat” … She couldn’t understand why my asistan was so upset by her obsevation.
There are enough cultural differences to keep things interesting for us, even choosing APs from similar culrures as ours.

Old China Hand August 20, 2013 at 10:24 am

I think that knowing something about China helped me to screen the Chinese applicants a bit better. They all have nearly identical looking applications because of the coaching they get in China and so it’s hard to know what to look for. But, our AP does some things that drive me nuts. She is terrible at cleaning or tidying, for example. I just had to let go of all that. I use the quiet time getting the little guy ready for bed to tidy his room to my satisfaction while he plays a bit more. She needs detailed directions for everything and I still write notes daily to her with lists of what to feed my son for lunch and dinner every day. But, she has made an effort to like our food and is certainly the most open Chinese person I’ve ever met with respect to food. She is more upfront and direct than many I’ve met, but we still deal with the lying to save face issue. After reading Nurture Shock, I treat her like a teen with respect to lying (“I don’t care what the answer is, but I need to have you tell me the truth”) and swallow my negative reactions to things I don’t want to hear. We have no AP community in our area. She’s the only AP in the town that we know of, and probably in our county. Right now there are only 2 APs in our cluster. In any case, we’re in a college town and she’s made friends with students in town. I do have to swallow my pride when she comments on my clothes. Fortunately she doesn’t tell me I’m fat, though I think she has told my husband that. Again, I think for us, the key is understanding the culture and the process of culture shock.

Momma Gadget August 20, 2013 at 4:05 pm

One last thing-having been driven to various factories throughout China- I would never let a Chinese au pair anywhere near the steering wheel of my car, even if they professed to be expert drivers. Many drivers (outside of Hong Kong) in China seem to view obeying traffic rules, signals, and signs as “optional”.

hOstCDmom August 21, 2013 at 8:34 am

I have to chime in here, because we had a Chinese AP who was a solid, good AP — AND AN EXCELLENT DRIVER. She was a cautious driver but not too hesitant, obeyed all the rules, and overall was as competent behind the wheel as any of our Central European or Latin American drivers. (We live in New England, in a small/medium size town, so the driving isn’t uber-urban, and it is limited in its expressway driving, but there are small windy rural roads/stop signs galore/ and weird intersections that date from the times of horses and buggies, so while most of the driving in town is at 45mph or below, it isn’t the grid-like intersections and roadways of the Midwest/west. :))

She came to us in rematch, after having been here for about 2 months (family no longer needed an AP for very specific reasons, but recommended her), and had already passed that state’s driving test on the first try (both written and on the road) and then she came here and did the same again in our state (because she didn’t realize she could trade her State A license in for our state, so she went to the DMV by herself, and took both the written and on the road tests again, and again passed the first time!)

She had minimal driving experience before coming to the US (she’d had her license for about a year, but her family didn’t own a car so she only drove occasionally (relatives’ cars). She was honest with me about how much she had (had not) driven, and she was a very focused person when driving.

I know that driving and Chinese (and some other Asian country au pairs are an issue — we also had a non-driver from China like many others above — but I had to chime in that we had a solid, responsible, careful driving AP who was Chinese :)

Old China Hand August 21, 2013 at 8:56 am

HOstCDmom, I’m so glad you found a good driver. I have a Chinese driver’s license (and a HK one) and have driven in both places. I certainly have had good drivers in China but I would rather drive myself. I think that the length of time someone has had a license and the frequency they drive is really important. In any case, we don’t need a driver because everything the AP needs is in walking/biking distance from our house, so it’s all a moot point for us. I hardly ever drive and if it weren’t for my husband’s long commute, we could probably just have one car.

Old China Hand August 19, 2013 at 6:20 pm

Oops, this was supposed to be a reply to TACL. Sorry!

Should be working August 20, 2013 at 3:55 pm

On a similar note, we are also very familiar with the countries we get our APs from and have lived in some of them. I cannot imagine getting an AP from a country I didn’t know well. Apart from the lack of difficulty with language fluency, we simply KNOW what people are like there, what ‘types’ there are, what different regions mean for styles of communication. Matching is SO much easier because we can read between the lines with our cultural knowledge. And yet there are still small/medium difficulties in accepting some of the differences we know to expect.

Host Mom in the City August 20, 2013 at 9:10 pm

But then, we’ve had two au pairs who were the same age and from the same part of the same country, and they were as different as they could be!

Momma Gadget August 21, 2013 at 9:18 am

We have found the same thing- We had 2 au pairs from the same town in South Africa, and 2 from Hungary. All have been good-great APs but they each were very different from their countrymen, with very different strengths and weaknesses.
But in terms of adjusting to our culture, they were very similar.

LookingForwardToBeAP August 20, 2013 at 7:54 pm

Just wanted to say that not only chinese AP are told and taught to lie on their applications, I am from south america and when I had my first interview the woman who did it told me about many things that I “Should not put because they are not really important” that later I regreted, cause I realized, by reading aupairmom and other webpages, could be important… siiigghhhhh!

LookingForwardToBeAP August 20, 2013 at 7:56 pm

And we pay 1000$ to become an AP, not as much as chinese AP, but still enough to be afraid to be sent home

DarthaStewart September 1, 2013 at 9:51 pm

I’ve currently got my 22nd au-pair, and I can honestly say that each and every au-pair has been different from all of the previous ones. There is something that is unique about that particular individual in every case, whether it’s differences in social skills, food preferences, or in how they handle the kids. It is part of the spice of getting an au-pair in my book. Most of them have been fantastic, and a couple not so much, but I’ve learned and grown so much from the experience.

I’ve certainly learned to be very direct, and explicit about my needs and desires, and that helps so much.

hOstCDmom September 1, 2013 at 10:30 pm

22 (twenty two) Au pairs…?!? Over how many years? How many rematches?

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